What Detroiters are Doing with Discarded Tires

ONE 2014 MORNING on Detroit’s northeast side, residents along Mapleridge were horrified to find that 10,000 tires had been stuffed into a row of abandoned houses on their street. The tires were stacked from floor to ceiling, piled in alleyways and jammed into garages. The fire hazard was high, and the disregard for neighborhood safety was disturbing. In the days that followed, community leaders organized a cleanup effort that took 30 volunteers 6 hours to haul the illegally dumped tires onto the curb for the city to pick up.

Tires figure prominently in the lives of Detroiters, and not because they live in the Motor City. There are just so many of them — illegally dumped in vacant lots, stuffed in abandoned buildings, discarded carelessly throughout neighborhoods. Some estimates put the number of tires littering Detroit’s neighborhoods at as many as 1 million.

Tires are considered a hazardous material, and as a result, they can cost as much as $2 each to safely dispose of. So it’s not surprising that unscrupulous tire haulers have been using Detroit’s vacant buildings and lots as their own personal dumping grounds for years.

“It tears me up, because we are talking about families,” says Audra Carson, native Detroiter and founder of De-tread, a start-up working to collect and dispose of Detroit’s abandoned tires. “People who aren’t from here or people who are disconnected, don’t realize that even if there are abandoned houses, there are still families living [nearby].”

Carson lists the dangers of abandoned tires in Detroit neighborhoods: piles of tires attract and provide homes for rodents; tires are highly flammable and create fires that are hard to extinguish; tires collect standing water that breeds insects that can carry disease.

Carson is so concerned about tires in the city that she left her two-decade career in corporate Detroit to launch De-tread in 2009. During her first cleanup project, with the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance in October of 2012, De-tread and a team of volunteers picked up 313 tires in less than 30 minutes.

Key to Carson’s strategy is to get the community involved in the actual hands-on challenge of tire removal. For her second cleanup, she returned to Osborn with a grant from the Skillman Foundation. De-tread, along with 50 volunteers, managed to get rid of 2,500 tires, hiring a licensed hauler to take them away and have the tires processed according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality standards. “To be able to make that instant impact in a neighborhood is extremely rewarding,” Carson says.

Now De-tread is developing products to make from abandoned tires. “Once the rubber is in a certain form it can be molded into anything. Think about sandals, kitchen items. It runs the gamut of what can be done,” Carson says. “Where I want to be is funky, cool. We’re talking about furniture. We’re talking about apparel.” Carson plans to do more than just get rid of tires. She wants to use them to create manufacturing jobs for people in the city.

In another part of Detroit, Reverend Faith Fowler is already using abandoned tires to create jobs for people in her neighborhood. She is the Executive Director of Cass Community Social Services, which runs Cass Green Industries (CGI), a small business that employs people who face barriers to employment — some are homeless, recovering from addiction, or dealing with chronic health conditions.

“The recession was hitting Detroit hard but especially our people in terms of employment,” Reverend Fowler explains. “None of my people had cars so they couldn’t get to where the jobs were, and if they were able to finagle a ride, they weren’t considered because there were so many people who had been laid off of other jobs with great resumes that our folks didn’t stand a chance.”

Fowler began to search for a small business idea that would be self-sustaining and cheap to start. When she read an article about woven mud mats made out of recycled tires, she knew she had found the right product for Detroit. “We have tires everywhere,” she says. “Talk about a free resource.”

By employing homeless veterans, ex-cons, or chronically ill people, CGI relies on the talents of a population that is often overlooked. Fowler is proud that some of her employees have used CGI as a stepping stone to full-time, better paying jobs.

To create even more jobs CGI introduced a new product in 2014. Detroit Treads sandals are made out of the tire treads that are left over from making mud mats. The sandals were an instant hit. In the first 4 months CGI sold $82,000 worth of sandals at $25 a pair. By leveraging the power of social media, Cass Green Industries has sold products in every state and in five foreign countries.

Typically Green Industries is lucky to break even. Last year the business brought in $120,000 in sales from tire products as well as coasters handmade from recycled glass. Reverend Fowler points out that the business is there to create jobs, and currently Green Industries employs 20 people part time making $9 an hour. “Not only are they making money, they are making the city better,” she says.

It’s nearly impossible for the city of Detroit — which covers 138 square miles — to keep up with the tire problem. In sparsely populated neighborhoods with rows of abandoned houses, there are just too many places to hide. “These tire companies are looking for an area where there are abandoned homes and a very low population. So they have no eyes and ears watching them,” says Detroit Department of Neighborhoods District 4 Manager and lifelong Detroit resident Odell Tate.

