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Patrick Geans-Ali

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Fresh Food Solutions Usually Spring Up From the Grassroots Level

Posted: 06/20/2012 5:13 pm

In the roll-out of the environmental justice principles, we find ourselves next looking at what may turn out to be one of the most important Environmental Justice principles of them all since our government these days seems to deem themselves above all law (national, international, divine or otherwise). That is EJ Principle No.10, which states: governmental acts of environmental injustice are a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

We'll go there in due time but, since my colleague Victoria Goff is just returning from vacation, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about some of the positive work being done at the local level by ordinary citizens to meet the needs of everyday Detroiters. Through my affiliation with the Detroit Future Apprenticeship Program, I became aware of the young team of local entrepreneurs at Fresh Corner Cafe. This local food distribution enterprise is focused on bringing a measure of food justice to Detroit neighborhoods.

Fresh Corner Cafe is a start up business that is actively working to address the long-standing problem of providing more access to healthy food choices in Detroit neighborhoods. As we all know -- with the notable exception of invaluable Detroit institutions like Mr. James Hooks' Metro Foodland, the only black owned grocery store in the state of Michigan -- major grocery stores largely abandoned the city decades ago.

This phenomenon is unique to Detroit in all the cities I've known. Maybe we can explore the reasons why at another time, but the result is an almost criminal negligence on behalf of big business and government in Detroit. It's also one of the main reasons why the food justice movement has taken root in the city. Even in Detroit, however, one has to be careful to distinguish between a true grassroots operation, like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network's D-Town Farms, and someone like John Hantz, who has somehow convinced the mainstream media he is the face of urban farming in Detroit without even having a farm.

Other great food justice work is being done by groups like the Detroit Food Justice Taskforce, the Youth Food Justice Taskforce, Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System and Peoples Kitchen Detroit. Hopefully nascent businesses like Fresh Corner Cafe can network with these allies in the struggle for food justice in the city and find common cause. I'm sure there are knowledge and insights to be shared all around.

For many real Detroiters with limited transportation and other economic resources who don't happen to live in walking distance to a Metro Foodland or Mike's Market, their only access to food comes via the neighborhood convenience store/gas station or fast food joints. With that limited access comes even more restricted access to healthy food options, and that's where the folks at Fresh Corner Cafe are trying to do their part by bringing fresh fruit cups, wraps and salads to existing neighborhood food outlets.

Meanwhile, all the grass tops that run the government apparatus can seem to think to do is provide $3.3 million dollars in tax credits to coax one major grocery chain back into the city -- and oh by the way -- place it within a mile and a half of Metro Foodland in a city dearth of neighborhood grocers and so geographically large that Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan could all fit with in it. Thank goodness that at the grass roots level people like Fresh Corner Cafe's Valaurian Waller, Noam Kimelman and Imani Jamal are cranking up their green delivery truck -- affectionately renamed Coco -- and working with local food outlets to bring healthy food choices to more of Detroit's neighborhoods.

When I dropped by the East Side this weekend for the Second Annual Peoples Festival on the grounds of the Genesis Lutheran Church, Coco and the team were there in the Healthy Food tent, along with representatives of other food justice allies like Shane Bernardo of Earth Works Urban Farms. It was revealing to see how popular the Fresh Corner Cafe's salads were. Even as the day was coming to a close and tents and tables were being folded, community members had gotten wind that salads were available and kept coming by asking about the business and wanting a taste.

Currently, Fresh Corner Cafe is supplying healthy food options to outlets primarily in the Cass Corridor and Korktown areas. Waller, who rocks the low key swag of her east side roots, says that they are looking to expand into where their services are most needed -- East Detroit. And if the popularity of their food at this weekend's Peoples Festival was any indication, another example of how the best solutions always come from the bottom up may be coming to a store near you.

 

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