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Detroit Grocery Businesses Shuttered; People Out Of Food

negro girl buys fruit
Kimberly Hayes Taylor / The Detroit News

Imani Abba got choked up Friday as she purchased fruits and vegetables from a delivery truck.

“We don’t have to go to the liquor stores and get dried-up vegetables,” said the 54-year-old Detroiter, while taking strawberries, bananas and grapes her excited daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughter handed off. “For a long time, people around here didn’t have fresh food, and there are children around here that just know food from cans.”

The MI (pronounced “my”) Neighborhood Food Movers, a fresh food delivery program that officially launches Tuesday, is designed to change that for some Detroit residents. Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office has invested $75,000 in seed money for the pilot program, which they plan to develop into a larger initiative that will include urban gardens, more delivery services, cooking classes and other programs.

“We needed some way to get fresh produce into the community,” said Kim Trent, director of the governor’s southeast Michigan office in Detroit, who is working with Detroit nonprofits, businesses and other state departments.
“When you buy produce at Detroit grocery stores, the prices tend to be higher than suburban stores. We wanted prices that are fair and we wanted it to be convenient for people because of the transportation issue we have in the city.”
The program represents a gleam of hope for Detroiters who haven’t had access to fresh produce. A 2007 study concluded that Detroiters had limited access to full-service grocery stores, largely due to a lack of transportation.

“We found that 92 percent of food providers in Detroit are what we call fringe — liquor stores, gas stations, party stores, dollar stores, pharmacies and convenient stores,” said Mari Gallagher, president of Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group in Chicago, who conducted the food desert study. “Only 8 percent are small, medium and large grocery stores.”

The Food Movers program will operate with deliveries to three Detroit neighborhoods, and, on designated days, to high-traffic areas such as church parking lots on Sundays. The drivers are entrepreneurs who received marketing, technical support and loans to purchase specially marked delivery trucks that allow shoppers to select fresh fruit and vegetables.

A partnership between the state and Eastern Market Corp. will keep the produce prices competitive with grocery stores or big-box supermarkets. Customers also will have several payment options, including cash, credit, debit or the Michigan Bridge Card.

Trent helped start the Food Movers program in May by meeting with officials at the Detroit Department of Health and urban farmers. She listened to older residents talk about the trucks that drove through neighborhoods each day 20 years ago, delivering produce and fish.

And then she learned about Peaches & Greens, a company that started a mobile produce delivery service in July 2008 and opened a produce store in Detroit’s Central Woodward neighborhood in November.

Peaches & Greens, run by Lisa Johanon, executive director of the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corp., became a model and one of the three operators in the Food Movers’ pilot program.

“I have a car and I can drive 10 miles north or west to the suburbs to buy my food, but what about my neighbors who don’t drive — and that’s about 50 percent of the neighborhood?” said Johanon, who started Peaches & Greens with a $25,000 donation from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Plymouth. “It’s ridiculous that the food system goes around the city and not in the city.”

M.J. “Butch” Robinson of Highland Park has been driving the Peaches & Greens truck through his city, the central Woodward area and other parts of Detroit’s west side for a couple of months.

“The people seem very excited,” he said Friday while scouring Detroit’s neighborhoods for customers. He drives slowly, just like an ice cream truck driver, and stops when people flag him down. His fruits and vegetables are so popular they sometimes sell out.

“You got any green tomatoes?” one man yelled at him on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. “No, I already ran out of them,” he replied.

“I need a big, old, fat watermelon,” another man said as he pulled up in his car. “Sorry,” Robinson said. “I already sold my last watermelon.

“The older people say it reminds them of when they were young,” Robinson said. “The younger people like it because it’s new. It’s rare to go down one street for three blocks and not have someone flag me down.”

Meanwhile, Warren Thomas drives Tuesdays and Thursdays for his business, the Field of Our Dreams, which is now part of the new initiative. Another Food Movers partner, Jocelyn Harris, runs Up South Foods, which stops at Detroit east side churches and intersections daily, except Wednesdays.

Full article at the Detroit News

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