As part of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s “Every neighborhood has a future” initiative, Tate works with community leaders, churches, and neighborhood watch programs to solve the problem of blight in District 4. “We have been very fortunate to have strong community block clubs and associations that radar and monitor tire situations,” he says. Vigilance and community cooperation are the keys to success in Tate’s district, where residents work closely with the police to report any suspicious activity.

In April 2015, the Duggan administration introduced the Improve Detroit mobile app as an easy and convenient way for citizens to let city hall know about problems in the city.  Using the app, residents with smartphones can report potholes, missing traffic signs, and illegal dumping. They can pinpoint the exact location of the problem and even submit a photo.

In addition to eyes on the street, Tate says surveillance cameras would be a good way to find out who is dumping in Detroit. “If we’re able to catch one of the tire companies, and we can make them an example, I think that would put the rest of them on notice,” Tate says. “[The residents] are fed up with companies coming in and disrespecting the neighborhood by dumping tires.”


Published on BeltMagazine by Chris Hardman

 

Philadelphia Cuts Salt in Chinese Take-Out

AS FOLKS DIG into Chinese fare to celebrate the Lunar New Year, they might be surprised to hear that they’re getting an extra helping of sodium. Popular main dishes such as General Tso’s Chicken can contain as much as 2,325 mg of sodium in one serving, 25 mg more than the amount FDA recommends eating in an entire day.

In 2012, a group of Philadelphia health advocates noted that their city has more than 400 Chinese take-out-only restaurants—more than all the city’s fast food joints combined. They formed the Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Initiative, with the goal of reducing the amount of sodium in Chinese take-out by 10 to 15 percent.

Overconsumption of sodium is a nationwide problem. The average American eats nearly 3,500 milligrams of a day, or 15 percent more than the FDA recommends. The recommendation is even lower for people with hypertension, for African Americans, and for middle-aged and older adults.

The Philadelphia initiative targeted low-income neighborhoods where predominantly people of color reside and Chinese take-out is commonly eaten. “In Philly, we have such high rates of hypertension, particularly among African Americans and Hispanics,” says Jennifer Aquilante of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH).

Sodium is known to raise human blood pressure and half of the city’s African Americans and nearly a third of its Hispanics suffer from hypertension (or high blood pressure), which can lead to heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney problems.

Launched in 2010 by the PDPH—with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Get Healthy Philly also promotes healthy foods, smoke-free environments, and works to reduce youth smoking rates.

For the initiative, staff from the PDPH Get Healthy Philly program, Temple University’s Center for Asian Health, the Asian Community Health Coalition, and the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association worked with 300 Chinese takeout restaurants. Not only did they target table salt, the most obvious source of sodium in our diets, but they also turned an eye toward processed foods, canned sauces, and prepared mixes.

First, they asked restaurant owners two important questions: Did they realize that too much sodium contributed to health problems? And, second, were they willing to make changes? Most of the restaurant owners answered yes and requested help in preparing and marketing lower-sodium meals. Get Healthy Philly brought in Professor Shirley Cheng of New York’s Culinary Institute of America, to conduct classes and provide recipes for lower-sodium Chinese cooking.

Professor Cheng gave chefs from over 200 restaurants free cooking training in late 2012 and early 2013. She recommended included using ginger, garlic, scallions, and lemon to add flavor instead of table salt, and also using lower sodium ingredients and modifying recipes. In one example, Cheng recommended a modified sauce recipe for shrimp and broccoli that reduced the sodium from 2,400 mg to 1,300 mg. Her chicken lo mein sauce reduced sodium from 2,500 mg per order to 1,600 mg.

Restaurant owners received a certificate of participation, a door decal, a toolkit, posters about sodium, and recipes for the most popular menu items.

“Chinese food in general is high in sodium because of the sauces,” Aquilante says. “We ask them to use about half as much sauce as they normally do.” In addition to using less sauce, the Get Healthy Philly program also asked the restaurants to give out soy sauce packets only when asked.

Tongshe Lu, owner of Great Taste Chinese Food, completed his training in 2012. “It’s a great program for Chinese take out restaurants,” he says.

To measure the program’s progress, Temple University Professor Grace X. Ma conducted compliance checks at six, 16, and 24 months post training. She found that the sodium content in the three most popular dishes dropped consistently: 13 percent in General Tso’s chicken, 30 percent in chicken lo mein, and 34 percent in shrimp and broccoli.

“I’ve reduced half [the] sodium after the training,” says restaurant owner Tianxing Chen.  “It helps to make everybody healthy in the community.”

How did the customers respond to the change? Get Healthy Philly surveyed over 300 customers from nine restaurants after the shift. When asked if they would order the dishes they’d eaten again, 91-97 percent of the customers said yes.

However, initiatives like this one in Philly show that sodium is an acquired taste, so over time people can adapt to less sodium in their food. “We know from research that a 20 percent reduction in sodium isn’t that noticeable,” says Aquilante.

