Fair foods for Detroit

November 6, 2012

Source: The Michigan Citizen
Author: C. Kelly

DETROIT — Dedicated to building a just and sustainable food system, the Fair Food Network has launched two new programs in Detroit. The Detroit Grocery Incubator program could increase grocery stores in Detroit and the Double Up Food Bucks program will allow Michigan Bridge card users to match their dollars with the purchase of Michigan-grown fresh foods and vegetables.

“Three issues of fair food are accessibility, affordability and ownership,” says Terrence Hicks, Fair Food Network program director, who believes the two programs will increase the number of Black-owned grocery stores in Detroit and improve access to healthy and fresh food.

Double Up Food Bucks was first launched in 2009 at local farmers’ markets. The program allowed people with Bridge cards to, in addition to buying staple foods, double their benefits with the ability to also buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The program has been so successful it was expanded and is considered a national best practice, according to Program Director Rachel Chadderdon Bair.

In June 2013, the program will expand beyond farmer’s markets to grocery stores.

“Farmer’s markets have a mission to engage the community. That is good but most people buy groceries at the grocery stores,” said Bair. “We need to try this in a setting where most people do their shopping.”

Mike’s Fresh Market, James Hooks’ Metro Foodland and the Honey Bee Market in southwest Detroit will participate. The stores were selected because they represent areas of the city where there were no farmer’s markets and also have high numbers of food stamp beneficiaries. Instead of tokens, the program will begin to use a Visa-based system for benefits.

“With this program, there is the potential to increase the sales of healthy food and increase traffic into the participating stores. We are especially excited about the part of the program that says the Double Up Food dollars must be spent on Michigan produce — recognizing all business in Michigan is good business,” says Bair.

Fair Food Network is also continuing its Grocery Store Incubator program, which will teach those who are interested in being grocery store entrepreneurs how to thrive in business in urban areas.

“We are trying to breakdown the institutional racism that circulates around the food systems in Detroit. How do we segue into a community that diversifies the food system?” asked Myra Lee, Detroit Food Policy Council program assistant.

Which is one of the reasons the organization launched the Detroit Grocery Incubator.

“We have fellows that are coming from demographics that better represent the actual population of Detroit,” Lee said.

According to the program organizers, the problem of access to healthy food in underserved Detroit persists but, if overcome, could transform the community.

“I worked for Farmer Jack for about 15 years so when they moved out, I saw a big need. I was born and raised in Detroit and I know when you go into the grocery stores you have a hard time finding fresh food,” says Grocery Incubator fellow Isaac DeGeffenreid, who graduated from Kettering. “I think people would feel better if they eat better and (they will) live longer. I see young kids who don’t really eat fresh fruit at all. I know it would improve the community greatly — they aren’t getting the vitamins they need to survive. You can go into a couple of grocery stores in a few areas where there are no fresh fruits or vegetables at all.”

Calvin Moore, born and raised in Mississippi, moved to Detroit when he married his wife. He believes access to healthy food will reduce obesity and disease. He is also a fellow.

“The food system is broken here,” says Moore, whose children have learned to ask for healthy food instead of chips. Moore also says the urban farmers will play a key role in creating access.

“This is a twofold approach,” said Hicks about Fair Food Network’s Detroit program. “Create a little more economic vitality in the area where the pilot stores are situated and create more access fresh food.”

For more information, visit fairfoodnetwork.org.

First published at The Michigan Citizen on October 19, 2012.