The Blacker the Berry: Black Farming Leaders in Detroit Show Others the Way  

Accessible fresh food in fresh food-deprived communities is something local Detroit activist and farmer Malik Yakini is addressing in developing one of the city’s few Black-run grocery stores.  

Photo courtesy of Malik Yakini  

  

Black farmers and green thumb-led organizations in Detroit are paving the way for others interested in enriching their souls by putting in that needed soil work to till the earth.  

The Detroit People’s Food Co-op, an African American-led, community-owned grocery cooperative, is doing just that by bringing something fresh to the area in the next two years.  

The Co-Op is mission-led to provide improved access to healthy food and food education to Detroit residents. Meeting the needs of the community is achieved through the democratic control of the co-op by its members/owners.  

Access to fresh food is something desperately needed in many underrepresented communities. A local Detroit activist and farmer, Malik Yakini, is working to lead the change on bringing the city a long-term, sustainable source of food by building one of the city’s few Black-led grocery stores.  

“In order for us to be whole and healthy, we have to be in the right relationship with the earth,” Yakini said. “That’s one aspect of why urban agriculture is important because it puts us back in relationship with the earth in a society where most people live their lives inside of buildings.”  

Yakini is the executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN). Formed in 2006 to bring awareness to food insecurities across Detroit’s Black neighborhoods, DBCFSN supports some local markets, grocers and restaurants through its operations with D-Town Farm, the largest Detroit farm and garden community and now the soon-to-be co-op.   

After a late spring groundbreaking celebration, the new developments of the grocery cooperative at 8324 Woodward Ave. at Euclid Street in Detroit hope to bridge the gap between Black residents and shopping at Black-owned grocery stores.  

“[With] the rest of the construction process we expect that to take until June of next year. And then it’s going to take a couple of months after construction is open for the building to be completely open. So, we’re expecting for it to open in August of 2023,” Yakini said. “it’s still a tremendous amount of work that has to be done between now and opening next August in terms of deciding on the exact product line, on the menu choices in the deli, on the color choices and design within the store.”  

Yakini added that the store is expected to provide 47 new jobs, especially catering to New Center area residents who live in the area first then Detroiters overall.  

“We are expecting that the vast majority will be African American,” he said.  

Yakini views the work of DBCFSN as part of something even bigger than himself—it’s a movement for building power, self-determination, and justice. He is adamantly opposed to the systems of white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy. He has an intense interest in contributing to the development of an international food sovereignty movement that embraces Black communities in the Americas, the Caribbean and Africa. He is a co-founder of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.  

“It’s critical [food security],” Yakini told the Michigan Chronicle previously. “I mean clearly, food is one of our most vital needs. We don’t survive without it for too long. So, I would venture to say there are very few things more important than our access to high-quality food,” said Yakini. “At the present time, clearly we don’t control that access in the city of Detroit.”  

Now, with the help of DBCFSN and some local community owners, Detroit’s Black residents will see a space where purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, with no additives or pesticides, will be just a drive, or walk, away.  

“We think that food cooperatives are one of the key things that need to be developed in Black communities if we’re going to control the food supply in our communities,” said Yakini.  

Hanifa Adjuman, a founding member of the DBCFSN, agrees. Adjuman told the Michigan Chronicle previously that food sovereignty is getting some momentum in the city for adults and children alike.  

“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.  

Connecting to plants is not a bad idea as MoneyWeek reported that plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular and “even the fast-food giants are looking to cash in” due to veganism having staying power throughout the nation.    

Before the grocery store opens up in about two years, Yakini encourages residents to become a member of the co-op, which will be located inside of the store, or volunteer at D-Town Farm Detroit Black Community Food (DBCFSN). Yakini is the co-founder and executive director of DBCFSN, which is a seven-acre farm.  

“We’re open for volunteers every Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until noon. And we also have a farm stand every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. until noon,” he said of selling fresh, locally grown, nutrient-dense produce. “African people traditionally are agrarian [relating to cultivating land] people. “In fact, even today on the continent of Africa, most people are involved in agriculture on some level. And certainly, most of our ancestors were. … So, being connected to the earth is really part of our culture.”  

Morgan Davis, a member of the historic Sacred Heart Church in Detroit, is all about faith-empowered nature movements coming together.  

“God created the Earth, its plants and animals before He created humans,” Davis said. “When we were made, we were given dominion over plants and animals. By protecting and sustaining Mother Earth, we are performing a critical, needed role.”  

Davis added that it all connects and starts with enjoying nature.  

“There are so many ways that can be big or small, or everything in between that can connect and strengthen people. We can protect our neighborhoods and communities. You can examine the space around you,” said Davis. “If there’s enough space in your home or yard, plant some plants. If your town has a community garden, volunteer to help keep it up. Be on the lookout for like-minded organizations and opportunities.”  

Staff Writer Megan Kirk contributed to this report. 

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