Partnerships between the Chinese and African American communities have been key to making the Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Initiative possible. In 2015, PDPHbegan a new outreach program with 80 pastors from African American churches. The pastors learned about the Chinese take-out program and other health issues. In turn, the pastors have begun educating their congregations.

Two years after training, 185 Chinese take-out-only restaurants were still participating in the program.

The success in Philadelphia is serving as a model for other cities looking to improve their residents’ health. In 2015 the Advocate Heart Institute and the Chicago Department of Public Health worked with four Chicago restaurants that serve South Asian fare to reduce sodium levels in their food.

“Several other cities have inquired about our program and replicated it in their own way,” says Aquilante. “Since our initiative is so comprehensive, I think cities can pull out pieces that they want to focus on.”


Published on CivilEats by Chris Hardman

 

Detroit Farmers Build a Better CSA

ON PAPER, the community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription model is an ideal partnership. Members of the community support the farmer by paying for their produce in one lump sum before the harvest and then receive a weekly box of food during the growing season. In some cases, CSA boxes can provide up to four-fifths of a family’s diet.

But boxes can also be inconsistent—one week a customer can be overloaded with squash or kale, and the next week have none at all. The model also can have some downsides for farmers, who not only need to grow a diverse set of crops, but also spend time packing weekly produce boxes and staffing member pick up stations. And despite the upfront investment by CSA members, many such farmers are still struggling to make ends meet. (A 2014 Massachusetts study found that 81 percent of full-time CSA farmers aren’t earning a living wage.)

To address these issues, a group of young farmers in Detroit started a cooperative CSA in 2012 called City Commons. The five urban farms—Fields of Plenty, Food Field, Buffalo Street Farm, Vinewood Knoll, and Singing Tree Garden—contribute to the weekly box and are paid based on how much produce they supply. By pooling their resources, they decrease their workload and risk and provide their customers with a more reliable, varied collection of produce every week.

City Commons boxes always have between eight and 10 items so customer don’t get overwhelmed with too much of one or two vegetables. And with careful planning in the winter, City Commons farmers make sure they have enough variety to fill their customer’s needs. “[That diversity] is part of why the cooperative model creates such a consistent product,” says Alice Bagley of Fields of Plenty. By the end of the season, members will have received about 50 different types of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

City Commons’ membership grew from 13 to 60 members between their first and second year of business, and rose to 90 members last year. (This year, they limited membership to 65, because one of their founding farmers moved away and another is having a baby.) The original group of farmers met while working for the Greening of Detroit. Each had previous experience with CSAs and a shared philosophy for sustainable farming.

Once a week, member farmers send an e-mail list of available produce to crop coordinator and Vinewood Knoll owner Elizabeth Phillips. She then calculates how much product each farmer needs to contribute to fill customer boxes. “The beauty of the cooperative is if I only have greens, I have four other farmers back me up providing other things,” Phillips says.

Each farmer also has a role in running the business. For example Bagley manages the books, and Link from Food Field responds to e-mail inquiries. “Our administrative work is what we give back to the cooperative,” Phillips says. “We don’t get paid for those jobs.” With no administrative costs, City Commons is able to keep their prices at $450 for a 20-weeks full share and $230 for a half share.

“We want to make sure the food we are growing is accessible to the community we’re in,” says Buffalo Street Farm’s Chris McGrane. He grows food on the east side of Detroit in a neighborhood that is mixed with abandoned, run down homes, and older, inhabited ones, and says that most of his neighborhood relies on some type of food assistance. As a result, City Commons has to be able to accept Michigan Bridge cards from Michigan’s electronic food assistance program. McGrane says about half of City Commons’ customers are from Detroit, and the other half work in the city.

The support the cooperative CSA provides to farmers is invaluable. “Farming is kind of lonely,” says Phillips. “It’s just nice seeing someone every week who is going through the same thing and supporting you.” If one farmer needs to take some time off, the other farmers pitch in as needed. “You don’t have to have that 24/7 marriage to the farm,” says McGrane.

A known customer base also gives the farmer more time to spend on farming instead of marketing. “You know [the produce is] going to get sold,” says Bagley of Fields of Plenty. “At the beginning of the season, I already knew that I had 65 customers waiting to eat the things I was growing.”


Published on CivilEats by Chris Hardman

 

Salad Greens Keep Growing in Your Kitchen

SALAD GREENS HAVE been getting a bad wrap in the news lately. Not only are pre-cut greens notoriously risky from a food safety perspective (Since the 2006 E. coli outbreak, all bagged lettuce now gets triple washed, but a 2010 Consumer Reports study says that spinach and other greens still harbor dangerous bacteria), but they also requireconsiderably more water and other resources than head lettuce. Worst of all: A great deal of it goes to waste. According to the Washington Post, as much as 1 billion poundsgo to waste every year.

