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: Oakland Avenue Farmers’ Market

This is the third market profile of Detroit Eats! photo essay project.

Did you know that mustard seed can be planted in areas with high levels of lead in the ground to decontaminate the soil? Oakland Avenue market manager, Jerry Ann Hebron, explains this as she gives me a tour of the gardens, artwork, and surrounding facilities that make up the Oakland Avenue Farmers’ Market.

“Trees and plants are healing this space.” – Sun, a frequent visitor, who also runs workshops on the identities that names can create for people.

The neighborhood surrounding Oakland Ave has struggled with issues of prostitution, drug dealing, and vacant lots. It has 44 churches, one of which Hebron’s mother is the pastor. Hebron grew up in this neighborhood but has since moved away. In conversations with her mother, she realized that there were many others like her, still coming to do their weekly worship, but no longer living in the surrounding neighborhood. An often-referenced Bible verse says, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” While the verse is obviously speaking of spiritual faith, it is evident that Hebron has a compelling faith (most likely bigger than a mustard seed) in both the land and people of Oakland Avenue.

Hebron speaks with all the wisdom of someone who’s been farming their whole life, telling me about rain gardens, organic practices, and the trials of growing the perfect beets. However, she has only been doing this since 2010. Since then, Oakland Ave has built a hoop house, maintained several plots of land, and remodeled a blighted home which now serves as a community house. Completely reversing the effects of seven years of abandonment, they redid the ceiling and floors, installed a bathroom and kitchen, and added solar panels. Its brightly colored walls now serve as a prep kitchen, meeting place, and place to hold workshops.  Oakland Avenue is run by both employees and paid volunteers. Employees are part of a job training program for homeless people, youth, and returning citizens.

Alix and Nick represented MUFI at Oakland Ave. for the first time, and said that they enjoy being “good food stewards to the neighborhood we’re in.”

The Market is so richly flourishing, that one could just assume that it magically developed over night. However, Oakland Avenue has had its share of struggles. When showing me the “native environment” garden, a patch of land of thriving wildflowers and fluttering butterflies, she recounted the day when she found City employees noisily shredding down all of the flowers with lawnmowers. Instructed to maintain overgrown vacant lots, the mowers didn’t recognize that these flowers were not weeds, nor that they didn’t belong to the City.  “Before we bought this property [they] didn’t cut it not one time,” says Hebron. The flowers have since grown back, but a bitter taste is still in the mouths of Oakland Avenue workers.

Perhaps it could be cured with a taste of the honey from the bee hives located near the community compost pile. The hives belong to Green Toe Gardens, a local honey company with the motto “What’s good for the bees is good for the plant and the people.” In exchange for allowing them space for the hives, Green Toe supplies Oakland Ave with free honey.

This is just one example of the relationships that Oakland Avenue has built with local establishments. Another is with the Michigan Urban Farming Institute (MUFI), a new vendor at Oakland Ave. Located about five blocks away, and recently featured in the New York Times, MUFI is a group of recent graduates keen on joining the community-centric urban farming movement that is happening in the neighborhood.

Polo, Sun’s dog and second coolest accessory.

Before I leave, I chat with a group of people at a picnic table. Sun, a woman with a big smile and an orange watering can-shaped purse, tells me about all of the art in the neighborhood, ranging from the giant metal sunflower planter to the many murals on the surrounding buildings.  The North End Urban Expressions Art Festival was held here on August 24 with the theme, “The Healing.”

Looking around, it is clear that this market, its produce, and art have done much healing in this community. Watching Hebron hustle around, is also clear that there is still much to do. With ambitious plans of building hoop houses, improving soil, and moving back to her childhood home, she demonstrates that whether it’s the faith of a mustard seed or mustard seed being planted, the Oakland Avenue Farmers’ Market is growing inspiration that nothing is impossible.

The Oakland Avenue Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday from 11am -3:30pm at 9354 Oakland Avenue (between Arden Park and Holbrook). They accept SNAP/Bridge Cards and Double Up Food Bucks for eligible items. The market is one of 14 Detroit Community Markets supported by the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative.

