Grocery stores are facing an unbearable battle as the cost of food continues to rise. As shelves become bare, questions around food sovereignty and sustainability loom and threaten to impact families across Detroit. Local urban farming communities are attempting to shift the narrative and provide ways to not only feed the community, but also to educate the masses on farming practices.
Food equity in Black communities has been a hot button issue for several years, however, the pandemic has helped to shed light on the issue and has motivated organizations and individuals to find solutions to the growing problem. Food sovereignty, though not a new concept, is gaining steam as urban farmers work to level the playing field for healthy food options in cities like Detroit.
“Food sovereignty is a vision that is yet to be realized. Food sovereignty is the ability of a community to design and control its food system that guarantees access to healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate food and the community’s right to define what that means for itself, as opposed to the corporate-driven food system that values profit over people. Food sovereignty also speaks to the people’s relationship to nature and how that relationship is critical to the health of both people and the planet. And so, we are building a movement towards that end,” said Hanifa Adjuman, a founding member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN).
Access to healthy food options is a priority for inner city families. Nutritional challenges are plagued by fast food restaurants and poverty across urban neighborhoods. This leads to a litany of health issues related to diet for many African Americans, who are already predisposed to certain conditions. To counter this, the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, a community-owned grocery cooperative, works to serve members and the general public by providing foods locally sourced by urban farmers and allows for consumers to purchase fresh produce with a knowledge of its origin.
“Food sovereignty requires that we share responsibility in the complete process, the understanding that when we each provide input, we all share in the output. Even amid so much dreadfulness, we have successfully grown the Detroit People’s Food Coop membership as we continue to navigate through this horrific pandemic,” said Adjuman. “Between June 2014 and January 2020, we had recruited about 500 members. From January 2020 to the present, our membership has grown by approximately 850 members to almost 1350 in two years.”
To help further the mission of food sovereignty and sustainability, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network received $500,000 alongside Keep Growing Detroit, which received $400,000, from Rite Aid Healthy Futures. DBCFSN will use its portion of the proceeds to continue the push for food sovereignty in the community while also funding programs that will extend to the city’s youth.
“We will use the Rite Aid Foundation grant to expand our existing Food Warriors program. At present, we operate programming at two sites. We have an afterschool program at Barack Obama Leadership Academy, the former Timbuktu Academy of Arts and Science, on the eastside of Detroit. In addition to the afterschool program, we have a Saturday community program at my church, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, located on Detroit’s westside. In April, we will add a second school to our afterschool programming and hire two site coordinators to lead those programs,” said Adjuman. “The grant will also allow us to re-engage our 16-week “Food N’ Flava” youth entrepreneurship program, which teaches youth aged 14 to 16 the skills necessary to become food entrepreneurs. The city of Detroit has a vibrant local food entrepreneur landscape, and our youth should have an opportunity to be a part of that landscape; with Food N’ Flava, we want to give them the tools to make that a reality, if that is their vision.”
Building a tradition and laying the foundation for food education, DBCFSN hopes to show neighborhoods, particularly children, the life of the foods they consume.
“Children especially should know that the origin of their food does not begin in the grocery store. As a community, we must know how to grow, cultivate and prepare our own food; we must also reclaim the knowledge of our ancestors who understood the potential for healing that plants possess,” said Adjuman. “Part of our Food Warriors programming is learning the ‘secrets’ of herbs and what we call ‘weeds,’ and the many health benefits they hold. Dr. George Washington Carver reminds us, ‘A weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place.’ But once we can learn the ‘secrets’ the weeds possess, we understand that the weed is exactly where it should be. And in that lesson, the children learn to respect and revere the natural world.”
DBCFSN is encouraging the community to get active in their own way. While everyone must play a role in food sovereignty, the organization is providing the tools needed for the cultivation of personal gardens to increase sustainability for families and neighbors.
“Community building through sharing knowledge from our personal stories and collective experiences is essential for building food sovereignty because food sovereignty is about the collective ‘we,’” said Adjuman. “There is no such thing as a food sovereign individual. Food sovereignty depends upon a community collectively having the ability to grow its food, determine the process and procedures of production and distribution and develop and implement the policies that accomplish those practices. When we can feed ourselves, we can free ourselves.”