Hantz Farms: Massive tree-planting project never intended to be job-generator

This is an area to be cleaned up by Hantz Farms.
This is an area to be cleaned up by Hantz Farms.

In December 2012, when Hantz Farms wanted approval from Detroit City Council to buy 140 acres of blighted land for an urban tree farm, the organizers boasted that the project would “create jobs with reasonable salaries and benefits.”

But on Saturday, when more than 1,000 people converged on the lower east side to help plant oak trees on 20 acres, only a handful were compensated employees. Almost everyone was an unpaid volunteer.

Hantz Farms has five employees, four of whom live in Detroit, according to Mike Score, president of the company. The project, he explained, is not a lucrative endeavor and was never pitched as a big job creator.

“We are focused on making neighborhoods more livable, and recovering our costs over time,” Score said. “From the beginning, we told community leaders and elected officials that our commitment was neighborhood improvement – not job creation.”

Photo essay: Hantz Farms before the demolition begins

Before Hantz Farms bought the city-owned land for about $450,000, the area was largely abandoned and littered with trash, tires, furniture, rotting homes and discarded boats. Hantz Farms has cleaned up a lot of the property.

Score said this about the volunteers:

I want you to think about how the costs of volunteer initiatives are covered.

The volunteers typically provide labor to make a positive difference.

The costs of materials, logistics, site preparation, etc are always covered by for profit businesses in the private sector. This funding comes in the form of cash gifts, donated goods and services, and often from foundations which were formed from profits earned by private sector companies.

So the only point to discuss is, “who is managing the volunteers and coordinating the effort?” In our mind, people should volunteer for any cause that they support. Who is managing the effort is irrelevant as long as they are capable of handling the leadership role.

Check out this aerial view of the planting from Saturday.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.