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The Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network's Food Justice Journey

Updated: 2 days ago

In Detroit, a city where nearly 70% of the population is considered food insecure, Malik Yakini and the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network (DBCFSN) are leading a movement to transform the local food system. They aim to ensure that Detroit's African American community is at the forefront of the local food movement, creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all.


A farm with a banner that reads "there is no culture without agriculture".

Yakini, the Executive Director of the DBCFSN, embarked on this journey after a personal epiphany about the connection between food and liberation. Inspired by Malcolm X's critique of "soul food" in his "Message to the Grassroots" speech delivered in Detroit in 1963 (2), Yakini embraced veganism and activism, recognizing the need for a food system that nourishes both the body and the community.


The DBCFSN's approach to food sovereignty is comprehensive, focusing on education, community empowerment, and the creation of closed-loop systems prioritizing local food production and Black ownership. "What we see now in Detroit's Black community is that 99% of the food that we consume comes to us from outside our community," Yakini explains. "It is sold to us by people who don't live in our community, and far too often who are not respectful of the people in the community." (2)


DBCFSN's most significant achievement is the recently opened Detroit People's Food Co-Op, a community-owned grocery store in the city's North End neighborhood. The result of 14 years of dedicated work (1), the co-op encourages Detroiters to have a direct say in the governance and direction of the store, ensuring that it serves the community's needs and interests, according to the organization’s website.


Beyond the co-op, the DBCFSN operates D-Town Farm, a seven-acre urban farm that serves as a sustainable agriculture and community education model. They also run youth programs that teach young people how to build, maintain, raise gardens, and prepare healthy meals. (3)


Partnerships have been crucial to the DBCFSN's success, particularly their collaboration with the University of Michigan. The organization has shared knowledge and resources with the community through initiatives like the Food Literacy for All course and internship programs at D-Town Farm. (3)


The DBCFSN's work takes place against stark inequalities in the agricultural sector. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, black producers accounted for just 1.4 percent of the country's 3.4 million producers, operating a mere 0.5 percent of the total farmland in the United States. The average size of black-operated farms was 132 acres, significantly smaller than the national average. Moreover, 57 percent of black-operated farms had sales and government payments of less than $5,000 per year, compared to 23 percent of all farms (6). These disparities underscore the urgent need for organizations like the DBCFSN to work to build a more equitable and sustainable food system by empowering black farmers and communities.


Street view of the Detroit People's Food Coop

The Detroit People's Food Co-Op celebrated its grand opening on May 18, 2024. It stands as a testament to the power of community-driven change. However, as Yakini notes, the success of the co-op and the broader food sovereignty movement will depend on the continued support and engagement of the community. (1)


Through the tireless efforts of Malik Yakini and the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network, Detroit demonstrates the potential for communities to come together and build a more just and sustainable future. Their work is not just about food but about empowerment, resilience, and the fight for a better tomorrow.


DBCFSN is the subject of a Thriving Communities documentary coming out this fall. Subscribe to our website for updates.


Sources:


4. Detroit People's Food Co-op (2023): https://detroitpeoplesfoodcoop.com/about-us/

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