For all these reasons, Christopher Washington, James Livengood, and Tony Gibbons arere-thinking salad greens. Their New York-based startup Radicle Farm Company is changing the way this American staple is grown, harvested, and delivered, and challenging assumptions about the way the 5 billion dollar bagged salad industry works.

The company’s name is a play on words. Spelled a different way the word suggests change and upheaval. “Ultimately were are really interested in fundamentally changing the way people think of salad greens,” says Gibbons, who co-founded the company with Livengood and Washington in 2014.
Their product is a living salad, sold with roots intact, designed for consumers to harvest themselves when they’re ready.

Unlike pre-cut greens, which can wilt and lose their flavor, Radicle’s greens continue to grow during transport, on the grocery shelf and in the consumer’s kitchen.

If watered and stored on the kitchen counter, they can last up to two weeks.“People are focused on delaying decay of the product. We’re focused on extending the life of plants,” says Washington.

Each package of greens is grown in a greenhouse in Utica, New York or Newark, New Jersey, in a compostable soil mix in a recyclable tray. Although the growing method and soil mixture are a trade secret, Washington describes their process as a mix between hydroponics and traditional agriculture. The plan is to become certified organic in the future. Growing indoors eliminates the need for any pesticides, and a targeted irrigation system relies on less water.

Radicle Farm Co. also takes a regional approach to food distribution, meaning it limits their sales radius to 400 miles. Gibbons estimates that Radicle grows about 1,500 pounds of produce each week. Their clients include 30 Whole Food stores, 20 New York grocery stores, nearby Sodexo food service accounts, Farmigo, the Food Emporium, Fresh Direct delivery service, and several high–end restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern and Locanda Verde in Manhattan. In addition to the founders, the company employs seven other people.

Radicle’s mixes include Baby Romaine with green and red leaves and Shanghai Spinach with tatsoi and komatsuna. The average retail pricefor a 4.5-ounce living Radicle salad is$3.99, compared to most bagged grocery store salad mix, which costs around $2.99.“We’re trying to level the playing field as far as democracy of food,” Washington says, “Everyone should be able to have this universal right of food.”

All three co-founders have experience with hydroponic farming. Gibbons co-foundedGarden State Urban Farms, one of the first hydroponic farms in urban New Jersey. AndWashington co-founded three farms using both traditional and hydroponic growing techniques in Africa and the U.S.

The three men met at a dinner party where they bonded over a shared concern for the growing quantity of food waste in the world.

The statistics are overwhelming. In 2013 alone, Americans wasted more than 37 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Sadly, only five percent of that waste was diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

Washington explains that bagged salad greens are harvested by large combines that gobble up everything in their path including frogs and other small wildlife. The animal detritus combined with high amounts of pesticide use created the need to “triple-wash” salad greens before they go to market.

Radicle Farm saves money by eliminating the complicated washing and bagging process. “We can grow a lot of food in a very small space, and we can lower the price of the food because we’re not going through that process,” says Washington.

“Our biggest challenge overall is really the fact that it is a new product and that there isn’t an infrastructure out there that knows how to handle boxes of [living] lettuce,” saysGibbons.

But for now, he feels that this experiment in “in-home agriculture” is worth the effort. “It’s always going to be hard to compete with massive fields in California,” Gibbons adds.“But we think our quality is on a different level.”


Published on CivilEats by Chris Hardman

 

Chicago Beekeepers Get a Second Chance

EVERY 10 DAYS, Thad Smith enters a piece of land that is otherwise forbidden to most people: The empty acreage around Chicago’s O’Hare airport. It’s there that Smith and his crew from the Westside Bee Boyz tend to 75 beehives. Last year, he and his fellow beekeepers harvested 1,600 pounds of honey in the otherwise unoccupied land beneath O’Hare’s airspace.

An international trend that began in Germany has spread to the U.S. as airports have begun to open their vacant land to bees and beekeepers. Airport apiaries in Quebec, Copenhagen, and Seattle have appeared in The New York Times and on Science Friday. But some of these collaborations are producing more than honey. They’re also creating jobs, helping to restore habitat, and giving some beekeepers a second chance.

By design, airports require long tracts of land for takeoff and landing strips and act as a buffer between the planes and the surrounding community. As a safety measure this excess land cannot be developed for human use. But for bees, it’s prime real estate.

In 2011, O’Hare Airport installed 28 beehives, making it the first airport in the U.S. to host an apiary. The project is part of its Green Initiatives Program, which includes an aeroponic garden, green roofs, construction recycling, and wetland restoration.

