Urban farming sows seeds of hope in Detroit

What comes to mind when you think of Motor City? America’s proudest industry crushed? Twenty-seven percent unemployment? An exodus of more than half the populace?

How about a wasteland where you can buy a house for $15,000, if you dare live in it?

John Hantz sees all that but also envisions Detroit as the nation’s first urban farm. Acre after acre of sustainable agriculture could create jobs, attract tourists, yield the local produce consumers crave, and create scarcity of real estate to revive a moribund market.

“We need scarcity,” the wealthy stockbroker tells Fortune. “We can’t create opportunities, but we can create scarcity.”

An estimated 40 square miles of land lies abandoned in the 138-square-mile metropolis. The concept of farming it is drawing positive if cautious responses from various quarters. Says the American Institute of Architects, “Detroit is particularly well-suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.” Fortune includes favorable quotes from a Harvard urban planning professor and a former HUD official as well.

Hantz Farms envisions tomatoes and greens germinating in the spring and shoppers harvesting ripe produce for the table in the summer and fall. The investor is offering $30 million for a pilot and is asking for free tax-delinquent land and zoning changes that would lower taxes.

Hantz has his critics and skeletons, but the idea is wildly fresh. And given the city’s legacy – creating an industry that helps warm the planet then protecting that industry at all costs – what could be more carbon negative?