The Bloomfield Hills-based foundation announced Thursday that it will give four annual $250,000 payments to RecoveryPark, a proposal to employ recovering addicts to grow food and raise fish at a vacant industrial site and otherwise create jobs and tax base for the city through local food initiatives.
If approved by the City of Detroit, the project initially would occupy about 20 acres on the east side near Chene and Warren, most of it owned by Detroit Public Schools.
The site would see crops grown in greenhouse-like hoop houses for year-round cultivation.
Plans also call for the park to operate a fish farm in an unused industrial space on the city’s far west side, and manufacture fiberglass fish tanks for the farm in yet another unused industrial space in Detroit.
City officials have been studying the RecoveryPark proposal since 2009.
John Erb, president of his family’s $100-million foundation, said food-related projects can help revitalize Detroit in an environmentally sustainable way.
“We know urban agriculture is not going to be the total solution for the resurgence of Detroit, but we see it as a component,” Erb said.
Jodee Raines, the foundation’s vice president, said the timing is right in Detroit to do something significant in urban agriculture.
“We thought a big grant might push forward a great idea and build a fire under some people,” she said.
RecoveryPark is the brainchild of Gary Wozniak, a former stockbroker and recovering addict who is director of development for SHAR, a nonprofit addiction recovery agency headquartered on Detroit’s west side.
Wozniak envisions the park employing recovering addicts both to raise food and fish and process the products in repurposed buildings.
The grant will pay salaries and other administrative costs for four years, providing seed capital for RecoveryPark.
“We’re really excited about it,” Wozniak said of the grant. “It’s going to give us the ability to hire a couple of people and really move the project ahead.”
Wozniak estimated the project will need $15 million to set up operations. The Erb grant will help raise that money, he said.
Of Wozniak, Erb said, “You can’t help but be impressed by his drive and persistence. He’s done an amazing job pulling together a lot of different issues.”
The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation is dedicated to nurturing environmentally healthy and culturally vibrant communities in metro Detroit, and supporting initiatives to restore the Great Lakes basin.