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.

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: 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

Michigan Good Food Summit – Well Done!

Two weeks ago, 350 individuals gathered at the Michigan Good Food Summit in Lansing to discuss all issues around the Michigan Good Food Charter, which is a vision and plan to create an equitable food system in our state.

The vision pairs up nicely with the work of Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative, which is 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.

Not surprisingly, people from all walks of the food world were present at the summit – farmers, food bankers, school and hospital food service professionals, food processors, and others who care about creating a robust and fair food system in Michigan.

Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative was well represented with a number of members present, including Detroit Public Schools, Gleaners Community Food Bank, Eastern Market, Fair Food Network, Ecology Center, Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit Food Justice Task Force, Greening of Detroit, Detroit Food Policy Council, MSU Extension, among others.

The summit provided a forum to bring food systems people together to talk about a common agenda from a variety of angles. Themes around measuring success, collaborating, dignity and fairness for farm workers and restaurant workers, sustainable farming practices, public health, food justice, and food security were all on the table.

Without regurgitating a run down of the agenda, keynotes, and breakout sessions – many of which were compelling, thought-provoking and enlightening – we thought it better to share some standout quotes from some of the presenters and participants.

Stop working in silos or thinking that your work is the most important work. Start collaborating to increase our drive around increasing access to good food for children and families.Betti Wiggins, Executive Director of the Office of Nutrition, Detroit Public Schools

Christine Quane from Eastern Market, moderates a keynote with Betti Wiggins (center) and Barbara Norman (right)

Farm workers are an invisible population. Forty thousand are under age 20. By in large, they are family groups. One-quarter are living below poverty level.Tom Thornburg, Farmworker Legal Services, Kalamazoo

The legacy of Cesar Chavez articulates the need for action. We can’t continue to watch occupational segregation in metro Detroit. A race tax is being paid at 33 percent. There has to be action.Alicia Farris, Restaurant Opportunities Center-Michigan, Detroit

Geese demonstrate alignment and collaboration. They fly in formation. They fly at the same speed as their neighbor, they maintain a minimum distance, and they always turn toward the center.Rich Pirog, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, Lansing

The thing with tribal nations, there are inherent rights, but if you’re completely reliant on someone else to feed you, how sovereign can you be? I do believe when it comes to food, it comes to power. If you take away access to food, you take away power.Barbara Smutek, MSU Extension, Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program, Sault Ste. Marie

It is not enough to progress as individuals when our friends and neighbors are left behind.Tom Thornburg, Farmworker Legal Services, Kalamazoo

They are doing great things with the young people of Detroit to get them involved in the food system, farming, being chefs. Or just getting the kids to eat better. That makes me very excited and gives me hope for the future.Sharon Ostrowski, Sharkar Farms, St. Clair County

We must keep in mind at all steps along the way what good food is: healthy, green, fair and affordable.Michelle Napier-Dunnings, Michigan Food & Farming Systems, East Lansing

FoodLab Detroit

Thanks to MSU Center for Regional Food Systems for bringing so many compassionate people together for a lively and thoughtful day.

Detroit Eats: Meldrum Fresh Farmers’ Market

Earthworks Urban Farm was founded in 1999 by Brother Rick Samyn in an effort to feed the hungry while addressing “the systemic causes of poverty, broken relationships and a wounded Earth.” The garden has been growing in size, bounty, and reputation ever since. The Meldrum Fresh Market (named after its location on Meldrum St.) sells the organic produce grown on the garden located directly behind it.

“It’s more than just about having a market. It’s about learning about farming.” – Brittney, mentee-turned-mentor

Baskets of plump eggplants and leafy kale fill make a bountiful spread for customers to choose from. All of the food is laid out under the unstained wooden shed. The shelter has sinks and a washing-processing area in the back where farm apprentices wash the vegetables before selling them. The shed is tall and protected so that work can be done inside, but with open walls allowing sunlight to pour in over the fresh food.

The busy people doing this prep work are members of the Earthworks Agriculture Training (E.A.T.) Program. The program is made up of three mentors and 12 mentees. Brittney, a current mentor, explained that the nine-month long program teaches the farming skills necessary to grow healthy crops, as well as the marketing techniques required to sell them. Last year, Brittney was a mentee within the program.

The mentor-mentee relationship is a small-scale, close to home version of the community that is fostered at the Earthworks Urban Farm. Part of their mission is to strive for “peace, respect, and harmony between Neighbor and Nature.”

The washing-processing shed where the produce, which is grown on-site, is also sold

The “Garden of Unity” is an example how Earthworks reaches out to its neighbors, who tend to small patches of land. A larger idea of the word neighbor can also be applied to the visitors that Earthworks receives from around the world. Brittney recalled people as far as Spain and Australia.

Sean Bernardo has been coming to Earthworks for over two years. His brother, Shane, is the market manager of the Meldrum Market. Originally from Windsor, these brothers have become heavily involved in the urban farming scene within the city. While the farm draws in people from all over the world, Sean emphasized the community and continuous support he receives at Earthworks. “There’s people you can talk to,” he said. “If you’re having a crisis, there’s people to talk to. You can be at home.”

Whether it is the immediate neighbor living down the street, or the international neighbor, Earthworks extends a welcoming hand. The E.A.T. employees were so knowledgeable, enlightening me on topics ranging from species of peppers to how certain geography and development processes lead to flooding. I left well-informed on a wide range of subjects, and with the strong urge to become more involved in such a wonderful place!

Sean Bernardo

The Meldrum Farmers’ Market is open every Thursday from 11a.m.-2 p.m. at 1264 Meldrum.  They accept SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks, Project FRESH, and Senior Market FRESH. Its last market day of the season is October 30.