Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative is a group of 40 organizations developing ways to ensure that everyone in Detroit – especially the most vulnerable children – has access to affordable, healthy locally grown food and opportunities to be physically active.

St. Clair Farmer Serves Southeast Michigan Farmers’ Markets

Buying local is an important concept for DFFC because we believe a strong food and agriculture economy in Michigan can impact improvements in public health through better access to healthy food for all citizens. And there’s no better way to access fresh food than through shopping at one of many southeast Michigan farmers’ markets. Since it’s fast approaching farmers’ market season, we thought we’d provide you a slice of life from the field.

Sharon Ostrowski owns Sharkar Farms in China, Michigan, which is in St. Clair County. She makes a living through the food she grows to sell at farmers’ markets. She has farmed her whole life, from helping on the family farm when she was young, to managing a 300-acre farm at age 19, to owning the 17-acre farm that she now runs, which services eight southeast Michigan farmers’ markets six days a week in the summer and fall. She grows an assortment of vegetables, including 47 varieties of tomatoes and 167 varieties of herbs.

Does your whole family help on the farm?

Four of my seven kids are involved, running the markets and helping with mechanical repairs on the farm equipment. My husband works four 10s [10-hour shifts] at Ford, so he can help me on Friday.

Where do you sell your produce?

On Tuesdays at Vantage Point Farmers’ Market in Port Huron; on Wednesdays in Lathrup Village; on Thursdays at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital; on Fridays in Dearborn; on Saturdays in Rochester and Port Huron; and on Sundays in Warren, Clawson and New Baltimore.

Also we started a pilot program last year working with Anchor Bay Schools, providing lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli. It’s going well. The kids aren’t throwing as much out.

How do you believe small farmers like yourself are contributing to a healthy regional food system?

We do more than even the big farmers. We don’t use as much pesticide. I remind my customers that my kids play in these fields. Also, it’s direct. It’s picked one day, and goes out the next. It’s good products at a decent price.

How can small farmers contribute to creating better access to healthy food for marginalized people?

A lot of the smaller markets are not in high rent zones. Even the Royal Oak Beaumont Farmers’ Market isn’t what I consider a high rent zone. Nor is Port Huron.  Customers are not having to pay top dollar. We don’t need a lot of money. We’re not looking to get a yacht; we just want to make a decent living.

What shifts have you seen in farming over the years, in terms of people in southeast Michigan understanding the importance of buying/eating local and supporting local farmers?

There has been a huge push in the buying of local food and a lot more awareness. There are so many more farmers’ markets now too, which isn’t easy for us because we have to go all around.

What can the average Michigan citizen do to support local farmers such as yourself?

Understanding that it takes work to get good food to the table. Brussels sprouts don’t come from a box.

The Michigan Farmers Market Association defines a farmers market as “a public and recurring assembly of farmers or their representatives selling direct-to-consumer food and products which they have produced themselves.” To find a local market near you, try searching the MIFMA website or Detroit Community Markets website.

Detroit Eats: Peaches & Greens

This is the last market profile of the Detroit Eats! photo essay project, which started last July.

“This is a good place to be sellin’ vegetables.”

When you were a kid, you knew the time of day that the ice cream truck would be visiting your street. Eagerly you’d wait for the tinkling sound of the music to arrive on your block, coins squeezed tight in a sweaty fist, waiting to run outside. Now imagine this same truck (minus the catchy jingle), same route right on your street, but replace the drippy, Snoopy-shaped frozen treat with a fresh cucumber.  This is the Peaches & Greens Mobile Truck.

Driving slowly down residential streets, the Mobile Truck sells and delivers fruits and vegetables ice cream truck-style. However, Peaches & Greens is also a permanent brick and mortar building, which makes it different than all of the other Detroit Community Markets. Peaches & Greens is a subsidiary of Central Detroit Christian (CDC), but runs as an independent company. CDC is also the parent organization of the Farm &

“It’s why we are where we are, in a neighborhood,” store manager, Liz Etim says, “because we’re for accessibility.”

Fishery and the Growing Faith garden down the road, which supplies Peaches & Greens with vegetables.

With a newly re-finished storefront and shiny coolers stocked with Michigan-produce, it is clean and inviting to all passersby. The majority of Peaches & Greens customers are walkers.

“We go on the routes like an ice cream truck” – Etim

“It’s why we are where we are, in a neighborhood,” says store manager, Liz Etim, “because we’re for accessibility.”  And if people still cannot get the food, the food will come to the people via Mobile Truck. Deliveries are free on Tuesdays!

Peaches & Greens also employs the Mobile Truck to make scheduled stops at senior centers. I followed the truck to their stop at a senior living community in Gardenview Estates.  Whizzing down the road past McDonalds and Subways, I felt like a fresh food super hero. When we arrived at the Senior Center, we parked in the front, right next to a shiny blue, old-school Chevy with a bobble-head hula girl dancing on the dashboard. I felt like I had gone a few decades back in time.

