The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) was founded in February, 2006 at a meeting attended by more than 40 gardeners, cooks, raw-foodists, food co-op advocates, social justice activists and other members of Detroit’s African-American Community who were interested in working together to promote greater access to healthy food, sound food policies, and community self-determination.
The founders agreed that the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) would work to build food security in Detroit’s Black community by: 1) influencing public policy; 2) promoting urban agriculture; 3) encouraging co-operative buying; 4) promoting healthy eating habits; 5) facilitating mutual support and collective action among members; and 6) encouraging young people to pursue careers in agriculture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, bee-keeping and other food related fields.
We were concerned that, in a city that was more than 80% Black, the major players in the city’s urban agriculture movement were white. We were concerned that most food venues in Detroit were owned by folks from outside of our communities, and that the jobs and millions of dollars that we spend on food (and other goods and services) are skillfully funneled out of our communities to enrich others. We were concerned that the City lacked a comprehensive food policy that would safeguard the food security of Detroit’s residents, promote economic and social justice, and impact planning for Detroit’s future.
Many of our founders were members of what could loosely be called Detroit’s “African-centered community:” black folks who have a shared understanding of the importance of rooting ourselves in our own historical and cultural continuum. Many of us were actively involved in promoting the restoration of an African worldview in order to heal ourselves from the damage inflicted by enslavement, terror, discrimination, and mis-education. Many of our founding members were long-term community activists and self-help advocates who already had credibility and relationships with many community members, elected and appointed officials.
In the almost six years since our founding, we have made great strides. Since June 2008 we have operated D-Town Farm, a two-acre urban organic farm in Rouge Park on the city’s far Westside. We grow using traditional row cropping, raised beds, and four hoophouses for season extension. The farm also features composting, bee-keeping and a demonstration mushroom production project. It is fast becoming one of Detroit’s hottest agri-tourism sites, with more than a thousand visitors touring the farm this year. We are currently awaiting the City Council’s approval of an agreement to expand the farm to seven acres.
D-Town Farm models ways in which Detroiters can provide great access to fresh, safe, healthy foods for themselves through urban agriculture. It also models how unused and underutilized land in the city of Detroit can be put into productive use to beautify communities, heal the environment, build community and generate wealth.
D-Town Farm produce is sold from June through October at Eastern Market, the SEED Wayne Famers Market, and Northwest Detroit Farmers Market. D-Town produce is sold at the farm on Saturday and Sunday mornings during the summer and early fall.
DBCFSN was instrumental in the writing and subsequent adoption by the Detroit City Council of the Detroit Food Security Policy. That policy examines several key areas of concern regarding Detroit’s food system and makes specific recommendations to address each concern. Among other things, this policy called for the creation of the Detroit Food Policy Council, which began meeting in November 2009 with significant input and leadership from DBCFSN. The Detroit Food Security Policy can be viewed on the Detroit Food Policy Council’s website: www.detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net.
Throughout its history, the DBCFSN has actively pursued new programs, partnerships, and offerings that further its mission. In August 2008, DBCFSN began operation of the Ujamaa Food Co-op Buying Club. The Buying Club allows members to purchase a variety of food, health and household items once per month from an online catalogue at below retail prices. On pick-up day, co-op members can purchase D-Town farm produce or one of several featured items.
Drawing on the Nguzo Saba (the value system developed by Maulana Karenga) and the example of 1960s Tanzania’s Ujamaa Villages, many African-Americans have sought to practice Ujamaa ( co-operative economics and familyhood) for the past four decades. By pooling our money and buying larger quantities collectively, we realize a savings on our food dollar. Equally as important, co-ops give us the opportunity to own and operate the vehicle through which we obtain our food.
DBCFSN’s Ujamaa Co-op is partnering with the Black Oaks Center for Sustainable and Renewable Living to enhance our co-op operation, develop a monthly market day featuring vendors and cultural entertainment, and build regional cooperation. We are currently conducting a feasibility study regarding the possibility of morphing our buying club into a brick and mortar healthy foods co-op store.
The DBCFSN Food Warriors Youth Development Program works in Detroit schools to teach young people about food, where it comes from and how to grow it. Participants are taught the importance of eating healthy foods in order to maintain health and wellbeing.
For learners of all ages, there is our “What’s For Dinner?” Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Detroit Public Library and hosted at its main branch, which runs every other month from April through October. These lectures, which recently completed their second annual series, address critical topics of interest about the food system impacting our lives.
DBCFSN members have also actively participated in and provided leadership to the “Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System” initiative. We have contributed to the public dialogue about the food system by consistently pointing out the role of racism in creating inequities, and we partner with several other Detroit organizations in the Detroit Food Justice Task Force.
The work of DBCFSN is attracting attention nationally and internationally, and DBCFSN members have shared their work at conferences throughout the United States. The organization received the Food Sovereignty Award Honorable Mention from the International Links Committee of the Community Food Security Coalition at their annual conference in 2010. Film and TV crews from throughout the U.S. Japan, Germany, France and the Netherlands have shot footage at D-Town, and Will Allen, C.E.O. of Milwaukee’sGrowing Power Inc. chose D-Town Farm to serve as its Detroit area Regional Outreach Training Center.
While we appreciate the recognition that our work is getting and the opportunity to share our story with others, we are clear that our most important work remains here, in Detroit’s Black community.