Emergency Managers — November 23, 2013 at 8:53 am

Hamtown Farms is saved! (Mostly)



Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog

I’ve written before about the amazing Hamtown Farms urban farm/garden in Hamtramck. The farm, which occupies vacant lots in Michigan’s most densely populated city, was a bright spot in a town that is struggling and under the control of an Emergency Manager. Although she had the power to save the farm in its entirely, Emergency Manager Cathy Square instead used her power to put the lots occupied by the farm up for auction.

Next to the farm is Kowalski Sausage and they also had interest in the lots, offering to pay the city $600 a piece for them before the auction was chosen as what Cathy Square described to me as “the only fair thing to do” despite the fact that Hamtown Farm volunteers had plowed tens of thousands of dollars of their own money and time creating this amazing space.

Public picnic area at Hamtown Farms, photo credit: Anne C. Savage

Organizers like Michael Davis took to the internet to help raise funds through an indiegogo campaign and raised over $10,000. Armed with that and a couple of private funders, they went to the auction to save their farm.

In the end, they lost one parcel which has 20 trees on it. However, they were able to save the others, despite one bidder who lost out on one of the earlier parcels coming back to bid on another they had shown no previous interest in, perhaps in spite.

The parcel they lost was purchased by Mike Kowalski of Kowalski Sausage in what turned out to be a bidding war:

The Hamtown Farms project is saved, but it came at a steep price.

At Thursday’s first auction round of city-owned lots, Farms organizer Mike Davis managed to outbid Kowalski Sausage Co. on all but one tow our of nine parcels. The bidding was tense at times, with both sides sometimes edging upward by only $50 increments.

Mike Kowalski represented his family’s business, which is next-door to the lots, and won the first parcel up for sale, bidding $11,000.

But Hamtown Farms won the next three lots, which comprise the main portion of the project. It cost the organization a total of $22,950 – probably the most anyone in the history of Hamtramck has ever paid for seven parcels. [O]ne lot the Farms lost had been planted with 20 trees. The portion where the raised garden beds are were saved.

The Review asked Kowalski what he planned to do with the lot he won, but he had little to say.

“We’ll see,” he said as he walked out of city hall.

This is one of the biggest self-inflicted public relations disasters I have ever witnessed. In a town where local people are working hard to do something positive with Hamtown Farms, the Kowalski family look like greedy, self-serving jerks with no sense of community or corporate responsibility. I cannot fathom why they chose this route, particularly when there is so much inexpensive real estate in Hamtramck for them to purchase if they are really looking to expand their operation. They could be the premier sponsor of the farm, maybe even contributing to helping the volunteers purchasing it.

In other words, Kowalski Sausage had the opportunity to be heroes in Hamtramck and they choose to be the villains.

So, three cheers to the Hamtown Farms organizers and benefactors and volunteers! You folks are doing it right and deserve our kudos and accolades. May your gardens prosper and your orchards be full.

Check out Hamtown Farms on Facebook HERE. There website is HERE.