The beekeepers come from the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), a non-profit organization on the west side of Chicago. In addition to honey, the NLEN produces a line of honey-based skin care products through a business called Sweet Beginnings. The majority of the people working for Sweet Beginnings have spent at least some portion of their lives in prison. The company gives them a second chance, and a shot at a meaningful career.

NLEN is located in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, an area where many residents face uphill battles accessing education and employment. In 2001, 57 percent of the population was involved in the justice system—either in jail, on parole or on probation. As NLEN executive director, Brenda Palms Barber’s job is to find employment for former inmates. “We knew we had to do something different to give them a hand to establish work skills,” says Barber.

After realizing how reluctant many area employers were to hire former prisoners, Barber decided to create a business of her own. A colleague had recommend beekeeping and honey production as one option, so in 2004 Barber started Sweet Beginnings. Then, four years ago, the Chicago Department of Aviation offered Sweet Beginnings airport land for their hives.

Because beekeeping is primarily taught in the field, it can be a good job for people who have struggled in the classroom. Employees also work in manufacturing, sales, and customer service.

Since it opened, Sweet Beginnings has hired 383 transitional employees and seen approximately 70 percent of them move on to gainful employment elsewhere. NLEN records show that the number of former Sweet Beginnings employees who return to a life of crime is below 10 percent compared to the national average of 40 percent and the Illinois average of 55 percent.

Thad Smith turned to the NLEN when he got out of prison at age 46. He was homeless, desperate, and living with a felony conviction on his record (a reality that keeps many ex-offenders out of work). Soon Smith started working with the bees, and things gradually started to turn around.

“I opened a hive and I just fell in love,” Smith wrote on his company website. “It’s so fascinating. I can just stand there and watch 60,000 individuals who are one entity, working toward one common goal. It is all about the colony, making sure they survive and find a way to work together.” Now he is the co-owner of Westside Bee Boyz and does contract work for Sweet Beginnings managing their airport hives.

Sweet Beginnings products are sold at Whole Foods stores, in gift shops, and online. Travelers passing through O’Hare can find their products in the market located just below the aeroponic garden in Terminal 3.

“Beekeeping has allowed me to help the community, provide jobs, and be a mentor,” Smith says. “The people I work with are like a colony of bees. [We’re] putting people to work and propagating the community of North Lawndale. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t learn something.”


Published on Civil Eats by  

 

How to Change School Food in Detroit

IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS, school meals in Detroit have been transformed. Gone are the chicken nuggets and sugary drinks. Now school cafeterias serve fresh fruit and mixed baby green salads, lean meat, low-fat milk, and whole grain breads. Better yet, some even serve produce from school gardens and local farmers.

The change hasn’t occurred overnight. The Detroit Public Schools Office of School Nutrition, which serves breakfast and lunch to more than 55,000 kids in 141 schools, has worked hard to create such a dramatic nutritional turnaround. And much of the credit goes to the office’s executive director, Betti Wiggins.

In 2008, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) was outsourcing its food service program. But the staff union had the foresight to hire Wiggins to propose bringing it back in-house. Her background as chief of nutrition for the District of Columbia and as a food services director in three other states, came in handy, and the district was convinced she was the one to turn things around.

Right off the bat Wiggins did away with the outside food management company, which allowed her to more than double the size of the food budget. (Before Wiggins came on board, DPS was spending 23 percent of its budget on food; it’s now 51 percent). The change in the quality was dramatic.

“One of the first things we did was turn the deep fryers off,” Wiggins says. “There are certain foods I don’t think we should be serving in schools. I don’t serve hot dogs and corn dogs; I think that’s carnival food.”

Next she increased the servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. Once a week the students are introduced to a new raw vegetable. If they don’t like the jicama, sugar snap peas, or asparagus the first time, it doesn’t matter. As long as Wiggins continues to put new food on their plates, the kids will eventually eat them. Since 2009, the students have also been eating brown rice and enjoying Meatless Mondays with hummus, eggs or cheese.

“Cafeterias should be viewed as an extension of the classroom,” she says. “We don’t do home economics anymore. That is where we are doing real nutrition education—on their plates.”

During Wiggins’ tenure, the Office of Nutrition staff has also grown to include lunchroom workers with nutritional training like Chef Kevin Frank, a Detroit native and graduate of the Schoolcraft College Culinary Arts Program. Chef Frank’s daily challenge is to create delicious and healthy meals that children will actually eat.

Thanks to Wiggins, Detroit public schools now buy 22 percent of their produce, including potatoes, apples, squash, peaches, and asparagus from farms around the state. They work with seven farmers, including Barbara Norman, whose farm, Barbara’s Blueberry Patch, sells 80,000 pounds of berries to the district each year.

