In this first post-Hunger Leadership Gathering blog, I want to share with you about one of the most interesting experiences from the weekend for me — the field trip. For these field trips, five small groups of participants and staff each went to different sites in the city of Detroit to engage in the community, learn about specific challenges facing the city, and see the good and hopeful work that’s going on there, too. We learned about and even got to participate in the work of programs and ministries supported by ELCA Domestic Hunger Grants and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) in Detroit.
I participated in the field trip with MOSES – Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength. MOSES is a congregation-based and faith-organized community organizing initiative.
Detroit, a city of 900,000, has zero typical standardized grocery stores. There are no major grocery stores in the entire 140-square-mile city! There are, however, over 400 liquor-based “grocery stores.” The reality is that in the city of Detroit it is easier to get a variety of liquor than a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Venus Chapman, MOSES’s Project Director, told us about the Detroit Food Justice Task Force, which works to ensure that grocers meet the standards of providing good food for customers. As a group, we got to participate in food availability campaign that MOSES is conducting.
We visited a corner grocery store in downtown Detroit where nutritious food availability is in question. We actually walked through the store with a checklist to assess the conditions of the store, restrooms and food. We looked for things like dirty floors, poor lighting, refrigeration units that were too warm, evidence of insects, expired food, meat and dairy products that weren’t refrigerated, decaying fruit and vegetables…and were amazed at what we found. Overall I’d say the store was not as bad as many of us expected, but we definitely saw meat and milk past their expiration dates, decaying produce, raw meat that wasn’t refrigerated, and other food products that would not be safe or good for consumers.
The experience made me very thankful for the work that many in Detroit are doing to improve food equity and access, bring retail food back to the city, develop more just, alternative local markets, and support food marketers and distributors.
For example, on our field trip we also got to visit the Detroit Eastern Market. Every Saturday the six-block space is transformed into a vibrant public market with hundreds of open-air stalls with independent vendors and merchants processing, wholesaling, and retailing food. During our visit with the staff person from Eastern Market, Randall Fogelman, he told us about cool projects Eastern Market supports for alternative food distribution methods, like MI Neighborhood Food Movers, a project that empowers people to start food trucks, and The Greening of Detroit Market Garden Project. I learned that Michigan is the second-most agriculturally diverse state (after California) – it just has a short growing season! Plans are underway for expansion of the Eastern Market, including a community kitchen, a market hall for production, retail and wholesale of food, as well as an education center with teaching kitchens and a restaurant.
It was incredibly encouraging to learn about this amazing, thriving market. I was also encouraged by what Randall shared with us as we were finishing our tour. He said that while Detroit is the most segregated city in the United States, the 40,000 people who come to Eastern Market every Saturday are incredibly racially, socially and economically diverse. He said the environment fostered by the natural community of Eastern Market was something really special.