RecoveryPark is spearheading community redevelopment based on urban farming, food production and job creation for hard to place workers.
RecoveryPark creates jobs for feople with barriers to employment in Detroit
RecoveryPark was formed in 2010 to spearhead community redevelopment based on urban farming, food production and job creation for hard to place workers, specifically those recovering from addiction and re-entering from the prison system. Contributors to RecoveryPark have helped to showcase Detroit as a potential model for providing local produce to restaurants and the creation of jobs in distressed areas, along with the inclusion of support programs for people with barriers to employment.
Detroit is the home of a unique story and a beautiful initiative
“We had 1.9 million people in 1951 at the height of our population. Today, we are about 630,000, so we’ve lost two thirds of our population,” says Gary Wozniak, CEO of RecoveryPark. “If agriculture is going to be successful going into the future, you need bodies to staff the greenhouses. So why not bring the growing to the bodies, as opposed to the bodies to the growing?”
In Detroit, once thousands of people worked in its 52 car factories. Now only two factories remain. But the city is not dead yet. Grassroots efforts are being made to shift from steel and rubber to soil and seeds. Recovery park aims to produce all kinds of fruit and vegetables for the neighbourhood on a large scale, and Gary has big ambitions. He aims at using the workforce available in the neighbourhood. Veterans, people recovering from addictions and former prisoners; all are welcome at RecoveryPark.
“I call it an agrihood, so it is a neighbourhood all based on agriculture. Almost all of it is hydroponic. Almost all of it distributed to restaurants within a 300 mile radius around Detroit, and creating close to 300 jobs paying an average of $22 an hour plus benefits", says Wozniak. “Investors should be encouraged to broaden their scope. Business models like these could solve many problems for expanding cities. If cities start to integrate their greenbelts into urbanised areas, the real estate investors are becoming the growers of tomorrow, solving many social and environmental problems.”
Washington, New York, Beijing, Sydney; everywhere around the world we are seeing inspiring examples of initiatives like RecoveryPark that are creating sustainable urban deltas. There is hope more (mega)cities will consider seriously integrating food production in order to create a more sustainable future. And meanwhile, slowly but surely, pioneers around the world are creating a global movement.
“Where do we see examples of this already happening? Of a city taking that responsibility? Creating space for food production and encouraging entrepreneurship. Where you can see a new social cohesion emerging. Where poor neighbourhoods also develop new perspectives because they can engage in these new initiatives. Where people learn from each other,” says Meiny Prins, founder of the Sustainable Urban Delta Foundation.
“Where new initiatives emerge looking for ways to implement a circular economy in food production? How can we re-use waste water from the city for food production? Can growing tomatoes generate energy for surrounding neighbourhoods? A city that realises that it will have to produce food itself for the people in that city. Sustainably.”
Hydroponics is the future of this growing venture
Soon, RecoveryPark will have more positions to fill. It is currently working on plans to develop a two-acre; 35-foot tall hydroponic greenhouse in another part of the city on Hendrie and Palmer.
This development will enable RecoveryPark to go from $200,000 in revenue to $6 million in revenue and from seven employees to 30 employees by August of 2020, Wozniak says. Employees in the hydroponic greenhouse will work year-round.
The eventual goal is that the hydroponic greenhouse operations will have 60 acres of land under glass and employ up to 300 people in 15 years. Unlike the traditional greenhouse that involves growing soil-based plants in a controlled environment, hydroponic farming relies solely on water.
Seeds for plants are placed in special floating tray racks that rest in a pond of water filled with nutrients to promote plant growth. These trays are then showered with special lighting from above. The plants are grown in a controlled environment just like in traditional greenhouses.
Discover how another “Agrihood” is revitalising Detroit. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is the first sustainable urban “agrihood” in Detroit and could serve as a model for future urban development.
A financially secure future
According to Crain’s Detroit, The $10 million project has so far attracted three high-profile investors:
- Stephen Polk, CEO of Birmingham investment company Highgate LLC.
