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Change and opportunity at the DFPC

dfpc logoBy Cheryl A. Simon

Special to The Michigan Citizen

On January 4, 2011, I began serving as the Detroit Food Policy Council’s part-time coordinator. As a Detroiter and active backyard gardener and volunteer in my community, I was excited about combining my personal and professional interests. As I prepare to leave the DFPC staff, I see all we have accomplished to date, as well as the opportunities and challenges ahead.  

When I arrived at the DFPC office at Eastern Market on that first day, I literally had just a desk and chair. The DFPC began meeting in November 2009 and had until that point been a totally volunteer-driven organization. Those first few months were spent setting up the office and establishing some basic systems to manage the monthly meetings. We also planned and launched the first Food Summit, entitled “Powering Up the Local Food System” and published the first Detroit Food System Report. I had the pleasure of working side by side with two of the founding members of the DFPC, Chef Phil Jones and Dr. Kami Pothukuchi.  

In the past four years, we have:

  • Held an Annual Food Summit each spring to bring together many people interested in working toward a food system that provides fresh, local, affordable food in a way that is fair and sustainable.
  •  Secured a three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  •  Hosted two fellows from the Congressional Hunger Center’s Bill Emerson National Fellowship Program
  •  Published two Annual Food Reports and one report “Public Land Sale Process in Detroit: A Community Perspective”
  •  Developed and published a Voter’s Guide for the November 2013 City of Detroit elections.
  •  Worked closely with Kathryn Lynch Underwood and others in city government on the urban agriculture ordinances and access to land. The city’s first urban agriculture ordinances were adopted in March 2013.
  •  Developed partnerships among and between many of the food system organizations in Detroit.
  •  Adopted a set of values and strategic plan to guide our work over the next three years.  Our values are justice, respect, integrity, inclusion and transparency.

We have accomplished a lot during these past few years, but, obviously, our work is far from done. We have posted the coordinator position and applications are due Aug. 25. 

If you are interested in being a part of this work as a member of the DFPC, nominations are open for new members. We are seeking to fill council seats from the community-at-large, emergency food providers, wholesale distributors, colleges and universities, nutrition and wellbeing and K-12 schools. Information on both of these opportunities are on our website: www.detroitfoodpc.org.

I’ve learned so much over these past few years. Here are some of my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead. There are so many passionate people involved in Detroit’s food system and we need to build on that passion.

As individuals and organizations, we each have strengths. Identifying, then building on the strengths of each organization, will increase our effectiveness. There are a number of areas where multiple organizations are working. We need to join forces. I realize we are, in many cases, competing for the same resources, especially money. Speaking of resources: Resources of time and money are always going to be limited. Funders realize that, too. We talk a lot about partnerships and that is great. Those partnerships need to be inclusive, and when possible, formalized — with clear roles and accountability built in. In the spirit of cooperative economics, we should also think about sharing services (office space, supplies, accounting and payroll services, and so on). And, where it makes sense, mergers could be formed between like-minded organizations. None of this easy. Frankly, it means setting aside our organizational “egos,” but if we are going to create the food system we say we want, we will do whatever is necessary for the common good. 

So, as I close out my time as the DFPC coordinator, I want to thank the many people with whom I’ve had a chance to work. I truly appreciate every individual I’ve met during the past few years.  I do want to acknowledge a few individuals by name. I was interviewed by a committee at DFPC. Ashley Atkinson, Dan Carmody, Patrick Crouch, Charity Hicks, Phil Jones, DeWayne Wells and Malik Yakini offered me this opportunity, and then continued to challenge and support me as we worked together. I appreciated all of the members of the DFPC. I’ve not met a more dedicated, passionate group of people. I have also enjoyed our two Emerson national fellows, Alison Burket and Brenda Mutuma. These two young women have left a lasting impact.  Renee Wallace and Anne Ginn have been great advisors throughout.  And, finally, my sister in the day-to-day work of the DFPC, Kibibi Blount Dorn, who brings great positive energy to the work every day. 

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