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A year of fresh, healthy, local food

Meet Up and Eat Up program held by the Detroit Lions at Eastern  Market.   G. SMITH/DETROIT LIONS. PHOTO

Meet Up and Eat Up program held by the Detroit Lions at Eastern Market.

By Mimi Pledl
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Detroiters know the value of working together to revitalize our city. One of the best examples of the power of collaboration is the city’s vibrant healthy and local food movement. As a result of individuals, community groups, non-profits and small and large businesses working together, Detroiters can find healthy and locally-produced food throughout our neighborhoods.

Consumers began driving this movement by looking for healthy food options, particularly those grown locally. Some began putting gardens in their backyards or on neighborhood lots, and now there are well over a thousand gardens of various sizes throughout our city. Farmers’ markets started popping up in neighborhoods. Detroit Public Schools grew vegetables in raised-bed gardens, adding more fresh and local food to their menus. Shoppers asked their grocers for local and healthy food grown and processed in Detroit.

Finding fresh and local food at Detroit grocery stores

Detroit grocery stores have been part of this momentum. With such a food movement underway, it is not surprising many of the 80 independent grocery stores in Detroit carry gluten-free, organic and low sodium products, as well as fresh and locally grown produce. As independently owned and operated stores, these grocers have the advantage of being more flexible in their product offerings and in their ability to respond quickly to requests from their customers.  For example, Honey Bee Market on Bagley draws shoppers from far and wide because of its extensive selection of Mexican and Latin American produce, such as chayote squash, yucca root, tomatillo milpero and ghost peppers.

Physical changes also occurred in many Detroit stores in 2013, as many expanded and renovated to accommodate a larger selection of fresh produce, fresh meat and fresh dairy in response to customers’ requests. Grand Price Supermarket on Grand River doubled the size of its store and used the new space to increase its fresh produce and fresh meat offerings. Both Old Redford Food Center and Food Town Super Market underwent extensive remodeling this year.

Even national players stepped up this year, as Whole Foods Markets and Meijer both opened new stores in Detroit. Among the fresh, healthy, affordable food inside the new Whole Foods Market on Mack Avenue, shoppers can find products from more than 20 of Detroit’s best-known local food companies such as McClure’s Pickles, Good People Popcorn, Sweet Potato Sensations and Russell Street Deli.

Grocery stores also participated in the growing community education around fresh and local foods. Many of the stores large and small are offering classes and incentives to adults and children alike to develop better eating habits.

Lafayette Foods offered a monthly healthy eating series, which was so well received they plan to air videotapes of the workshops in the store.  Whole Foods offers healthy eating and lifestyle education classes weekly. Some of the topics for December include “After School Snack Box” and “Healthy Eating, Healthy Finance” as well as yoga and dance classes.  Metro Foodland on Grand River offers its “Healthy Rewards Program” which rewards shoppers for healthy purchases with points that translate into cash vouchers.

The Detroit Lions made healthy eating fun  this fall with their weekly program, “Meet Up and Eat Up” at  Eastern Market’s Tuesday market, where some Detroit public school students  learned about healthy eating and staying active. The weekly event included healthy eating choices prepared by Ford Field’s executive chef, market tours, shopping for local produce with Double Up Food Bucks and a chance to meet Detroit Lions’ stars.

This very special program geared toward children epitomizes the collaboration of the fresh, local and healthy food trend in Detroit. True teamwork was responsible for the success of this program as the Detroit Lions partnered with the Fair Food Network, Detroit Eastern Market, Playworks, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Gleaners Community Food Bank and Wayne State University School of Medicine.

We at Detroit Economic Growth Corporation have been proud to work with grocers across the city to make improvements to their stores, expand their selection of fresh and local products, and establish new store locations because of the direct impact on quality of life for residents and the new jobs and investment for our neighborhoods.

We expect this momentum of the healthy and local foods movement to continue into 2014 and beyond. Look for new announcements of store renovations and expansions in neighborhoods across the city. Consumers will continue to play an important role in ensuring it does by making their requests known. Talk to your neighborhood grocers. Make suggestions for additional product offerings. Be sure to thank them for the improvements they’ve made and shop local!

Mariangela (Mimi) Pledl, AICP, is business development manager at Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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