- Jim M. Nicholson, co-chairman, PVS Chemicals Inc.
- and Walter Tripp Howell, retired international director of Jones Lang LaSalle in Washington, D.C., and an ex-pat of the Detroit area, who learned of the project during the 2018 Detroit Homecoming.
Detroit-based Nextek Power Systems is also considering an equity investment, its CEO Paul Savage confirmed.
Those investments will make up about a third of the $12.5 million raised to cover bridge operational funding for the nonprofit RecoveryPark over the past several months and construction and startup costs for the climate-controlled greenhouse operation, which is set to launch in August 2020, RecoveryPark CEO Gary Wozniak told Crain’s Detroit last September.
A 28-year loan backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Small Business Administration and a 10-year loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, both made through the Greater Nevada Credit Union’s Greater Commercial Lending arm to for-profit company RecoveryPark JV LLC, are set to close in October, rounding out funding, Wozniak said.
Wozniak projects the greenhouse operation, run by the for-profit company, will yield $6 million in revenue its first year and $18 million annually within four years with two planned expansions that will triple its "acres under glass."
RecoveryPark has already proven the business model through pilot hydroponics and high-tunnel or soil-based growing operations a couple of blocks away near its headquarters on Chene, Wozniak said. It has contracts to supply lettuce to Detroit wholesale distributor Del Bene Produce that produced $180,000 in revenue last year and are set to do about the same this year. Continued below…
The new greenhouse will also help change the way consumers view food
"Our mission is to create jobs for people with barriers to employment: people coming out of prison and/or drug treatment programs,"
Wozniak continued. "Our vision is to do that by creating jobs in the food industry and eventually we’ll transfer majority ownership to the workforce in those businesses."
The new greenhouse will also help change the way consumers view food by establishing local, hyper-fresh options and local accountability for the quality of that food, he said.
The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, which made a $400,000 program-related investment loan to the nonprofit in 2016, is in the process of looking at the conversion terms, said Meredith Freeman, who is serving as interim executive director of the Fisher Foundation while Executive Director Doug Stewart is on sabbatical. Stewart told Crain’s Detroit.
"I really applaud them for their commitment not only to the city and the neighbourhood but to keeping that social aspect in place around making sure they are employing those who have challenges to employment. … they’ve never let that go,"
"It could have been easier business-wise to let that go, but they made that commitment, stuck to it, and we are really happy to support that."
Source: Crain’s Detroit
Discover Sustainable Urban Deltas: Green Belts for liveable Mega Cites
If we want to counter the great issues of our time and make mega cities livable, we need to fundamentally change our food and land use system. The good news is, we can, says Sustainable Urban Delta, supporter of the RecoveryPark project in Detroit.
How? By creating ‘Sustainable Urban Deltas’; mega cities that embrace food production in metropolitan areas to create new connections on a social, ecological, and economic level, providing space for energy, social cohesion, property development and climate.
A food producing city is a liveable city. It will boost entrepreneurship, social coherence and create a green living environment. Changing the way we produce and transport food will kick-start the circular economy and stop food waste all together. We’re not far away from food-producing cities, but a catalyst is needed.
That’s why the Sustainable Urban Delta Foundation was created. The foundation aims to inspire city governments, city planners, architects, real estate developers and entrepreneurial citizens to rethink the way cities are designed and embrace the idea that cities can produce a major part of its own food.
They bring together parties and suppliers to create and realise a total Sustainable Urban Delta concept in which fresh food production forms the basis for a liveable climate in the city. See below.
Watch the documentary ‘Sustainable Urban Delta; The city and the green belt’
From climate change and biodiversity loss to obesity: all the big challenges the world faces today are interconnected. And most of them can be solved by bringing sustainable food production back to the city. In this documentary, Dutch entrepreneur and change maker Meiny Prins takes us on an eye-opening journey around the world’s most inspiring food-producing cities. Enjoy!