For Gary Wozniak, growing food is a means of growing recovery, community and human capital.
The founder and CEO of Detroit’s RecoveryPark Farms understands what it’s like to be an addict and incarcerated, and then come out on the other side. As a resident of Detroit, he watched his city lose jobs and entire neighborhoods, and wanted to provide hope and opportunity to residents still living there.
In 2015, Wozniak launched RecoveryPark Farms, a for-profit urban agriculture enterprise, as an offshoot to the nonprofit RecoveryPark. The farm’s larger social mission aims to revitalize the historic Poletown East neighborhood and create jobs for people with barriers to employment, including poverty, addiction, homelessness, incarceration and mental illness.
RecoveryPark Farms grows, harvests and packages chef-requested specialty produce for high-end restaurants in southeastern Michigan. Del Bene Produce delivers to restaurants within 48 hours of harvest.
Growing in an urban environment poses a variety of challenges, from weather to soil conditions to insects and critters, but the farm is on the forefront of growing technology, using high tunnels, hydroponic greenhouses and novel lighting to support sustainable year-round growing.
Some of their produce is grown on a floating-raft system, which allows the roots to stick down in the water and take nutrients with unique fertigation methods where water-soluble fertilizers and other nutrients are injected into an irrigation system.
“It’s not my grandfather’s farming, let me tell you,” Wozniak says.
RecoveryPark Farms presently controls 75 acres, and a 2-acre climate-controlled glass greenhouse is slated for construction by late 2018. The greenhouse will feature Priva technology, global leaders for systems controls for large greenhouses, to monitor climate control, water and energy usage, and employee activity.
“We will definitely be one of the most technologically advanced greenhouses in North America,” Wozniak says.
Over the next 10 years, Wozniak’s plan is to expand to 102 acres, with 36 acres of greenhouses; employ 300 people at $25 to $28 per hour; and shift ownership to investors and employees.
“We’re transforming land that’s been underutilized,” he says. “We’re obviously creating jobs in a new area. We’re demonstrating people have real value no matter what their issues, and we are demonstrating that there is a real demand for locally sourced produce and people are willing to pay a premium for a healthier product.”