Detroit: Food City

Food City

When it comes to food, Detroit is a tale of many cities. Foodie meccas like Midtown boast dozens of trend-setting restaurants and cafés—and the city’s first Whole Foods (a second is in the works, as is a Meijer’s). New food havens are springing up in neighborhoods like Southwest (home to popular Café con Leche) and Grandmont Rosedale, where two-year-old Always Brewing has become a magnet for longtime residents like Mary and Chet McLeod, who say the coffee shop is “like our Cheers. We’ve been dying for a place like this.”

“It’s really encouraging that so much positive is happening,” says SPH graduate Noam Kimelman, MPH ’12, founder and owner of Fresh Corner Café, which delivers healthy food to small-scale retailers throughout Detroit. Among the scores of new eateries opening citywide, many are “really intentional about sourcing Michigan- or Detroit-grown produce and other local products,” Kimelman adds.

But in some pockets of the city, access to healthy foods—never mind convivial cafés—is scarce, and many Detroiters continue to rely on fast food or cheap snacks from corner stores and gas stations as their default cuisine.

Kimelman, who won the 2014 Young Entrepreneur Award from SCORE, a national organization that aids small businesses, wants to spread the culinary wealth. And he’s not alone.

At D-Town Farm on the city’s west side, Malik Kenyatta Yakini and his colleagues are growing more than 30 kinds of fruits and vegetables with an eye toward increasing access to high-quality fresh produce. Yakini, director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, believes agriculture “can be an economic driver in Detroit.”
Dorceta Taylor of the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment says urban farms are but one way Detroiters meet their food needs. The city’s “vibrant alternative food scene.” she says, includes community and school gardens, farmers markets, dairies, community-supported agriculture, mobile food trucks (such as UpSouth Foods, which imports produce from black farmers in the South), soup kitchens, food pantries and banks, even subsistence fishing and hunting. Taylor gave the keynote at this year’s Minority Health Conference sponsored by Public Health Students of African Descent at U-M SPH.

At FoodLab Detroit, more than 100 food entrepreneurs are working to create a “sustainable local food economy in Detroit,” reports co-director Devita Davison. FoodLab members—many of whom come from traditionally marginalized populations—hew to a triple bottom line: financial profit, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

And a new generation is in training. Through the Detroit Food Academy, an after-school program for high-schoolers, Kimelman and others are helping young Detroiters learn basic business, cooking, and nutritional skills. The students develop food products to sell through another new enterprise—Small Batch Detroit. Detroit’s food scene, says Kimelman, “is really thriving.”

Photos from Detroit: Food City

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  • Deveri Gifford and Jason Yates of Brooklyn Street Local
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  • Detroit Food Academy
  • Café Con Leche
  • Devita Davidson of Food Lab
  • Food Lab logo
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  • April Anderson of Good Cakes and Bakes
  • Always Brewing Coffee & Community
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  • Detroit's Eastern Market
  •  Good Cakes and Bakes
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  • Malik Kenyatta Yakini
  • Detroit Food Academy
  • Fishing in the Detroit River
  • Brooklyn Street Grill
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  • Jennifer, Cassandra, and Charice Thomas of Sweet Potato Sensations
  • Jordi Carbonell of Café con Leche
  • Motor City Java House
  • Detroit Food Academy
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  • Noam Kimelman
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  • Alicia George of Motor City Java House
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  • Slows Bar-B-Q
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  • Avalon International Breads
  • Avalon International Breads
  • Avalon International Breads
  • Loyal customers Mary and Chet McLeod at Always Brewing
  • Detroit Food Academy
  • Sweet Potato Sensations