Under Wiggins’ leadership, DPS became the first school district in the country in 2009 to offer free breakfast to every student regardless of household income. The goal has been to eliminate some of the social stigma associated with free food. As a result, more kids are eating a healthy breakfast than ever before. Breakfast—which includes yogurt, a granola bar, fresh fruit, and low-fat milk—is integrated into the school day and served in the classroom after the bell rings.

At lunchtime students can eat a free hot lunch and those participating in after-school tutoring and enrichment programs can also eat a free dinner. “A lot of kids come to school to eat,” says Wiggins.

The companion program to the meal service is the Detroit School Garden Collaborative. Wiggins comes from a farming background and has maintained strong ties to the agricultural community. With the help of a school board member, she started a farm-to-school program that now includes 76 school gardens. To make sure gardens thrive, each participating school has to sign a contract committing staff time to maintain its garden. DPS employs a garden director, a farmer, and a horticulturist to run the program.

The largest DPS farm is located at the Drew Transition Center, a school for young adults with special needs. There, a 2-1/4-acre farm and 96-square-foot hoop house produce corn, greens, and root vegetables. More than 7,000 ears of corn from the Drew farm ended up on the plates of schoolchildren throughout Detroit last year.

Another shining star in Wiggins’ $43 million dollar budget is a plan to turn an abandoned high school into the Kettering Urban Agricultural Campus. The site will include installing a 27-acre farm, 8 hoop houses, indoor growing areas, and a food processing center. Food grown and processed on the site will be used to feed schoolchildren and other members of the community.

Throughout the city, innovators from the Detroit Bus Company, the Green Garage, andMotor City Blight Busters are working to rebuild the city and grow its economy. Wiggins sees public school lunches as another sign of this positive change.

“It’s a rebirth,” she says. “It’s caring about our citizens.”


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Bringing Pollinators Back to Washington

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED putting in a beehive, but worried that you might not have the time to maintain it? If you live in Seattle, you’re in luck. Once a month, Corky Luster’s Ballard Bee Company will install a hive, care for the bees, and harvest the honey for you.

“It’s like having a lawn service, but with bees. You can sit back and enjoy the bees, and we will take care of them,” Luster explains.

Ballard Bee customers sign up for a year of “urban pollination” services at a time. During the 6-month honey season, they receive two 12-ounce jars of honey a month, and in winter, Luster makes sure the hive survives.

In the process, he is turning suburban backyards and city rooftops into honey producing habitats, in hopes that it will help his customers connect the dots between what they eat and the natural world around them. “By [giving people] bees, you bring them into the fold, and they become part of the food system,” Luster says.

To make his business sustainable, Luster does more than manage hives. He teaches classes, consults with chefs, and sells honey and beekeeping supplies. “We’ve had a huge interest in beekeeping in Seattle,” he explains. His classes sell out and many of his graduates move on to their own beekeeping adventures.

Luster also consults for some of Seattle’s finest chefs. He helped both Jason Stoneburner of Bastille Café & Bar in Ballard and Gavin Stephenson of Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel set up rooftop apiaries. “My goal was to educate the chefs and get them involved,” says Luster. “Both are really bright and very interested in trying to be part of the solution.”

The restaurant apiaries have succeeded. Chef Stephenson now manages five rooftop hives that house half a million honeybees. He harvested more than 400 pounds of honey last summer. Last year, after relying on the service of Ballard Bees for three years, Chef Stoneburner has taken over caring for his hives. He uses his honey in desserts, vinaigrettes, and in a popular cocktail called the Bee’s Knees.

In 2014, Luster started a new service for restaurants called the apiary partnership program. He invited restaurants and chefs to buy bee hives that he manages for a small fee. The restaurant gets 100 percent of the honey. According to Luster, the partnership is a great success and he plans to expand this program in the future. His clients include the Walrus and the Carpenter, an oyster bar in Seattle, Vif, a wine and coffee café in Seattle, and the Tom Douglas Restaurants.

Nearly half of Ballard Bee’s income comes from honey sales. The company owns an additional 130 hives that are housed 45 minutes outside of Seattle at Local Roots Farm and at Camp Korey. The honey produced by those hives has varied flavors that depend on where the bees are foraging. The first nectar flow begins early in the spring when the bees are feeding on pollen from the flowers of bigleaf maple trees, the largest species of maple found in the Puget sound area. Next the bees feed on pollen from blackberry bush flowers. The last flow is from the Japanese knotweed plant and has a fig and caramel taste to it. Called Dark Cream Honey, it’s Ballard’s favorite flavor and recently received national recognition as a 2015 Good Food Awards winner.

Education is important to the Ballard Bee Company’s mission. Luster’s goals when starting the business in 2009 were to teach people about bees, replenish the local bee population, and encourage new beekeepers. He is dedicated to spreading the word about the value of bees and says people are afraid of bees because they don’t know enough about them. When he works with a hive, onlookers express surprise that he is dressed in short sleeves without gloves. “People are amazed that honey bees are extremely gentle. They’re teddy bears,” he says. Some of his clients put lawn chairs near the hive so they can relax and watch the bees at work.

