The Hightower Report

Grassroots change (literally) in Detroit; and America West finds another way to assault us with ads.


MOTOR CITY PLANTS A SEED

Here's an inspiring story of renewal and human gumption to cheer you.

It comes from Detroit -- the hard-hit, gritty city that has lost thousands of its jobs and suffered a massive outflow of population over the last few decades, leaving abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Indeed, a third of the property within the city limits is nothing but boarded-up buildings and trash-littered lots.

But, today, something new is growing in Detroit ... literally. Coming off of dozens of those vacant lots are tons of hay, honey, chickens, goat milk, tomatoes, herbs, beans, and even beef. This urban agricultural abundance is being produced by a hardy group of Detroiters who are turning Motor City into Garden City. More than 40 community gardens and microfarms -- working with churches, schools, food banks, homeless groups, community organizations, and activists -- not only grow a cornucopia of food in the city, but also process and distribute it, offering a terrific example of truly grassroots economic development.

One of these urban farmers is Paul Weertz, a science teacher who a decade ago wanted to connect his inner-city students to nature and food. He and his student volunteers have converted seven abandoned lots into 10 acres of fertile farmland. Now there are even rabbits and pheasants that have been drawn to this revitalized acreage in one of America's biggest cities -- a phenomenon he calls "a totally surreal experience."

But it's real, and both economically and spiritually uplifting. Detroit city farmers are also converting an old auto shop into a community center with a greenhouse, cannery, and cafe, drawing other small businesses to the neighborhood. "Growing vegetables is just a vehicle for other kinds of change," says one farmer.

These Detroiters are showing us that true grassroots growth comes not from corporate trickle-down, but from ourselves. To learn more, go to the Detroit planning group's Web site: www.adamah.org.


POKING AIRLINE PASSENGERS IN THE EYE

I have exciting news for those of you who worry that American industry is losing its creative edge! America West Airlines has just implemented a stunning innovation that is certain to revive this sagging industry and assure profits, new jobs, and happy skies as far as the horizon extends. The innovation? Ads on tray tables!

Yes, just when you thought that, surely, there was not another space left anywhere in our country for corporations to put more advertisements, along comes America West to slap you right in the face with an ad every time you flip down your tray table on one of its flights. The airline is selling ads to cover every tray top on each of its planes, and it already has VISA, Mercedes Benz, and Bank of America on board for this flighty idea. Advertisers pay $3,300 per plane to hawk their stuff via tray tables to what they call a "captive audience" -- indeed, an audience literally strapped to its seats.

Tray table ads are said to be the brainstorm of marketeer Nick Pajic (seems more like a slight breeze than a brainstorm to me, but this is what passes for innovation in Corporate America today). Pajic gushes that ads on tray tops "will be one of the most powerful and influential media." Oh, sure, I'm going to rush off the plane and buy a Mercedes because of an ad on my tray table. No wonder our economy is in trouble.

If you think you can escape by flying on some other carrier, America West's marketing honcho warns, "It seems to be a no-brainer for other airlines to follow suit once we've blazed the trail." It's enough to make you reach for the barf bags.

They admit that tray table ads are just a start as airlines seek other ways to jack up their revenues. Yeah, why not run a constant stream of ads over the P.A. system, or start charging for pillows, or assessing a fee for those who want to have an oxygen mask available to them?

Or, here's a loopy idea -- why not improve service, so flying becomes a pleasant experience rather than an ordeal?

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Detroit, community gardens, microfarms, Paul Weertz, America West Airlines, advertising, ads, tray tables, Nick Pajic

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