Shaping the Food System in Detroit

Fifteen years after Detroit native Malik Yakini helped launch a community network to address food insecurity in the Motor City, he’s helping to shepherd the city’s food justice movement into a new, more entrepreneurial phase.

Yakini, who co-founded the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network in 2006, is preparing for the construction (expected to start in September 2021) of a 17,000-square-foot food co-op run by member/owners from the community.

Yakini, 65, who as a child spent time gardening with his grandfather, sees the co-op as a key step forward as the community works toward food sovereignty.

“This is an opportunity to break [an] extractive model that we see functioning in our community,” he says, referring to the fact that typically grocery store owners live outside of the community. The co-op will “empower African-Americans to have ownership in a grocery store.” 

The co-op is slated to open in the summer or fall of 2022. Already, there are 1,270 member/owners; each paid a $200 one-time fee for a stake in the store. While not all of the member/owners are African American, a good portion are, Yakini notes. The co-op board hopes to have at least 2,000 member/owners by opening day.

That level of buy-in not only will provide operating funds but also a customer base for the nascent retail outlet, “because presumably those 2,000 member/owners will be regular shoppers at the store, as well,” says Yakini.

The push to open the market comes about a year after the Food Security Network joined with two other local organizations—Keep Growing Detroit and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm—to provide would-be farmers with capital to buy land locally.

Through the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, more than $50,000 has been raised to help Black farmers buy land in the city, addressing gaps in access to capital and offering technical assistance to an underserved group, according to Yakini and the Keep Growing Detroit website.

The Food Security Network also operates the D-Town Farm which, at slightly more than seven acres, is among the largest of the more than 1,900 family, community, school, and market gardens across Detroit.

D-Town Farm helps improve access to healthy fruits and vegetables in an area that saw an exodus of major grocers by the early 2000s, a pattern that has recently started to turn around.

Experts see entrepreneurial efforts like the co-op as part of an evolution within the urban agricultural movement. “Urban agriculture in our estimation is about more than food,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute. “It's about community revitalization, jobs, environmental justice, fostering social interaction and helping to solve the food desert problem.

“Now people are starting to realize we really need to have a business point of view here. We can't just be growing food sort of haphazardly—we have to really look at the bottom line. So what you're starting to see now is entrepreneurs are getting into urban farming.”

The co-op, the Black farmers’ fund and D-Town Farm all offer participants a level of control, which Yakini said is a key feature of food sovereignty.

“Food sovereignty is not just making sure that people have enough food but ... also making sure that the people who are producing the food and communities are really shaping the food system,” he says. 

Guided by Kellogg’s African American Resource Group and our wellness brands Special K, Eggo, MorningStar Farms and Kashi, Kellogg has launched “Black History. Every Month.: A Call for Food Justice,” shining a light on the barriers to food justice and elevating the work of local heroes fighting to remove them.

As part of this commitment, Kellogg is making a $10,000 donation to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network as well as organizations in New Orleans, Houston, Oakland and other cities.

The donation will go toward supporting the co-op project, says DBCFSN co-founder Malik Yakini. He also hopes it will help forge a deeper connection. “We always try to push the envelope or try to encourage those who are in philanthropy to be more thoughtful about how they're deploying money and how they can do it in ways that increase the degree to which that money helps to bring about justice,” says Yakini. “We would hope that our presence in the Kellogg universe would help to stimulate discussion about how Kellogg might be a more robust partner in the struggle for food justice and food sovereignty.

We invite you to join the fight for food justice three ways:

●     Learn more about food injustice and the barriers to healthy food systems in your area.

●     Support food justice programs with donations and by following them on social media.

●     Spread the word about organizations fighting food justice by sharing their stories on your social media channels, using hashtags #BHEM, #cultivatefoodjustice

To learn more about supporting the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network or volunteering at D-Town Farm, visit dbcfsn.org.

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