As pollinators of fruit trees, nut trees and crops, the value of bees is vast. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, honey bees pollinate $2.2 billion worth of tree fruits, nuts, and berries, and produce 2.5 million pounds of honey in their state alone. Those calculations do not include the value of all the seed crops bees pollinate, such as onions, watermelon, and squash.

Seattle, with its vibrant local food scene, is an ideal place to launch an urban bee company. Since Luster started his business, other bee companies have debuted, offering hosting, consulting, and education services. One business, called the Urban Bee Company, gives city dwellers a chance to sponsor a hive or an apprentice beekeeper along with hosting and education programs. “I could not be here without the support Seattle has given me,” Luster says. “I am really thankful for that.”

 


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An Urban Farmer Breaks New Ground in Flint

THIRTY-YEAR-OLD Roxanne Adair is a trailblazer. In 2010, she and a friend started Flint River Farm in Flint, Michigan, a city where urban farming isn’t the norm. Adair’s background was in fisheries, wildlife, and biology, and she used the knowledge gained working at the Genesee County Land bank to buy and rent city lots, totaling nearly three acres, in the heart of Flint.

This process wasn’t easy. Flint’s history mirrors that of other rust belt cities. The city had a robust economy based in the auto industry until it began to decline in the 1970s. When General Motors closed multiple plants and cut thousands of jobs in Flint in 1989, work suddenly became scarce. As unemployment and crime increased, the media dubbed Flint “the Murder Capital” of the U.S.

Despite the city’s challenges, Adair and her partner jump-started their business with a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation. Their goal was to create a sustainable business model for urban farming in Flint.

The farmers built hoop houses, produced enough vegetables to supply a multi-family community supported agriculture program (CSA), harvested honey from two beehives, and even tapped neighborhood maple trees to make syrup. They sold their organically grown produce at the Flint Farmers’ Market.

Since her partner left in 2012, Adair has continued to expand the farm on her own, and the space now occupies 17 city lots. Flint River Farm produces a wide array of heirloom crops, including apples, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, corn, melons, tomatoes, squash, dried beans, carrots, beets and Brussels sprouts—the list goes on and on.

frf joannas dadWhile Flint River Farm is filled with fresh produce, the neighborhood still faces its challenges. Across the street is a burned-out convenience store. The main drag, Saginaw Street, is a block away and is home to strip clubs, a pawn shop, and a liquor store.

Theft is a frequent problem on the farm, but Adair doesn’t begrudge her hungry visitors. “If you need [food] bad enough to steal it, you need it more than I do,” she says. But, she encourages people to reach out to her first: “Tell me and I will harvest it for you. I’ll wash it for you and have it ready.”

Vandals also come through the farm regularly, slashing the thick polyethylene walls of the hoop houses or spray painting gang paraphernalia on the sides. Repairs and replacements can cost thousands of dollars.

By and large, however, the long-time residents of the neighborhood have become Adair’s friends. They share tools, talk over the tomatoes, and collaborate on composting. Adair recalls that when she started the farm, she rarely saw the neighbors outside. “They would mow their lawn and then run back inside,” she says. Now people have planted flowers and are taking pride in their landscape. “I can’t take credit for that,” says Adair, “but I think [the farm] has caused people to come outside more and not hate their surroundings.”

Throughout the year, Adair shares her knowledge through community workshops, on topics as diverse as urban foraging, composting, maple syrup making, organic gardening, and season extension. Although she charges a small fee for the classes, Adair admits that she doesn’t turn anyone away. “There is a spirit in the city of Flint that I haven’t found anywhere else,” she says. “The people who have stayed have been through some really hard times. I have a respect for the struggle.”

Flint River Farm aims to address the city’s high unemployment rate by providing jobs to Flint residents. Using grant money, Adair hired local teenagers to farm and work at the farmers’ market. At the height of the growing season, she employed nine full-time staff members and two interns. As the farm moves toward self-sustainability, Adair hopes these jobs will become more permanent. When the farm first started, it was entirely grant-funded. This year grants accounted for only 40 percent of the operating costs.

To sustain the farm, Adair has diversified her product line. She has sold lip balm made from her bees’ wax, salad mixes from the hoop house, teas from dried herbs, eggs from her small flock of chickens, and nut butters she grinds herself. This month, she began selling bulk dried goods like organic oats and flour at her stand in the market. “I am confident that with bulk food bins we will be sustainable next year,” she says.

