Grocery stores are facing an unbearable battle as food prices continue to rise. When shelves are exposed, questions arise about food sovereignty and sustainability and threaten to affect families across Detroit. Local urban farming communities are trying to change the story and provide ways not only to feed the community but also to teach the masses how to farm.
Food justice in black communities has been a pressing issue for several years, but the pandemic has helped shed light on the issue and motivated organizations and individuals to seek solutions to the growing problem. Food sovereignty, though not a new concept, is gaining momentum as urban farmers work to level the playing field for healthy eating options in cities like Detroit.
“Food sovereignty is a vision that still needs to be realized. Food sovereignty is the community’s ability to design and control its own food system, which guarantees access to a healthy, nutritious, appropriate food culture, and the community’s right to determine what it means to itself, as opposed to a corporate food system that values human profits. Food sovereignty also speaks to people’s attitudes towards nature and how these relationships are crucial to the health of both humans and the planet. And that’s why we’re building a movement toward that goal, ”said Hanifa Adjuman, a founding member of the Detroit Black Community Food Safety Network (DBCFSN).
Access to healthy eating options is a priority for urban families. Nutrition problems suffer from fast food restaurants and poverty in urban neighborhoods. This leads to a number of diet-related health problems for many African Americans who are already prone to certain diseases. To counter this, the Detroit People’s Food Cooperative, a community-owned food cooperative, works to serve members and the general public by providing food to local farmers and allowing consumers to purchase fresh produce knowing their origins.
“Food sovereignty requires that we share responsibility for the whole process, realizing that when each of us contributes, we all share in the results. Despite the horrors, we have successfully increased the membership of the Detroit People’s Food Cooper, continuing to overcome this terrible pandemic, “said Adjuman.” Between June 2014 and January 2020, we recruited about 500 members. From January 2020 so far our membership has increased by about 850 members to almost 1,350 in two years ”.
To help further the mission of food sovereignty and sustainability, the Detroit Food Safety Network Black Community received $ 500,000 along with Keep Growing Detroit, which received $ 400,000 from Rite Aid Healthy Futures. DBCFSN will use its share of the proceeds to continue to pursue food sovereignty in society, and to fund programs that will extend to the city’s youth.
“We will use a Rite Aid Foundation grant to expand our existing Food Warriors program. We currently carry out programming on two sites. We have an after-school program at the Barack Obama Leaders Academy, the former Timbuktu Academy of Arts and Sciences, in eastern Detroit. In addition to the after-school program, we have a Saturday community program at my church, the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna, located in western Detroit. In April, we will add a second school to our post-school program and hire two site coordinators to guide these programs, ”Adjuman said. The grant will also allow us to re-launch our 16-week Youth Entrepreneurship Program “Food N’ Flava ”, which teaches young people aged 14 to 16 the skills needed to become entrepreneurs in the food industry. The city of Detroit has a vibrant landscape of local entrepreneurs, and our youth should be able to be a part of that landscape; with Food N ‘Flava we want to give them the tools to make it a reality if that’s their vision. “
Building traditions and laying the foundation for food education, DBCFSN hopes to show the neighborhood, especially children, the life of the foods they consume.
“Children especially need to know that the origin of their food doesn’t start with the grocery store. As a community, we need to know how to grow, cultivate and prepare our own food; we also need to bring back the knowledge of our ancestors who understood the healing potential of plants, ”Adjuman said. Part of our Food Warriors program is exploring the “secrets” of herbs and what we call “weeds,” as well as the many health benefits they have. Dr. George Washington Carver reminds us, “Weeds are just a flower that grows out of place.” But once we learn what “secrets” weeds possess, we realize that the weeds are exactly where they should be. And in this lesson, children learn to respect and appreciate nature.
DBCFSN encourages the community to be active in their own way. While everyone has a role to play in food sovereignty, the organization provides the tools needed to grow personal gardens to increase resilience for families and neighbors.
“Creating community through sharing knowledge from our personal histories and collective experiences is essential to building food sovereignty, because food sovereignty is a collective we,” Adjuman said. “There is no such thing as a food sovereign. Food sovereignty depends on the community collectively having the opportunity to grow its own food, determine the process and procedures of production and distribution, and develop and implement policies that ensure these practices. If we can feed ourselves, we can be free. ”