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: 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.

What’s Happening with the Michigan Good Food Charter

The Michigan Good Food Charter is a vision statement and set of goals for the food system in Michigan developed collectively in 2009-2010 by hundreds of people across the state.

The Charter is important because everyone in Michigan deserves access to good food. Not everyone has that right now, and the charter puts forward goals and strategies for changing that. The charter also calls for supporting Michigan agriculture and farmers – both for the sake of farmers, too many of whom are not profitable, and as way to strengthen the local economy.

Our role at MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems is to build partnerships around the goals of the charter, to track progress, and to get the word out.

The charter outlines a shared vision, six key goals and 25 policy priorities; it’s a long and thorough document, so I thought it would be helpful to update DFFC members about our progress in a few key areas.

One of the areas where we’ve made much headway is in building awareness and support for the charter goals. We’re in a good place at the state and local level, with groups on board with the charter goals and working to support them. We see the charter as strengthening a network of networks. We’re all sharing the same vision and goals and working together to achieve the goals logistically. This helps leverage work around the state.

Another area where we’re making notable progress is with institutional purchasing of local food. This work is being spearheaded by Michigan Farm to Institution Network, a statewide learning and practice collaborative that supports Michigan institutions’ efforts to increase local food purchases. The network is encouraging organizations to sign on to Cultivate Michigan, to get 20 percent of the food that they buy from Michigan producers by 2020.

We’ve also made strides around providing support for food-related businesses. The Michigan Food Hub Learning and Innovation Network has been instrumental in furthering efforts to create local distribution hubs in communities across Michigan by creating opportunities for people to learn from each other. Michigan also received a $3 million federal grant to create the Michigan Good Food Fund, which will provide access to capital and technical assistance to businesses across the supply chain that will help make healthy food more available in underserved areas.

The more challenging areas of the charter are in supporting farmers to supply Michigan markets profitably and supporting beginning farmers (the average age of farmers continues to notch up). We’re starting to get the state to provide more support for beginning farmers, but progress has been slower than we’d like.

We’ve also been challenged in tracking one of the charter goals around incorporating food and agriculture into curricula and providing youth access to entrepreneurship. We know good local efforts, like the Detroit School Garden Collaborative and the Detroit Food Academy, are underway, but we don’t have a way to quantify or qualify them or track progress statewide.

Despite these challenges, momentum with the good food movement is promising. The Center for Regional Food Systems tries to profile the important work going on to raise public consciousness. We also help organizations and professionals around the state learn and network with each other.

This summer we started a new campaign to get individuals and organizations to sign the Resolution for Support for the Charter and take action. And we’re more active than ever on Facebook and in getting more media coverage on food- and farming-related issues.

Attendees at last year's summit

Lastly, we’re hosting the 2014 Michigan Good Food Summit on October 28 at the Lansing Center. We have a packed agenda, amazing keynote speakers, and engaging breakout sessions planned for the day. We’ll also be releasing our 2014 report card, drawing from new data and showing progress on our six goals from when the charter was first implemented to where we are today. You can register here.

Hope to see you at the summit!

New Release: Economic Analysis of Detroit’s Food System

Detroit’s rich agricultural history, vibrant community food system, and expanding food business opportunities were the impetus for the development of the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative Economic Analysis of Detroit’s Food System.

In mid- to late 2013, research and data collection for the study took place with the help of many diverse stakeholders, including food advocates and practitioners, business and municipal leaders, and community residents. The study documents both opportunities and gaps in the food system, with the purpose of helping to guide and inform future investments.

Recommendations were developed to

  • increase localization;
  • strengthen public policy and systems change activities;
  • develop career and training opportunities across the food value chain; and
  • further develop a growing local food ecosystem in the city.

Next steps include focus groups to review recommendations and develop an action plan for moving the needle on the great opportunities highlighted in the study. Be on the lookout for a focus group near you; we’d love for you to join us!

Please send your questions or comments on the study to: Meredith Freeman,

MJK Community Partners LLC,

Economic Analysis of Detroit’s Food System: Executive Summary

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.