Detroit Eats: Highland Park Farmers’ Market

This is the second market profile of Detroit Eats! photo essay project.

The Highland Park Farmers’ Market is located in a parking lot next to a strip mall and the first Model T production plant. This interesting limbo between past and present is seen in multi-generational crowd at the market as well. A DJ blasts popular music and most of the tents are manned by high school youth who are a part of the SAFETY program (Successful Alliance For Educated Talented Youth). The young volunteers have an impressive amount of patience and respect with picky customers, and answer their questions the best they can. Meanwhile, one woman is so elderly that she requests a chair to sit in as she picks out which greens she wants.

“I’m about as country as a couch on the porch” -- Mississippi

One of the tents not operated by youth is dedicated solely to Mississippi’s Zucchini Bread, “The Bread That Talks to Your Heart.” I introduce myself to the baker, and ask what he name is. “Miss Issippi.” Pardon? “Mississippi.” Later I find out her name is actually Ms. Harvey, but I agree to call her Mississippi because the sample of bread that she gave me was so tasty.

The Highland Park Farmers’ Market is still relatively new, established in 2012.  However, it is very eager to get word out to the community and provide healthy food amongst other things. In early August, the Market handed out backpacks and school supplies for students to celebrate Neighborhoods Day. They are dedicated to nurturing literacy in the classroom and health literacy for youth as well.  We’re excited to see how the Highland Park Farmers’ Market continues to grow and spread these important messages within its city!

“It’s cool you get to help out the community, get the produce that doesn’t get out there.”

The Highland Park Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday from 10am -2pm at 53 East Manchester (1 block east of Woodward). The market is one of 14 Detroit Community Markets supported by the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative.

Detroit Eats: Hamtramck Farmers’ Market

This is the first market profile of Detroit Eats! photo essay project.

In the backyard of the plum colored house at 2360 Yemans, a young boy scales down the trunk of a very climable looking tree. When he lands on the ground, he is surrounded by several tables and talkative neighbors, the average weekly makeup of the Hamtramck Farmers’ Market. His name is Ivan, he is nine years-old, and a regular at the Hamtramck Farmers’ Market.

Rain or shine, Ivan is a steadfast one-man welcome committee at the Market

There is a sign on the garage that reads Never Mind the Dog. Beware of the Owner. Yet, as I enter, I am greeted with many “hellos” and warm smiles making me feel like I’m arriving at a family get-together, except I do not actually know anyone there.

“Ice cream! Ice cream!” yells a little girl, no older than three, selling imaginary ice cream cones out of her pop up tent. Her ability to sell tasty treats must have rubbed off from her only customer and mother, Angel. Angel operates the Tiny Acres booth, and lives in the house that hosts this weekly market. Tiny Acres is an urban farm consisting of three lots of raised beds located in Hamtramck. Its inventory proudly boasts organic and non-GMO produce, delicious jams and jellies, granola, and even balms and sunblock.

“People ask me who Jane is. I’m a Jane, you’re a Jane. Any of you is probably a Jane.” – Kaitlyn, co-founder of Jane of All Trades

Angel introduces me to the other vendors including Pam, owner of Pamelot Soap Co, a pink-haired woman selling all natural perfumes with a necklace that says FIERCE, and Kaitlyn and Chris-Teena the owners of Jane of All Trades, a mobile coffee stand. “There’s supposed to be some punk rock kid,” she explains, motioning to the empty table, “but he’s a punk rock kid so he flaked.”

Regardless of the missing vendor, the market still has an diverse array of products from Pamelot’s goat’s milk soaps to Jane of All Trades’ Whipped Up Greek Iced Coffee (I’m not sure what makes it Greek, you’ll have to try it for yourself!). Ivan operates the welcome table with a charmingly business-like attitude. When asked what his favorite part of the market was, he shrugged and said “Just selling to people, and giving them products of food.” Earlier, he offered me a sample of some local bread, thoroughly briefing me on the pros and cons of its flavor.

