Building a Strong Food Community in Detroit

By Yvelette Stines on June 22nd, 2015 / Comments

When Devita Davison lost her home to Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012 she returned to Detroit. Starting a new life she knew she wanted to continue her work in the food industry. It was an article in the New York Times that led her to a job that would change lives and the food industry in the city of Detroit.

“When I was in New York I remember reading an article about The Green Garage in the New York Times. I saved the article. After I lost everything in Hurricane Sandy and returned home, I thought of the place and called,” she reminisces.

She left a message introducing herself and her interest with connecting to the food community in Detroit. She received a call back and was introduced to Jess Daniel from FoodLab Detroit. At the time, they were looking to start a food incubator so the food entrepreneurs in the city would have a place to make their products.

Davison thought the plan was in place, but she quickly learned that she was the chosen one to reach out to the community to find kitchen locations. She also learned there was a lot of underutilized kitchen spaces in the area and it was her job to convince the space holders to open their doors for free.

“I was hired on as a consultant at FoodLab and I took on this task. We found two places that opened their doors,” she said.  Once this happened, Davison started a feasibility study and reached out to the United Way. They were awarded $10,000 to continue the program. With its success Detroit Kitchen Connect was born.

“The whole idea behind Detroit Kitchen Connect was to reduce and eliminate the barriers so Detroit food entrepreneurs could use community kitchens so they could start their businesses,” says Davison. With the quick growth of the program they received additional grants from The McGregor Foundation, and an investment from JP Morgan Chase that helped Eastern Market build the kitchen located in shed five.

With the success and her launch of Detroit Kitchen Connect, Davison left to work for Eastern Market and now she is the Co-Director of FoodLab. Passionate about Detroit, entrepreneurship and food, she loves the community that Food Labs provides for food based businesses.

FoodLab is a growing “a community of 145 food entrepreneurs and food businesses that are located in the Detroit area,” she explains. When a business enters the FoodLab community, they are met with resources, support, education, and tools to create and sustain a successful food business.

“We provide knowledge and empowerment on how to create a thriving business. It starts with an 11 week workshop series that includes training in creating a business plan, core values, finances, cost of goods, fundraising, and more,” she says. “At the end of the day after the 11 weeks, our members have a business plan and a wonderful wealth of resources.”

The network of community in FoodLab continues with training and support from all the members and those interested in starting a business. This includes having an orientation every quarter and open office hours every Friday for people who want to start a business or have questions.

Preparing Food Entrepreneurs for The Summer

Davison is excited for the summer season. They help their members get more involved with farmers markets, and are currently implementing a program to ensure local food is used for product development called “Grown and Made in Detroit.”

“Our members are very involved in many farmers markets around the city of Detroit. They are everywhere from the Corktown Farmers Market to the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market,” she says.

Davison is inspired by the support that the community is giving the local food entrepreneurs.

“I was recently at the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market and our FoodLab members sold everything from fresh produce, to artisan handmade popsicles, as well as jams and jellies,” she says. “It was a beautiful site to see the community come out and support our local food businesses.”

Another campaign that FoodLab has implemented is Grown and Made in Detroit, which is allowing food entrepreneurs to work with urban farmers. There is a lot of vitality and uniqueness surrounding the local food in the city.

“This is exciting because our members are working with the urban growers that are in Detroit. It is harvest time and urban farms are coming alive,” she says.  “It is amazing that the food is all local. For example strawberries are in season, we have our food entrepreneurs using the strawberries, grown in Detroit, for products that they are making. They also have the opportunity to pick them as well. The farmers and our members are working hand and hand so the city has more options for fresh produce.”

Davison is proud of the impact that FoodLab has on the community and city of Detroit.

“There is so much diversity in our organization it is beautiful to see people come together and support each other for a common cause,” she says.

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About the Author

Yvelette Stines

Yvelette is an author and freelance writer. Her blog Calming Corners helps readers stay calm and healthy. Follow her at @YveletteStines + @CalmingCorners.