Examining Food Security in Detroit

August 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm 2 comments

What is food security?
After hearing the term “food security” used in the news and by different organizations in Detroit, it may be best to define what it means. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, a coalition of organizations and individuals interested in battling food insecurity in Detroit, defines the term in a useful, accessible way:
Food Security: When all of the members of a community have easy access to adequate amounts of affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate food.
The Detroit Reality:
1. Many Detroiters do not have a grocery store within a mile of their homes
2. “Fast food” has practically replaced home cooked meals in many Black households
3. Detroit’s majority African population is dependent on others to feed it


Food insecurity, then, would be the situation that many Detroiters find themselves in – without access to a supermarket or to culturally-appropriate, nutritious foods.

Food Insecurity in Detroit: Chene Market. Photo Credit: Nick Tobier

Food Insecurity in Detroit: Chene Market. Photo Credit: Nick Tobier

Food insecurity has become a particularly prevalent problem in Detroit not only because of the high unemployment rate, but also because of the lack of chain and independent grocery stores in large sections of the city. Parts of the city have even been called “food deserts” by a study funded by LaSalle Bank, “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit.” Food deserts, it says, are “areas that require residents to travel twice as far or more to reach the closest mainstream grocer than to reach the closest fringe food location.” Fringe locations can include gas stations or liquor stores, where fresh produce are not often sold. Larry Gabriel from the Metro Times did an interesting editorial back in 2007 called “Living in the Desert” in response to this study.

Even though the national media has caught on to this “food desert” phenomenon, for Detroiters, it’s nothing new. The city lost its last supermarket chain – Farmer Jack – in 2007, and there are still large sections of the city that are not serviced by independent grocers.

The Closing of Farmer Jack. Photo Credit: The Detroit News

The Closing of Farmer Jack. Photo Credit: The Detroit News

What are organizations like Operation Frontline doing to address food security?

In response to this problem, organizations like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Earthworks Urban Farm have worked to address food insecurity in a number of ways, by promoting urban agriculture, policy change, collective action, and community building.

Recently, the Eastern Market Corporation, Greening of Detroit, and Gleaners Community Food Bank have formed the Green Ribbon Collaborative to tackle food access in the city. Together, they have created the Fresh Food Share, which is a neighborhood food distribution program in the near east side. Similarly, the State of Michigan has funded a new program called MI Neighborhood Food Movers, which also delivers fresh produce to the residents of Detroit. This program was profiled in both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.

The Fresh Food Share. Photo Credit: Model D

The Fresh Food Share. Photo Credit: Model D

Operation Frontline, however, is different in its approach to address food insecurity. While DBCFSN, Earthworks, and the Green Ribbon Collaborative are doing the necessary work of increasing access to fresh produce, OFL teaches those with limited resources how to cook nutritious, low-cost meals with the materials they have. The classes also push participants to make healthy choices when faced with junk food and fast food. This is an important lesson for both those with access to a supermarket chain and for those who can only go to the corner store.

We do this with the help of our volunteer chefs and nutritionists, who share their knowledge and skills with our participants. The work that OFL does in the community goes well with the efforts of organizations like DBCFSN, working to both use the resources we have and push for change.

For more on how Operation Frontline works in the community, you can view the documentary, “Dash of Change,” that Operation Frontline: DC created:


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Welcome to Operation Frontline: Detroit! Volunteer Update: New Volunteer Training and Helpful Videos

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USDA Statement

This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This work is supported in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services, under contract number ADMIN-10-99011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Michigan Fitness Foundation or the Michigan Department of Human Services. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, these institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720-6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provices nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more contact the Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline at (800) 481-4989.

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