A conference on the emerging urban agriculture industry was held yesterday by the Engineering Society of Detroit and American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Their keynote speaker was Dan Carmody, the president of Eastern Market Corporation, which is one of the largest year-round, open-air markets in the country. His view of the future of urban agriculture was fully informed by a historical knowledge of it’s past. He insists that although some people see the economy moving from local to global, the process is actually more cyclical than linear; there can (and should) be room for both.
Paralleling these old and new economic notions, Carmody explained the benefits of using both ground breaking technology and traditional, standby techniques in the farming process itself. Amish farmers, he says, are exemplary. They tend to put less energy in kcals (kilocalories, a unit of energy measure for food) into the product than many machine-operated farms.
He also gave the audience a look into future projects the Market is looking into. Currently, most of the action happens on Saturdays, but they are anticipating opening a new hall to be open during the entire week. “There is a demand for healthy food in Detroit,” Carmody explains. They are additionally working on a community kitchen incubator for new niche food processors.
These new projects highlight the potential for new job creation that was a major topic brought up by several other panelists in discussion. “These aren’t just farming jobs,” he noted “with urban agriculture, you will find production, processing, and retail jobs come with the territory.”
So, specifically, what kind of money is to be made? What kind of sustainable jobs are being created?
Greening of Detroit president, Amanda Edmonds, says, under ideal circumstances, you can expect around $40,000 to be made annually from a two acre plot of land.
Gary Wozniak, the Chief Development Officer of SHAR (Self Help Addiction Rehabilitation) says that their organization has found over 75 urban agriculture jobs in the last year for their clients, who are mostly those rehabilitating from substance abuse. Those jobs tend to pay anywhere from $8 to $15 an hour.
Still, with ordinance zoning issues, growing racial and economic tension between the would-be growing and purchasing classes, and environmental liability that comes with commercialization, this subject is not without its controversies.
Follow the ongoing conversation on twitter through their hashtag #urbanag, and decide for yourself.