In Detroit, more than half a million residents live in neighborhoods where healthy, fresh food is difficult to find. As a result, they are frequently compelled to purchase low-quality, highly-processed products, often at higher prices than in the suburbs.[i] Many residents take their grocery dollars outside their neighborhoods, draining their communities of financial resources. Detroit is an example of what is happening nationwide wherever healthy, fresh produce is not readily available: over 70% of adults[ii] and close to 40% of Detroit’s youth[iii] are overweight or obese.
The Detroit Grocery Incubator seeks to improve the grocery options in Detroit by creating a strong infrastructure to support new grocers. It aims to create sustainable and affordable inner-city grocery stores while stimulating new jobs and business opportunities in grocery stores, distribution networks, Detroit-area farms, local food processors, and emerging food hubs. This is a joint program of Fair Food Network, Tech Town, Uplift Solutions and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, organizations committed to finding creative solutions to the challenge of food access for inner city residents.
The Detroit Grocery Incubator offers an extensive training program that provides important skills and networks to budding entrepreneurs, enabling them to take the leap into the commitments and responsibilities of small business ownership. The program entails classroom training, on-the-job training, and technical assistance. Residents of Detroit were invited to apply to this program and Jared Saverino, Isaac DeGraffenreid, and Calvin Moore answered the call.
The first part of the program was provided by Uplift Solutions, Inc., a nonprofit organization created by Jeff Brown and Mark Basher to support the development of sustainable environments for underserved communities. Brown’s ShopRite supermarkets in Philadelphia are models for grocery stores in inner city neighborhoods that not only fulfill the needs of the community for healthy, fresh and ethnically appropriate foods in nicely appointed venues, but also make a difference in the lives of their customers through programs that assist youth, prevent violence, and alleviate hunger.
Uplift Solutions specifically developed an intensive 3-day program for the Detroit fellows that included: business principles, financing of new stores, site selection, essential elements of the inner city grocery industry, and Detroit’s local food system.
Two of the fellows traveled to Philadelphia for a 12 day In-Service training at Brown’s ShopRite to understand how to start this kind of market from the ground up, one that is embedded in a community, that truly serves that community, and that, in turn, is supported financially by that community, creating a win-win situation for entrepreneur and community alike.
The Philadelphia training was followed by a 10 week program of technical assistance on business planning, site selection and attracting capital offered by the New Venture Tech Town Food Industry Training Program in Detroit which offers new entrepreneurs access to Wayne State University’s research and technology capabilities.
Fair Food Network is proud to be a partner in the Detroit Grocery Incubator to identify and train entrepreneurs who will bring high-quality service, healthy affordable food and a community orientation to Detroit neighborhoods.
Oran B. Hesterman, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Fair Food Network (FFN). FFN is a national nonprofit dedicated to building a more just and sustainable food system. FFN works at the intersection of food systems and social equity to guarantee access to healthy, fresh and sustainably grown food, especially in underserved communities. FFN implements model programs and brings the right people together to generate ideas, share resources and promote policy changes to repair our food system. To learn more about Fair Food Network, visit www.fairfoodnetwork.org.
[i] “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit,” Mari Gallagher, 2007.
[ii] Michigan Department of Community Health, Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey.
[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey.