Detroit's Food Economy

The Policy of Access in Detroit’s Food Economy

by: Laura Weber-Davis


Urban Garden in Detroit. Photo Credit: Matt Elliott, WDET

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“The number of grocery stores [in Detroit] per 10,000 population is like one-quarter of what it is in San Francisco, and one-third of what it is even in Ann Arbor.” -- Oran Hesterman, President and founder of Fair Food Network


So how can policymakers help increase access to a wide variety of food in Detroit? There are some ideas at the federal, local and grassroots levels. In Washington D.C., Congress still has a new Farm Bill to approve, and in Detroit, City Council has to work around the state’s Right to Farm Act.

WDET’s Laura Weber-Davis continues our series on Detroit’s food economy, with this report on food policy in Washington and Detroit.

Guests:
Oran Hesterman, President and founder of Fair Food Network
Phil Jones, Chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council, Chef with COLORS Detroit
Kami Pothukuchi, associate professor of Urban Planning at Wayne State University



Go Deeper:
Data Driven Detroit's State of The Detroit Child 2012
Wayne State Farmers Market
Double-Up Food Bucks Program that doubles food assistance dollars spent on Michigan-grown fresh produce at farmers markets throughout the state.
Right to Farm Act protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits from non-farming neighbors
Right to Farm and zoning changes-The Craig Fahle Show
Farm Bill stall-NPR


This series is made possible by the generous support of our Sustaining Members. Because of you, WDET can bring this critical story to everyone in our region.

Transcript
Detroit’s challenges with access to healthy food are unique in the nation. That’s according to Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of the Fair Food Network headquartered in Ann Arbor.

Oran – Detroit “And part of that challenge has been de-population, and part of the challenge that comes with that is de-population of grocery stores. And there’s nowhere where that is as stark as in Detroit.”

Hesterman notes there are several full-service grocery stores in the city, and two major grocery chains ready to move in.

“But even with that, the number of grocery stores per 10,000 population is like ¼ of what it is in San Francisco, and 1/3 of what it is even in Ann Arbor.”

So how can policymakers help increase access to a wide variety of food in Detroit? There are some ideas at the federal, local and grassroots levels. Let’s start in at the nation’s Capitol where Michigan

Senator Debbie Stabenow oversees the Senate Agricultural Committee, which is responsible for the stalled Farm Bill. Hesterman says he hopes lawmakers will approve the new Farm Bill soon because it contains measures that could help feed people.

Oran – Farm Bill “Farmers market promotion programs. Specialty crop research and block grants so that more fruits and vegetable production can be increased.”

And some food system advocates hope the new Farm Bill will change how commodity crops such as corn and soybeans that contribute to highly processed foods are subsidized. The measure also includes funding for federal food assistance. According to Data Driven Detroit, 41 percent of households in Detroit received food assistance in 2011. Alright, so now let’s go to Detroit.

Phil – ordinance “We really don’t have the policies in place that make food sense.”

That’s Phil Jones, chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council a group of food system advocates that examines ways to improve access in the city. The group has called for changes to city zoning ordinances that would allow for more urban agriculture in Detroit. But with urban farming also comes concerns from residents about pesticides, pollutants and livestock.

Phil – ordinance “You know, not everyone wants to grow food and not everyone wants to have food grown in their back yard and in their faces, there are access issues and all these things, so we’re trying to make it reasonable through proper policy that people can grow their own food, that they can actually enjoy the benefits of gardens and things, but to it in a way that the whole community is accepting. And it’s a really difficult process. Just in that one little piece, it’s a long road. It’s a long hard road.”

Kami – late to the scene “In adopting an urban agriculture ordinance, in some respects Detroit has come a little late to the scene…”

That’s Kami Pothukuchi, associate professor of Urban Planning at Wayne State University.

“…but it’s not necessarily the fault of locals and the people who have led these conversations; notably Kathryn Underwood at the City Planning Commission. In the state we have a Right to Farm legislation.”

The Right to Farm Act was designed in 1981 to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits from non-farming neighbors. But a change in the law in 2000 also prevented local governments from regulating farms and what they grow. The state’s Agricultural Commission provided for Detroit to get some of that regulatory authority back last year. City Council is expected to consider zoning changes to allow for certain types of urban agriculture this month.

Urban farming, farmers markets, federal food assistance… all of these things help create access to nutritious food in Detroit, according to Pothukuchi.

Kami – access matters “Access matters. We know, for example, that increasing access within low income neighborhoods by working with corner stores, by working with mobile markets, makes a difference. So supply does matter.”

She says the economy of food can be stimulated. Pothukuchi uses this example from the farmers market she founded on Wayne State’s campus.

Kami – DUFB “For every 10 dollars that is spent with the Bridge Card at a farmers market at Wayne State, we would give 10 additional dollars in what is called Double Up Food Bucks.”

Double-Up Food Bucks is a privately funded program that doubles food assistance dollars spent on Michigan-grown fresh produce at farmers markets throughout the state. It’s a relatively new program that has seen tremendous gains in involvement over the past few years. Which brings us back to Oran Hesterman with the Fair Food Network. Hesterman created Double-Up Food Bucks. Now the successful program is on its way to beginning a nationwide pilot… funded by, that’s right, the Farm Bill. But first, Hesterman says, Congress has to pass the bill.

Oran – win win “It’s an incredible program that we’re demonstrating is working. It’s, like I say, a win-win for everybody. Better food for low-income families, and better income for local Michigan farmers.”

With or without the Farm Bill, this year, Double-Up Food Bucks is expanding to three full-service grocery stores in Detroit.

I’m Laura Weber-Davis. WDET News.