A “better food environment” for Black Detroiters opens in February

Source: Special to Michigan News

Detroit Food Commons, built in partnership by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Develop Detroit, will give residents access to fresh food and will become the second grocery store in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

There are just 64 grocery stores in Detroit, a city where residents have struggled for decades to get access to fresh, healthy food. Many residents instead rely on canned and processed foods that are available at dollar and convenience stores — high-sugar, high-sodium options that can lead to obesity and many chronic health conditions. 

That’s largely been the case in the city’s North End neighborhood, where there’s currently one grocery store. But a new member-owned grocery cooperative soon will give residents access to fresh food – some of it locally grown within the city’s borders.

The Detroit Food Commons, located at the corner of Woodward and Euclid, is scheduled to open in February 2024. The 31,000-square-foot facility is built in partnership by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Develop Detroit. 

“We are doing this to provide a better food environment for Black Detroiters and for all Detroiters in general,” said Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. “It will be a full-service supermarket, not as large as your average Kroger store, but it will have a variety of products that people can choose from.”

The store will be run by nearly 2,000 member-owners of the Detroit People’s Food Co-op and will focus on offering healthy and affordable options. 

The co-op is committed to offering as much locally grown produce as possible – and particularly produce that is grown within the city of Detroit. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network also runs D-Town, a seven-acre farm in Rouge Park, which will provide some of the market’s local produce.

The 31,000-square-foot building that will house the Detroit Food Commons broke ground in April 2022 and is expected to open in February 2024.

The farm and other Detroit Black Community Food Security Network programs are supported in partnership with the University of Michigan. The university’s School for Environment and Sustainability, for instance, provided interns to work at D-Town Farm. The organization also partnered with U-M on a Food Literacy for All course that brought in different speakers to address challenges and opportunities in diverse food systems.

And under the supervision of clinical faculty, students in the U-M Law School’s Community Enterprise Clinic provide the network with free legal services related to land acquisition and other real estate transactions, development and financial contracts, nonprofit governance, and other matters. The network is the clinic’s longest-standing client, and the Detroit Food Commons is the latest project that the clinic has contributed to during their more than 14-year partnership.

“We’re trying to balance two considerations: One, we are concerned about having high-quality, nutrient-dense food available for people in the North End and in Detroit in general, but we also know those foods usually cost more,” Yakini said. “We’re trying to create a product line where folks at various income levels can shop there and get their needs met. At the same time, we’re making sure we’re not selling people food that is garbage and full of pesticides and artificial colors that can contribute to the deterioration of their health.”

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Develop Detroit chose the North End due to the neighborhood’s demographic mix — one that is predominantly low and moderate income with a few more affluent areas — as well as the location itself. 

Being on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, is important for visibility – but it also makes a statement.

“We want to be in the face of the gentrifying Detroit, where most of the development is being done by wealthy white men,” he said. “We want to push back against that by having this building on the main street that was built by two Black organizations that is promoting cooperative economics as opposed to the individualism that we usually see as the road for advancement in American society.”

There was even a lot of thought about what side of Woodward the building would face. Being on the east side of the street allows people who work downtown and live in the northern suburbs to make an easy right-hand turn into the parking lot on their way home. 

“They can pick up whatever they might want for dinner that evening or pick up a bottle of wine, and they’re able to stop, spend money in Detroit and in the North End and deposit some wealth in that community,” Yakini said. “We were very intentional cultivating these various audiences that we see as bedrock of the store’s economic future.” 

The building is about 85% complete, Yakini said. Construction has been delayed about two months because of a wait list for an electronic component, and the store is expected to open in mid-February. 

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