Racial capitalism and a tentative commons
Farming on Detroit’s vacant property parcels has been a strategy for blight reduction and food cultivation since the 1970s, first as a grassroots initiative, and then supported through a city program called Farm-a-Lot. The tentative redistribution of city-held property in times of social and economic crisis is a model Detroit introduced to US municipal governments during the recession of the 1890s. In 2015, the mayor’s office directly facilitated the transfer of 40 acres of city owned land to a for-profit urban agriculture business in Detroit’s east Poletown neighbourhood. The agrarian question of the nineteenth century was about the role of small shareholder farmers in the broader expansion of capitalism and urbanization. This question has been dwarfed by the evolution of agriculture away from a smaller homestead and subsistence practice to the scale of an automated global agribusiness.