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.

Plenty of Detroit Victories to Celebrate During National Bike Month

The city of Detroit has faced many major financial challenges after year after year of downsizing prior to its bankruptcy. Detroit simply could not provide the same level of service that other cities could. Parks were underfunded and many not maintained. Biking was often seen as a dispensable recreational activity, especially when faced with issues of crime, street lighting, blight, a declining population, and more.

But many in the community and philanthropy thought differently – and brought the city along.

CJ Millender_IMG_9607_1024 copyBicycling and trails were a means for economic development, inexpensive transportation, quality of life, and improved health. Through many years of working collaboratively with the city, much has been achieved. Trails such as the Conner Creek Greenway, Dequindre Cut, Detroit RiverWalk, and Southwest Detroit Greenlink were constructed. Not only did Detroiters embrace these biking options, they demanded more.

These trails along with Detroit’s flat terrain, moderate weather, lightly-travelled and overly-wide streets fostered a bicycle culture not seen in anywhere else in America: neighborhood social bike clubs that are largely African-American and embrace DIY customized bikes with music and lighting. Most of these clubs shun the stereotypical cyclist Lycra for regular clothes with club patches and more, not unlike WeAreDetroit-bikemotorcycle club colors. Each of the over thirty-some clubs have their own priorities. Some require club members to do community work often focused on getting more kids get on bicycles. Others are more about the fun and social aspects while lifting up better health.

These clubs embrace riding together, welcome diversity, and have a very low barrier to entry.

Interestingly enough, this Detroit club culture more closely mirrors that of the Golden Era of Bicycling (1890s) rather than the typical U.S. or Metro Detroit suburban club culture.

Slow Roll is another phenomenon that has helped define Detroit bicycle culture. This modest bike ride has grown from a handful of people to become one of the largest weekly bike rides in the world – and certainly one of the most diverse.

Where do we go next?

Bankruptcy has allowed Detroit to offer greater services. Detroit parks have certainly benefitted from this as has the planning department.

New Planning Director Maurice Cox is rebuilding the department, hiring staff, and taking a much more active role within the city. This goes for biking too. Cox rides his bike to work every day and is a strong supporter for better and safer cycling options for all Detroiters.

The Planning Department, Public Works, consultants from other U.S. cities, the Detroit Greenways Coalition along with the clubs, Slow Roll, and others have collectively convinced the Mayor that building a healthier, more bike-able (and walkable!) city is a competitive advantage for Detroit. It can bring in greater economic development and more residents, with the latter being the Mayor’s self-prescribed metric for evaluating his job performance.

Courtesy of Detroit Greenways Coalition

Photo courtesy of Detroit Greenways Coalition

Just last month the Mayor kicked off a two-day workshop on reimagining all of East Jefferson and Grand River Avenues. He said we need to take advantage of our wide, lightly-traveled streets; make them more walkable, bike-able while improving transit. “We can’t out-suburb the suburbs,” he added but we create a great urban environment. He said Detroit could even experiment a bit as NYC did with converting street space to public plazas.

Just weeks later, the extension to the Dequindre Cut was officially opened. Again, the Mayor touted walking, biking and trails, and how they can reconnect this city. He also touted the recently submitted US DOT TIGER grant request ($18.8 million) to build over 30 miles of rail-trails and protected bike lanes as part of the Inner Circle Greenway. This grant included an emphasis on making walking and biking connections across freeways, many of which were intentionally routed through and divided communities of color.

Detroit bike culture is growing exponentially along with the demand for more. Understandably in the beginning our expectations were tempered with the city’s many challenges. Those expectations have been shattered.Deq Cut bike taxi

In a meeting of Detroit bicycle stakeholders held earlier this year, Cox proclaimed of his tenure, “It is a stated fact that Detroit will be America’s most bike friendly city.” There wasn’t much reaction, which was likely due to incredulity rather than indifference. Is the city seriously on board with this?

Yes, it’s serious.

Food For Change Summit a Success

On March 10 and 11, the Detroit Food Policy Council and the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative were pleased to present Detroit Food 2016: Food for Change at the Benson & Edith Ford Conference Center in Detroit.

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Keynote speaker Kimberly Seals Allers

With much energy and charge for an improved food system, the conference welcomed 308 attendees — 16 of whom were students — and a host of great speakers and presenters. These included Detroit Black Community Food Security Network founding director, Malik Yakini, and award-winning journalist, author, and nationally recognized media commentator and advocate for breastfeeding and infant health, Kimberly Seals Allers. There were many take-aways to the conference, and we all left with the determination to continue making strides in creating an equitable food system here in Detroit. This video captures the essence.

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Malik Yakini, Executive Director, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network

This year we will keep the conversations going by hosting opportunities to learn more about the Detroit food system throughout the year. Our “What About Food?” series will feature film screenings and community dialogues about many of the topics we explored at Detroit Food 2016.

Join us for the first dialogue, Land, Food, and Environmental Justice, on Monday, May 9, 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Cass Corridor Commons, 4605 Cass Ave, Detroit, MI 48201. Visit our website for more information about this discussion, future events, or the workshops presented at the summit.

