Feeling underappreciated at work is something Michael Score and John Hantz never have to worry about.
“I’ve had parents come up with their children to thank me and tell me how much cleaner and safer the neighborhood is as a result of our work,” said Score, president of Hantz Farms in Detroit.
Hantz Farms is a for-profit urban farming venture that takes underutilized land in Detroit and uses agriculture as a cost-effective tool for blight remediation. At the moment, their investment is limited to planting and maintaining mixed hardwoods. In October 2013, plans for Hantz Woodlands, an enterprise of Hantz Farms, were approved by the Detroit city council and the purchase of a 140-acre area on the city’s east side.
The project is taking vacant, abandoned properties and converting them into fields for agricultural production. In May 2014 the first community tree planting event took place, in which 15,000 maple and oak saplings were planted on 20 acres. Five months later, 150 sugar maple trees were planted. Seven months after that, 5,000 tulip poplar trees.
Image Credit: MLive.com
“It’s really important to us that people from the Detroit metro area have a positive experience in revitalizing Detroit,” Score said. “When it comes time to tree planting, we invite the public in.”
And for the past two springs, the public has come. The first year saw 1,400 volunteers. That number grew the second year, jumping to 2,200.
“We have a clean, safe place for volunteers to work,” Score added. “We have music, food, and fun activities for kids. We really create a family-fun experience that leaves a nice mark on Detroit’s landscape.”
Detroit’s landscape has certainly changed for the better thanks to Score and Hantz.
Hantz, owner and CEO of Hantz Farms, has lived in Detroit for over 20 years. During that time, he’s watched neighborhoods become less livable. The problem seemed to be a surplus of publicly-owned property for which there was no purpose and no budget for maintenance. Hantz wondered if there was some way to repurpose that land and put it in the private sector in a way that would make neighborhoods livable again. He envisioned a larger scale agriculture and putting the publicly-owned land back into the marketplace using agriculture as a tool to remove the blight.
The rest is history.
“Going forward, we’re making improvements to properties that we’ve cleaned up,” said Score, pictured below. “We’re working with schools, churches, and neighborhood organizations to try to rekindle the economy within the square mile where our work is located.”
Image Credit: Michigan Radio
One of the schools Hantz Woodlands is partnering with is Southeastern High School, a struggling school that has been placed in the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) system of Michigan.
“We’re trying to help that school turn the corner by getting students involved in our business,” Score said.
What Score means by getting students involved in the business is using the business as a learning laboratory as part of their curriculum. The program is teaching students how to start small businesses related to agriculture and natural resource management. This fall, the students harvested grapevines from fences around the school and rolled them into wreaths. Now, they’re in negotiations with Carhartt to sell the wreaths for the new Carhartt store in Detroit. The money they earn will be used to start microbusinesses to teach students how to acquire wealth and manage it so that they can grow it over time.
Aside from working with schools, churches, and neighborhoods, the foundational effort for Score and Hantz is managing approximately 200 acres that Hantz Woodlands owns. The support they’ve received from the community has been overwhelming.
When asked what’s been the most rewarding experience, Score said it’s when people look him in the eye and tell him that his work has changed their lives in a positive way.
“People who thought they were going to have to leave the neighborhood where they’ve lived for decades, our investment actually allows them to stay,” Score said. “The gratitude of our neighbors has been the most rewarding part of our work.”
It appears happiness does grow on trees after all.