Oran B. Hesterman, Social Innovation Rockstar
September 12, 2012
Author: Yoxi Rockstars
While working with the founding team of UC Santa Cruz’s organic farm project, Oran Hesterman received “a direct communication from the earth. That we need to change the way we’re collectively feeding ourselves. And that it’s possible.”
Today he heads Michigan’s Fair Food Network to incubate local, healthy grocery stores, and encourage Detroiters to grow their own food.
Enthralled by the farm’s miracles of science, and driven to share that transformative knowledge with others, Oran’s path led from the agronomy department of UC Davis, to the lobbying mecca of Washington, DC, to the halls of Michigan State University. In 1987, with a grant from Michigan’s Kellogg Foundation, Oran spearheaded the country’s first philanthropic effort in sustainable food and agriculture.
“Michigan already is, and is going to become, one of the main places of agriculture in our country,” Oran declares, describing the state’s promising combination of climatic advantages, agricultural history, and tradition of conscientious philanthropy. In 2009, Oran founded Michigan’s Fair Food Network to bring healthy, sustainably-grown food to the people who currently buy their groceries at convenience stores.
Oran proudly refers to the FFN team as “solutionaries,” who shift the focus from problems onto opportunities. “You get motivated by solutions,” he says. FFN solutions include Double Up Food Bucks, which uses donations to double the buying power of food stamps spent on Michigan-grown food. To fill the gaps left by the exodus of national grocery chains from Detroit during the last decade, FFN launched the Detroit Grocery Incubator Project, a program that trains and supports local entrepreneurs in running an inner city grocery store.
“$400 million dollars a year are leaking out of Detroit,” Oran says, as a result of people traveling to the suburbs to do their grocery shopping. “Imagine how many jobs that could support, and what a healthy food retail could do to anchor a neighborhood.”
In just a few years, Oran has seen Detroit revitalized with urban gardening, farmers’ markets, and an influx of young, artistic activists. On Saturdays, Oran says, Detroit’s historic Eastern Market is “the happiest place you can find in the city.”