There simply isn't any Hantz Farms-Monsanto connection

July 24, 2012, 4:54 PM

Just so you know, the proposed Hantz Farm project has no ties to the agribusiness leviathan Monsanto.

You may have thought otherwise considering sent out emails this week urging their members to sign a user-generated petition (see below) against Hantz because of a supposed Monsanto connection.

With the subject line “Keep Monsanto out of Detroit,” MoveOn’s email warns readers: “The Hantz Farm, a proposed farm that has ties to Monsanto—the GMO and pesticide superpower—is planning on setting up a 200-acre farm in the city of Detroit.”

It’s true John Hantz, an Indian Village resident, wants to acquire a large acreage of city-owned vacant land for an agricultural venture. However, Hantz Farms President Mike Score says there are no ties between Hantz and Monsanto. The latter firm is a frequent target of criticism for their influence over food systems and involvement genetically modified crop production.

“We have no connection with Monsanto,” Score told me straight away.

The Hantz-Monsanto rumor is one of those remarkably stupid narratives (i.e. “Barack Obama was born in Kenya”) that simply isn’t true even though a few deluded souls desperately wish it was. Given progressives’ frustration with the birther fiction, you’d think an influential liberal group like MoveOn would be extra sensitive about spreading their own unfounded, fear-inducing rumors.


Naturally, I didn’t just take Score’s word on this. A Google search turned up some conjecture from online commenters about Hantz-Monsanto ties, but nothing that remotely resembles evidence of such a connection. The blog “Growing Cities” does criticize Hantz’s vision of monoculture agriculture, comparing it to Monsanto’s operations.

Growing Cities: The second google image from the search results is a bucolic photograph of corn fields, typical of what you might expect to see on the front page of Monsanto's website, further allowing us to perceive Hantz Farms as a monoculture model operating in the city. What need could there possibly be for Detroit to grow acres of corn, soy, or any other cash crop, especially with the country's heartland so near? More importantly, assuming that land value will eventually rise in Detroit, could city land really sustain the production of corn (valued at roughly 12 cents per ear)?

This is fair criticism, but it’s also a long way from a direct tie between Hantz and the Missouri-based agribiz giant. Also, try not to laugh too hard at the assumption that land values on Detroit’s east side will rise in the near future. 

So why are MoveOn members being told that Monsanto is using Hantz as a Trojan Horse in Detroit? An actual connection between Hantz and Monsanto (hardly a paragon of corporate ethics) would be relevant to the urban ag debate and, in so much as it’s never been reported, a big scoop. I emailed Jeph Witters, the person responsible for the petition, to find out what he knew.

“Personally, I'm just a kid who started a petition - a very important one, none the less - so I'm not quite as up on the facts as others in my circle....,” Witters wrote back. “Any way you try to look at this it's a bad idea for the communities in Detroit, but the true connection between Hantz and Monsanto has yet to present itself, although my 'brain trust' has uncovered that the CEO that Hantz is putting in charge, does have former ties...”

All ellipses are his. He also offered me some professional advice: “All's I'm saying is that you probably shouldn't focus around Monsanto”.

Well ok, but I wasn’t focused on, around, or near Monsanto until MoveOn sent out an email saying I should focus on Monsanto.

Witters, in his reply to me, did raise some valid questions about the environmental sustainability of tree farms proposed by Hantz. As with most things, there is a right way and wrong way to grow trees. That the devil may be in the details (about Hantz’s crop mix, the implications on Right To Farm, property tax rate for agricultural lands, etc.) is no reason to avoid considering the details.

And then there is this bit from the petition email: “The mayor has also agreed that if the farm is unsuccessful, Mr. Hantz would be allowed to tear down the farm and build anything desired—even factories!”

Can you imagine it, Mandrake? Factories in Detroit. Children’s Detroit littered with factories. Doing God knows what to our precious bodily fluids. How does that coincide with your post-industrial capitalist conspiracy, huh?

Seriously, nothing should warm Detroiters' hearts more than market demand for new factories built on city-owned vacant land.

John Hantz’s farm proposal is a radical departure from the trajectory of urban land use. It’s also a proposal with tremendous public policy and quality of life implications, so there should be a vigorous public debate. But that debate should be honest. What MoveOn is peddling here is inherently dishonest.

I have my own skepticism about large-scale “urban” agriculture but this petition makes me cheer for John Hantz. About the only thing I dislike more than turning cities into Green Acres is stupidity.

Waving the bloody shirt of Monsanto to scare up outrage against Hantz is just stupid.

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