Mini-grants for Grassroots Efforts to get Residents Active

Applications are now being accepted for Active Living Mini-grants that promote active living and physical health in Detroit neighborhoods.

Active Living Mini-grants, funded in part by Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative, of up to $1,000 will be awarded to Detroit-based community groups with sustainable active-living projects. Priority will be given to projects that:

  • Engage community residents, particularly youth;
  • Support complete streets concepts or implementation;
  • Utilize a Detroit Greenway; and/or
  • Promote community-based change in the built environment to encourage physical activity.

Any neighborhood group or organization located in the City of Detroit may apply. This includes, but is not limited to, block clubs, art groups, service organizations, churches, parks and recreational organizations, professional associations, public and non-public school-based groups, and individuals. Mini-grants will be awarded to Detroiters working to achieve these goals through creative community-based projects. The application deadline is April 22; projects are to be implemented between June and December 1, 2016.

Click here for details and the applicationPlease also visit webpages of these affiliated partners: 

For questions, contact Cindy Gamboa, Community Outreach Coordinator, Healthy Environments Partnership, (313) 593-0924, cegamboa@umich.edu.

What’s Happening with CNR?

Many of us associated with the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative have our ears to the ground about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, as we were heavily involved in advocating for a number of components last year – many of which made it into the new bill. So, here’s a quick update on what’s happened with the bill and where it stands today.

  • On January 20, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry approved bi-partisan legislation to reauthorize child nutrition programs. The legislation, “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016,” reforms and reauthorizes child nutrition programs under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.
  • The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
  • Once that happens, we will encourage the House to take up the Senate bill, but it is unknown whether they will. If action is not taken within the next month or so, the bill may not move through Congress until after the elections.

U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow says the bill puts the health of America’s children first. “We are making sure our children get nutritious meals based on smart, science-based policies to give every child a fair shot at success. The investments made in this bill will give important new resources to fight hunger, from WIC to the summer meals program. I urge members of the Senate to support this commonsense bill.”

Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative will continue to keep its members up to date.

Time for a Tune Up: Detroit Food Security Policy is being Revamped

It’s been a busy six months at the Detroit Food Policy Council.

We have been working to update the city’s food security policy, which was originally adopted in 2008, following two years of hard work driven by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and others who care about food justice and food access issues in the city of Detroit.20151021-%20LJS-%20DFPC-ListeningSession-Group-27

It’s important to note that this original work triggered the creation of the Detroit Food Policy Council. With eight years of food work now under our belt, the council decided it was time to re-visit the original policy and garner new community input and perspective.

To give you a framework, the food policy that’s currently in place addresses eight issue areas, has three to nine listed action items under each, and is nine pages in length. It covers food access, food literacy, hunger, economic injustice, urban agriculture and more. The policy is forward thinking and grounded in the true belief that Detroit, while facing many barriers, can have an equitable, sustainable food system.

Since the Detroit Food Policy Council is a member of the Detroit Food & Fitness

Listening session participant takes part in a dot survey.

Listening session participant takes part in a dot survey.

Collaborative, it’s not surprising that the policy is aligned with the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative’s mission to make sure all Detroiters, including the most vulnerable children, have access to affordable, healthy locally grown food.

In short, both of our groups were fortunate to have such a great original policy to turn to before the council even began our research and revamping.

Here’s how the revision project has unfolded. After receiving a grant last year to assess and update the policy, we assembled a team of folks to help, including three external consultants from different backgrounds and our own Kibibi Blount-Dorn, the program manager here at Detroit Food Policy Council. The team conducted focus groups and listening sessions, and distributed both online and hard-copy surveys.

Through hard work and attention to detail, our policy update team made sure that all seven districts in Detroit had a voice. We collected 341 surveys and had great turnout at our listening sessions. We sent postcards and distributed flyers to reach people, and we worked with community groups all over the city to help us connect with many different community members. We heard from emergency food providers, working families, urban gardeners, seniors, and folks from many different walks of life.

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Malik Yakini presents at a listening session.

All in all, we gathered input from around 500 Detroiters. Some of the highlights of this process were our final city-wide listening session on October 31 and our 20-person focus group on September 29, which gathered viewpoints from people who work within the food system.

Right now, we are in the process of further synthesizing all of the data we collected, but we’ve had two important observations early on:

We need to better promote the food work being done in the city so that everyone knows where resources are and how to access them. We were surprised to find out that many people were unaware of the City of Detroit’s policy on food security. We also learned that some of the activities folks expressed an interest in, such as fisheries and aquaponics, are already exist locally.

We need to educate more than ever. People definitely asked for more education around health and wellness.

20151021-%20LJS-%20DFPC-ListeningSession-Registration-1Internally, we know that we want to carefully track the items in the new policy and create a process for updating it. The policy will help guide our work, and in the short- and long-term improve the food system for families and individuals. Good, locally sourced food contributes to individuals living a healthy life – but it also contributes at a more global level by creating better public health outcomes and thus a stronger city.

I will keep you posted on the policy revisions, and our work with the Detroit City Council, and look forward to sharing more in the upcoming months.