Inside, I was informed/warned that today was a special visit because the seniors had received special tokens good for $10 worth of produce. I helped Tracey, the Mobile Truck expert, set up the tables. Thankfully she had it down to a quick science of arranging and rearranging until every fruit and vegetable was visible and reachable.

Amidst the mad rush to claim the okra, one customer shows her gratitude for the $10 token: “I’m peaceful. And I’m grateful and thankful that they gave it to me.”

The seniors began to line up. The okra was the first to sell out, followed by nearly everything. A man in the back corner of the room played “Lean On Me” on the piano. He later announced that he had six $10 tokens. I wasn’t sure how he had finagled this, but I wasn’t going to be the one to rat him out.

Once the produce was gone and the seniors were content with their purchases, the Mobile Truck returned back to its home base to await another busy day of delivering groceries.

Many thanks the series author Kelli Bartelotti and Detroit Community Markets for contributing content and images for this project. Detroit Community Markets are neighborhood locations where you can buy fresh, affordable, locally produced food at locations like farmers’ markets and farm stands or through mobile trucks and food box programs. Detroit Community Markets strive to increase access to healthy foods, improve neighborhoods, support local growers and entrepreneurs, and create public spaces where residents can come together.

Detroit Eats: Downtown Farmers’ Market

It’s that time of year when we’re all dreaming of warmer weather and fresh produce, so we thought it would be a good time to restart the Detroit Eats! photo essay project, which started in July. This is the fifth market profile in the series.

The Downtown Farmers’ Market wins the best-dressed shoppers award, attracting all of the business-casual-clad folk from their offices during lunch breaks. Seeing high heels and polished leather loafers stroll around the garden seems both out of place and charming at the same time. The Downtown Market is not only a place to grab some delicious food, but also provides a platform for new folks to learn about the urban farming movement happening within the city.

A sampling of the Lafayette Greens garden sponsored by Greening of Detroit

The Downtown Farmers’ Market is nestled between busy one-way streets and multi-story buildings in the Lafayette Greens garden. It’s down the street from Lafayette Coney Island (or American Coney Island, depending on which side of the age-old battle you sit).

The garden is teeming with raised beds growing flowers, herbs, fruits and veggies. It is decorated with crafty bird houses and friendly robots made from recycled materials. The inviting space serves as an educational center for those wandering by downtown, modeling how much can be both grown and taught on such a small plot of land. Helpful informational placards are displayed near each bed, and staff members are on hand to answer the questions of those who wander in to explore. There are workshops held in the garden sponsored by the Greening of Detroit, as well as cooking demos sponsored by Compuware (who originally commissioned the creation of Lafayette Greens).

The market is run by Greg Willerer of Brother Nature Produce. Brother Nature, possibly most known for their spicy greens and edible flowers, is a farm located two-fold in Detroit and Port Huron. It appropriately reflects the mixed crowd of commuting suburbanites and resident Detroiters who shop at the Downtown Farmers’ Market.

"I'm just having a great time with my bee friends" - Marissa of Brooklyn Street Local

The market also features tasty treats from Brooklyn St. Local, a restaurant located just across the Lodge Freeway in Corktown. Marissa, staffing the table, doesn’t seem to mind a swarm of bees happily sipping drops of her ice-cold Arnold Palmer. The buzz of the bees matches the busy buzz of downtown.

Last summer, the Downtown Farmers’ Market was open every Thursday from 11a.m.-4 p.m. at 132 W Lafayette Blvd. We’re hoping they’ll be back in force in 2015.

Making Progress: Designing Detroit for All Users

In May of 2010 the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion received a complete streets grant from the State of Michigan with three components to complete within one year.  The tasks were to 1) form a coalition; 2) educate the community on complete streets; and 3) pass a local ordinance. It seemed relatively simple at the time. The Active Living Work Group of Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative was engaged to help complete the tasks; we had no idea that it would take so much more energy, time, and priority shifting.

Unlike other communities in Michigan that received the same grant, we had many other pressing concerns in the community, namely lighting and blight. Community residents rightfully educated us by stating: “What is the use of a bike lane or new sidewalk if the streetlights are not working?” or “I feel unsafe because of the abandoned building I have to pass.”

Though the city still faces many of those big challenges, we have made sure to be involved in advocacy efforts that are repairing our community, especially around safety and lighting. The work is progressing, and the city is moving forward.

While acknowledging those barriers and lending our voice to those causes, we have worked to involve complete streets into the framework for the city. We are not where we would like to be with that charge, but we are at the table! Many iterations of the ordinance have been developed over the years, and it is our hope that we are finally close to the finish line of an ordinance that intentionally plans for the incorporation of complete streets in future road projects.

As the ordinance inches its way through city government, the Detroit Complete Streets Coalition, the Active Living Work Group of Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative, Detroit Greenways Coalition, and other individuals and groups have not stopped other activity that has made the city safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers regardless of physical ability or age.