Last summer, the city threatened to confiscate the chickens Adair keeps at her house. Flint’s Blight Authority gave her 30 days to dispose of the birds. Adair used that opportunity to try to change a 1968 city ordinance that prohibits residential homeowners from keeping “fowl” on their property. She mobilized her support network, worked with the city council, and created a ”Friends of Flint Chickens” Facebook campaign.

On the last day, Adair sat on her front porch and waited for the police to come. She highly doubted that in a city with only three police officers on duty at a time, one of them would take time away from chasing drug dealers and thieves, to chase her chickens. She waited all day. No one came.

Like her chickens, Roxanne Adair is in Flint to stay.


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Detroit Company Creates Fresh Food Pit Stops

IF YOU’RE ON THE HUNT for a fresh, ready-to-eat meal in Detroit, the best place to find it just might surprise you. Take the Sunoco station on Fort Street or the Victory Liquor and Food store on Warren Avenue. Amidst the Hot Cheetos and snack-sized Chips Ahoy cookies, you’ll find a cooler stocked with everything from fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits and spicy feta and hummus wraps to Thai chicken salads made with fresh, green lettuce—not the wilted iceberg you might expect.

The company behind the food might not be what you’d expect either. Fresh Corner Cafe (FCC) is a mission driven food and delivery service with the goal of making healthy food accessible to all Detroiters. To do this, they’ve turned to a most unlikely distribution center—neighborhood convenience stores.

For years, Detroit has been labeled a “food desert,” but that term is misleading. “It’s not that we don’t have grocery stores,” explains Detroit native and FCC co-founder Val Waller. “It’s that people have issues getting to them.”

According to a 2011 report from Data Driven Detroit, there are more than 115 grocery stores within Detroit’s city limits. In the years since that report was published, several high-profile grocery stores have opened stores in the city—including Whole Foods in June 2013 and Meijer in July 2013. But Detroit encompasses 138 square miles, the public transportation is undependable and some neighborhoods are simply not safe for walking. As a result, many Detroiters choose food from the closest of the more than 1,000 corner stores in the city.

“We’re trying to change the idea of what can be available in these spaces,” Waller explains. Initially FCC co-owner Noam Kimelman had to convince the shop owners that his products would sell. But Kimelman and Waller worked hard to build relationships with store owners and won over customers by providing free samples.

The idea for Fresh Corner Cafe came to Kimelman while he was studying at the University of Michigan. While working on his Masters of Health Management and Public Policy, he and his classmates came up with an idea for getting healthier food into urban areas. His first business, Get Fresh Detroit, launched in 2010 and offered for sale packets of food with fresh ingredients to make soup or stir fry. His goal was to make a gas station or convenience store a one-stop shop for fresh food ingredients. Kimelman soon learned that his customers were more interested in ready-to -eat meals, so he changed his business plan to offer pre-made meals.IMG_7849_edited-1

Kimelman recruited Waller, another U of M graduate, to join the company in 2011. Her degree in sociology and work experience in her family’s Detroit pizzeria have fueled her passion for creating an equitable local foodshed. She says access to good food should not be contingent on where someone lives.

Unlike most government interventions, says the Fresh Corner Café website, which “rely on big box retail to address healthy food access and obesity” the company’s goal is to “reduce barriers and uplift existing assets to provide a highly replicable and scalable solution with low capital requirements.”

Targeting convenience stores is an effective way to reach low-income shoppers. Fresh Corner Cafe sells to stores that are all certified to accept food assistance cards, also called Bridge cards. According to Data Driven Detroit, residents of Detroit spend twice as much of their Bridge card money at convenience stores as compared to the rest of Michigan‘s residents.

Fresh Corner Cafe works at a community level. They source fruit from Peaches and Greens, a locally owned produce market, and the wraps and salads come from Lunchtime Detroit, a sandwich shop. The staff lives locally and the drivers come from the communities to which they deliver. FCC delivers meals to 27 locations—including cafes, gas stations, and pharmacies—three times a week.

Currently the sales from the convenience stores do not generate enough revenue to turn a profit, so in order to keep the company sustainable, FCC expanded by placing their own self-serve to-go cafes in several Detroit workplaces. The company provides a fully-stocked refrigerator with a self-pay station and they stock and clean the shelves and handle all financial transactions. These workplace cafes makes it convenient for busy professionals to eat healthy and for businesses to provide fresh food to their employees.

So far, these strategies appear to be working. In August, Kimelman was recognized with a young entrepreneur SCORE award for pioneering the model and the company now employs six people.

Last year FCC sold some 30,000 meals bringing in $200,000 worth of revenue. Those numbers will continue to grow as FCC expands to more stores and offices. According to Waller, FCC plans to open their own certified kitchen, which will give them more control over ingredients and eventually allow them to introduce an organic line. “It is a social injustice for people to not have access to fresh food,” she says. “Detroiters are so used to not having things that they don’t even know how to ask for them.”


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