The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) was formed in February 2006 to address food insecurity in Detroit’s Black community and to organize members of that community to play a more active leadership role in the local food security movement. We observed that many of the key players in the local urban agriculture movement were young whites, who while well-intentioned, never-the-less, exerted a degree of control inordinate to their numbers in Detroit’s population. Many of those individuals moved to Detroit from other places specifically to engage in agricultural or other food security work. It was and is our view that the most effective movements grow organically from the people whom they are designed to serve. Representatives of Detroit’s majority African-American population must be in the leadership of efforts to foster food justice and food security in Detroit. While our specific focus is on Detroit’s African-American community, we realize that improved policy and an improved localized food system is a benefit to all Detroit residents.
DBCFSN is creating model urban agricultural projects that seek to build community self-reliance and to change our consciousness about food. In 2006 we planted and maintained a ¼ acre garden near the 4-H Community Center on McClellan near Gratiot on Detroit’s east side. In 2007 we partnered with the Shrine of the Black Madonna to plant and maintain a ¾ acre mini-farm near Broadstreet and Collingwood. Since 2008 D-Town Farm has operated inside of the City of Detroit’s Rouge Park. We currently occupy seven acres where we grow more than 30 different fruits and vegetables, practice season extension with three hoop houses, do large-scale composting, keep bees, have a rainwater retention pond and a solar energy station. We give farm tours to community, church and school groups.
In 2006 we acquired the short-term use of a ¼ acre plot near the 4-H Club on McClellan on Detroit’s east side. Using the “lasagna method,” we planted vegetables and herbs, developed work schedules, and served as a sight on the Detroit Garden Tour. Unfortunately, that site was purchased by a developer, and we were not able to use it after the fall of 2006.
In June 2007 we acquired use of a ½ acre lot, on Collingwood at Cascade, on Detroit’s west side, owned by the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church. This site had previously been used as a garden site by the church but had not been under cultivation for a few years. We named the site D-Town Farm. We created beds, walkways, an irrigation system, developed a team of daily crew leaders, acquired additional tools and sold produce both at the site itself and at Eastern Market. We held our First Annual Harvest Festival in September of 2007. We fully expected to plant at the site in the April of 2008, but we were notified in March that the church had plans for its own use of the site.
In June 2008, we acquired use of a two-acre site in the City of Detroit’s Meyers’ Tree Nursery in Rouge Park as the long-term home for D-Town Farm. This acquisition was the result of two years of meetings and negotiations with the Detroit City Council, and the City’s Planning, General Services, and Recreation Departments. We were able to get a license agreement to use the site for $1 annually for ten years. We continued to build on the template that we had developed over the previous two years for bed preparation, planting, pest management, watering, work schedules, daily crew leaders, and harvesting. In 2010, D-Town Farm expanded to seven acres.
In June of 2006, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) spoke before the Neighborhood and Community Service Standing Committee of the Detroit City Council Chaired by Council Member JoAnn Watson. We pointed out that Detroit did not have a comprehensive food security policy, and discussed with the committee the benefits of developing such a policy. We were appointed to head a task force to develop a food security policy for the City of Detroit.
Over the next 18 months, the DBCFSN’s Public Policy Committee researched, wrote and revised several drafts of a food security policy for the City of Detroit. The committee’s work was presented at a public review session held as part of our September 2007 Harvest Festival. The Public Policy Committee revised the proposed policy, incorporating much of the feedback received at the public review session. We then sent the draft to Wayne State University professor, and nationally recognized food policy expert, Dr. Kami Pothukuchi, for her review and critique. Dr. Pothukuchi made several recommendations that were also incorporated into the final draft. The draft was presented to the Neighborhood and Community Service Standing Committee of the Detroit City Council and placed on the City Council’s agenda by Council Member Watson’s committee for approval. The City Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting the policy on March 25, 2008.
In furthering the establishment of a more food secure Detroit, we have continued to work with Council Member Watson’s committee on the development of a Detroit Food Policy Council. From April through October 2008 the DBCFSN Public Policy Committee conducted research on Food Policy Councils throughout North America. We examined the mission, number of members, attributes desired in members, structure, terms of office, relationship to government, and meeting schedule of food policy councils or similar bodies in Toronto, Vancouver, Portland/Multnomah, Washington D.C., Cleveland/Cuyahoga County, New Haven, New Jersey, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and the Native American Tribal Council. DBCFSN held a public discussion, on the proposed food policy council, at our Harvest Festival on October 4, 2008. On October 7, 2008, the Detroit City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the creation of the Detroit Food Policy Council.
The Detroit Food Policy Council began meeting in November 2009 and for its first two years, was chaired by DBCFSN executive director Malik Yakini. The Detroit Food Policy Council has continued to operate since that time and now has its own funding, office, and staff. For more information, visit the Council’s website at http://detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net/