To date, the city has 158 miles of bike lanes, 35 miles of complete streets infrastructure, and 17 miles of greenways. Next year, those numbers will increase as plans are being funded for more work. In five years, we hope to see more miles of bike lanes, an expanding complete streets infrastructure, and more than double the miles of greenways.

Our progress in Detroit is gaining national attention. Recently, we were invited to the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting to present on how our work is improving the health and wellness of our residents. Apple filmed a commercial showing the Slow Roll bicycle rides taking over the City of Detroit.

While our movement is impressive, the work of Detroit is in large part contingent on what happens at the Federal level. Currently, we are operating under an eight-month extension that keeps the status quo for funding, including non-motorized funding.

But time is running out, the Federal Transportation Bill is once again set to expire on May 31, 2015. Then the funding will dry up. Our elected officials have a propensity for last-minute saves, the 2013 shutdown notwithstanding. The current bill being discussed will only cover roads, not include non-motorized financing, and will nix Safe Routes to School. This would be a big step backward for our work and progress.

As the new Congress takes office in 2015, we will see if our officials are committed to moving us forward toward safer throughways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers regardless of physical ability or age.

Time for Change at Detroit Food Policy Council

This past year has been a year of change for the Detroit Food Policy Council, which is a member of the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative. In February, we adopted a strategic plan that outlines our objectives for the next three years. The strategic plan will allow DFPC to carry out the primary goals of the organization, which are to:

  • Research, recommend and/or develop new food-related policy, as the need arises.
  • Use advocacy strategies to ensure that food system policies that meet Detroiters’ needs in the food system are adopted, implemented, reviewed and revised.
  • Engage a diverse, representative group of Detroiters in the work of the DFPC as members of the DFPC, work groups and committees.
  • Engage a diverse, representative group of Detroiters in all aspects of our food system by equipping residents with a strong conceptual framework of knowledge in advocacy and policy related to food security, food justice and food sovereignty so that they actively support the development of a healthy, just and sustainable local food system.
  • Build the organizational capacity of the DFPC to fulfill the roles, goals and objective defined in our strategic plan.

The strategic plan of DFPC outlines specific objectives to obtain these goals:

  1. Develop of relationship with Mayor, City Council and city departments for the purpose of educating and engaging them on the importance of food and the food system to all Detroit residents.
  2. Review and update the Food Security Policy that was adopted by the City of Detroit in March 2008.
  3. Continue to work in collaboration with the City of Detroit to monitor existing policies and participate in the development of new policies related to urban agriculture and access to land. Support the work of Food Lab’s Operation Aboveground.
  4. Conduct follow-up activities related to the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative’s Economic Impact Study.
  5. Develop and implement a strategy around retail food establishments that addresses access and equity.
  6. Develop a strategy to engage adult foster care facilities in delivering good food to their residents.
  7. Develop a community engagement plan, building on the work of our Emerson Fellow, that includes building stronger partnerships with residents.
  8. Develop connections between and among local, state and federal food and non-food related organizations in order to support the good food movement in Detroit and beyond.
  9. Hold the 4th Annual Food Summit with the theme: Race to Good Food. Develop the summit into a “can’t miss” event and part of a year-round education engagement and celebration of the local food system.
  10. Plan and implement the next Annual Food Report.

In May we elected a new Executive Committee. Suezette Olaker became the third chair of the board. We also welcomed Jerry Ann Hebron as vice chair, Mimi Pledl as treasurer, and Sandra Turner-Handy as secretary.

In August, our coordinator of three years left DFPC to take a position at the United Way of Southeast Michigan. The Detroit Food Policy Council is currently searching for an executive director. This is a new position for the Food Policy Council. The executive director will manage the day-to-day operations of DFPC and implement the organization’s strategic plan. The qualifications we are looking for in the Executive Director are:

  • Must be extensively familiar with urban food systems, poverty, food security, and health and food justice issues.
  • Possess strong managerial skills, excellent networking, community relations and writing skills; demonstrate leadership, self-motivation and ability to coordinate work with collaborative groups, neighborhood groups, and government officials.
  • Prior work experience will include a minimum of five years working in the food system in a public, non-profit and /or for-profit environment; policy analysis, community development (food, health, youth, housing, etc.), fund development and grant writing.
  • Experience supervising staff and/or volunteers
  • Experience working with diverse communities
  • Strong organizational and written/verbal communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Understanding of balance sheets and financial reports
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office applications required.
  • Bachelor’s degree in public policy, public health, urban planning, agriculture or related fields.
  • Resident of the City of Detroit
  • Pass a background employment check and drug test

Detroit Food Policy Council is still accepting applications for this position. If you would like to apply send cover letter, resume and three references electronically to: detroitfoodpolicycouncil@gmail.com with DFPC Executive Director Application in the subject line or via mail to: Detroit Food Policy Council, Attention: Hiring Committee, 2934 Russell St. Detroit, MI  48207.  For more information contact Kibibi Blount-Dorn, interim coordinator for the Detroit Food Policy Council at 313-833-0396 or kibibi.dfpc@gmail.com.