Food policies at work in Detroit
Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health have found healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables cost an average of $1.50 more per day than unhealthy diets that consist primarily of processed foods and refined grains. This trend is easy to see in many Detroit communities where food stores often lack the resources to stock healthier food options, or perceive that residents in the communities where they are located will not be able to afford healthier foods.
Food policies that favor the mass production of highly-processed foods and make such foods very profitable for industrialized food companies contribute to this trend significantly. Policies that make healthy food more available and less expensive could help solve this problem. Some policies affecting the food system in Detroit are the urban agriculture ordinance, changing school food regulations, and the new Farm Law among others.
For many reasons, gardens and farms have sprung up around the city. Two of the main reasons are: They provide access to healthy food, and reduce the costs of a healthy diet for thousands of Detroiters every year. The presence of urban farms and gardens has had a transformative effect in many communities, and this trend has grown into an urban agriculture movement. Last year, Detroit City Council passed a groundbreaking Agriculture Ordinance. This amendment to the zoning ordinance sets standards for how farmers and gardeners can use land in the city. The ordinance also makes it possible to purchase land in the city for gardening and farming.
The Farm Law affects more than just rural communities; it impacts how we get food and jobs in cities like Detroit. One primary feature in the farm legislation is a cut to funding of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps). This puts additional pressure on poor families to stretch their food dollars, as well as stressing food pantries and soup kitchens that will need to provide food to more people for longer periods of time. The Farm Law increases funding for food banks, community-based local food projects and healthier school food. The law also includes a new requirement for country of origin labeling on meat products.
These issues and many others were discussed at the annual Detroit Food Summit hosted by the Detroit Food Policy Council April 3-4 at Focus: HOPE Conference Center located at 1400 Oakman in Detroit. The summit, “Race To Good Food,” focused on racial equity across the food system. A keynote address was presented by nationally recognized activist LaDonna Redmond, founder of The Campaign for Food Justice Now (CFJN).
The CFJN is an emerging membership-based organization that applies race, class and gender analysis to the injustices perpetuated by the food and agriculture system in communities of color and tribal nations. CFJN promotes community-inspired solutions and public policies that advance the health and well-being of all communities.
“Race to Good Food” included four workshops.
- Food Systems 101 — what is a community food system, and a discussion on good food policies in institutions.
- Policy Boot Camps — local and national policy updates on topics such as Detroit’s urban agriculture ordinances, access to land and the recently passed federal Farm Bill.
- Research, Race and Economics — creating a more equitable food system, and presentations on Detroit grocery store options.
- Youth — about 100 middle and high school students from Detroit attend their own sessions where they developed solutions to the challenge of finding and eating healthy foods.
Kibibi Blount Dorn is Program Manager for the Detroit Food Policy Council. She can be reached at 313.477.3748 or Kibibi.firstname.lastname@example.org