“I just want to broom.” – Fiola, Angel’s daughter and Tiny Acre’s tiniest helper

With such welcoming people, and the fact that it is held in the backyard of someone’s home, the Hamtramck Farmers’ Market is as “local” as local food can get. The market has created a space for neighbors to hang out, eat, and laugh together on a weekly basis. By opening her backyard to the neighborhood, Angel and her family exemplify the ability for local food to foster community, and prove the Beware of Owner sign to be completely false.

The Hamtramck Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday from 2-6 pm at 2360 Yemans. The market is one of 14 Detroit Community Markets supported by the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative.

Angel, owner of Tiny Acres Farm

For the first time, the Hamtramck Market is proud to accept SNAP/Bridge Cards this year for eligible items.

Introducing Detroit Eats!

They say that a photo says a thousand words, but there’s so much more to say when it comes to where Detroiters are buying their food.

Detroit Eats! is a new photography project that will be hosted here on the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative website. It will profile the many unique options of where to buy fresh, healthy produce within the city – and it beautifully harmonizes with DFFC’s mission to develop ways to ensure that everyone in Detroit has access to affordable, locally grown food.

The project will focus on the Detroit Community Markets, a coalition of 14 different markets located in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. They range from urban farm stands, to mobile produce trucks, to quaint backyard markets. Detroit Eats! will be exploring a wide range of these Community Markets, and the many different people who shop there, highlighting what makes each market so special.

Farmers’ markets are wonderful places to buy nutritious food, as well as support local growers. Many of them accept forms of food assistance, making them accessible to many levels of income as well. Benefits abound to shopping at Community Markets, but we will let the photos speak for themselves.

Stay tuned for the first market profile coming soon!

Fresh Food Share Continues to Supply Thousands with Low-Cost Produce

Gleaners Community Food Bank’s Fresh Food Share program, supported by the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative, delivers boxes of fresh produce at an affordable price to community sites for families living in low-income neighborhoods where healthy, unprocessed food is not easy to come by.

The program supplies low-cost boxes (“shares”) of fresh food to around 250 households each month.

Fresh Food Share members pre-order a box of produce at their local community sites and later pick it up. The fresh food is bought at wholesale prices from local farmers, including Detroit farmers. The boxes are available for monthly pickup at multiple neighborhood locations around the city; during any given month, Fresh Food Share delivers to approximately 24 sites. There are currently 36 sites, but not every site orders monthly, particularly schools who may be closed during the summer and holiday months.

Fresh Food Share is a community food program that provides an easy, affordable way for Detroit residents to get fresh food, increase their nutritional knowledge, and support local farmers. It also strives to achieve a measure of financial sustainability in its design: the cost of the shares cycles back in to support the logistics of running the program.

Another perk, Fresh Food Share gives Double Up Food Bucks tokens when customers use their SNAP dollars to purchase their shares, and customers can use the tokens to pay for the part of their box that is Michigan grown. This comprises almost all of the box during the growing season.

American Indian Health and Family Services, Carver S.T.E.M. Academy, Woodbridge Community Youth Center, and Piquette Square are among the distribution sites.

American Indian Health and Family Services operates a free medical clinic for those without insurance and has a variety of health education and referral programs in southwest Detroit; offering Fresh Food Share to the people it serves is fitting.

“We place an emphasis on healthy eating in all our programs and have a lot of clients who don’t have access to fresh produce, either because they are living in areas that are food deserts, or they don’t have good transportation,” says Nina Eusani, maternal and child nurse at AIHFS.

“Having fresh produce available at wholesale prices is great for many of our clients who are low-income and need access to affordable produce.”

AIHFS and other site partners appreciate Fresh Food Share because it helps their clients while not requiring a big investment of time.

“It’s a great opportunity for community members, and it doesn’t take a huge amount of work on our end,” says Nina. “It’s so great to have someone create that infrastructure so that we don’t have to.”

For more information about Fresh Food Share click here.