“Everybody wants to talk about the touchy feely of growing and urban farming and that’s really cool, but this is really food system development,” says Gary Wozniak, president of Recovery Park. The project is slated to cover a three square mile footprint of the city—almost 2,400 acres on the city’s Eastside. Once boasting almost 89,000 residents, the area’s population has now fallen to less than 4,000, leaving most of the land to urban prairie and open space.
In all this open space Recovery Park will develop and fill in over the next 20 to 25 years, there are plans for indoor urban farms, tilapia fish farming in plants formerly used for manufacturing, an urban orchard, and an equestrian stable in the old Chene-Ferry market.
The conception of Recovery Park started as leaders from SHAR (Self Help Addiction Rehabilitation) were looking to create jobs for people with barriers to employment. Looking at the talent pool and the physical resources Detroit abundantly has—land, road infrastructure, access to fresh water—the natural conclusion was urban farming and food system development.
The difference between Recovery Park and other urban farming/ urban redevelopment programs is in both size and scale. While most community farming produces few jobs that are often dependent on grant funding, Recovery Park’s model aims toward something more self-sustainable.
“We’re taking a look more at commercial indoor agriculture so that the jobs are year round,” Wozniak says. “We can get three, maybe four, growing seasons working indoors.”
In an indoor growing system, statistics show that each acre produces 5.2 jobs… much higher than traditional outdoor farming. Even so, the real number of jobs isn’t just in tending fields. They’re in the food production and distribution system that supports them. With these, you get up to 17.8 jobs per acre.
Now, if Recovery Park is able to use 1,000 acres of the 2,400 acre footprint for these indoor growing systems… it means bringing anywhere from 12,000 to 18,000 jobs to the neighborhood.
This is the long-term vision with a 20 to 25 year timeline. In the immediate future (2-3 years) you can expect to see:
- 100 acres of indoor growing systems in hoop houses and green houses.
- The start of a large indoor tilapia farm in a former manufacturing facility, containing up to 5 million lbs. of fish per year.
- An equestrian facility: 60 stalls for horse rescue, veterinary research, mounted police, and private boarding.
- An urban orchard planted.
Wozniak sees these future 20 and 30-acre farms becoming the new kind of urban golf courses that people will want to live around, but remains attentive to issues of displacement and the connecting space that people already live around. “It departs from a traditional urban development plan in that it won’t bulldoze everything in a square block and start anew,” Wozniak explains.
If you look at plans for Recovery Park, you can see the project can wrap itself around existing structures and solid housing and businesses there. “The resources we get financially or collaboratively partner-wise that we bring into the neighborhood can help people repurpose their properties or businesses, or help them incubate new businesses,” Wozniak explains. “Those jobs, by coming back into the community and bringing a density of those jobs into the community, should drive redevelopment.”