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Leadership and collective impact

By Cheryl Simon
Special to The Michigan Citizen

I was asked recently about the Detroit Food Policy Council’s progress on improving food access, food justice and food sovereignty for Detroiters and whether we are making an impact.  I was also asked about our efforts to ensure Detroiters are leading and participating in this work.  These are great questions and ones that we as a group are concerned about and discuss on a regular basis.

As many of you may know, the seeds of the DFPC were sown in 2006 by members of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.  Through many months of work by these community members, the City of Detroit adopted this groups recommendations that included a Food Security Policy for the city and the establishment of an independent Detroit Food Policy Council.  About three years ago, in November, 2009, the first Detroit Food Policy Council meeting was held.  (You can read our organizing documents, meeting minutes and other information on our Web site,

During the past six months, the Detroit Food Policy Council has been developing a three year action plan with goals, objectives and timelines that we will measure ourselves against.  Because our work is about changing the food system, rather than direct services, it is a little more challenging to measure but it can be done.  This action plan is grounded in a set of values which are currently being refined and will be published shortly.

Since our founding, we have focused on two major areas simultaneously:  research, education, advocacy and community building around food system issues and organizational capacity building.

One thing we do is to ask continually ask ourselves “Who is not at the table?”  By that we mean a couple of things:  Are the individuals who are most impacted by the work we are doing being sought out for participation in the development of solutions?  What are we doing to cultivate leadership from these individuals?  And, what other organizations are doing work in this area that we could partner with?  All of us want to know that we are making a difference but for many in our community, the decisions that are made in the “food system” can literally be life and death issues for our neighbors.  Those neighbors need to be at the table.

The Council board consists of twenty-one members, including six community representatives, twelve representatives from various sectors of the food system and three appointees (one each from the Detroit City Council, Mayor’s Office and Department of Health and Wellness).  As a body, we work by consensus and so, each member has an equal voice in decisions.

We also recognize that the DFPC is part of a larger movement within the community and the food system.  As a result of discussions at our strategic planning sessions, the graphic that accompanies this article was developed to represent the communications loop among the DFPC board, work groups and broader food movement.

At the food system level, we know that we are making progress because there are more residents and organizations working on programs, policy and evaluation in the food system than ever. There are relationships being created between people and groups that did not exist three years ago.  But, we have more work to do to make sure our work is inclusive but it is encouraging to see the progress.  Sometimes that means putting aside our (personal and organizational) egos and agendas and work more collaboratively for the common good.

We also need the private and public sector to recognize that nonprofit/social sector work brings tremendous value to the quality of life in Michigan and that this value is not always measurable in traditional ways.  Quantitative measures are important but we should not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about individual lives.  Being able to measure our impact and communicate the unique value that our sector brings will elevate the social sector as being as important as the private and public sectors.

So, as we look forward, the Detroit Food Policy Council will continue to reach out to all interested Detroiters as we work for better access, increased equity and ownership in all aspects of the food system.

Cheryl A. Simon is a Detroit resident and Coordinator of the Detroit Food Policy Council.  For more information about the DFPC, visit our Web site at and follow us on Facebook.  



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