Lately! – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program


I meant to post this last week but completely forgot!

I’ve been enjoying the work I’m doing with FSEP a lot more lately, now that I’ve begun to interview the leaders of different organizations involved with the food system in Detroit. It’s really kind of amazing to see how many people are also dedicated to achieving food justice and food security in Detroit, and every day I learn about new efforts already in place to help this become a reality. The main objective of a community with food security is the ability for all residents to obtain safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diets through a food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice; so, the community does not rely on bigger, outside corporations or other markets for their food access. Instead, members of the community are represented in every aspect and level of food production, including food policy.

That subject is one that I have spent a lot of time researching, and is something I discussed with Malik Yakini, the president of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, during our interview. The city of Detroit is 80% African-American , and it really is crazy that the majority of people in power over food policy and food distribution in Detroit are white. It doesn’t make sense for those who are meant to speak on behalf of the community to not very representative of the majority of the community.

Interviewing Malik was a seriously interesting and enlightening conversation. We talked a lot about the way that land is distributed and sold to people. There’s been controversy in Detroit over the issue of selling vacant land, particularly a chunk of land that was sold to Mike Score from Hantz Farms. His intentions seemed good; he wanted to purchase hundred of acres of vacant land, clean and beautify those areas, and begin planting trees and later, different produce. The purpose of planting the trees, I learned, was to show that he was committed to staying in Detroit for the long haul. He claimed to have had the support of many members of the community, but DBCFSN held an open meeting for community members to express their opinions on the land sale and found that almost every single community member in attendance was opposed to it. Malik’s beliefs reflect a more community-based ideal of land usage; to him, the concept of one person selling land to another person is fabricated by humans, and not the way that land should really be used. Instead, the community should be able to decide what they want to do with their land– an urban garden or a community park or anything else– the community should collectively decide what is done with the space.

Doing research on this and other issues has really gotten me thinking about Power & Control in Detroit, and really, everywhere. Malik talked to me about how there’s this legacy of selling large tracts of land to wealthy individuals, particularly wealthy, white, men, which has been a pattern globally and is the root of many social problems around the world; the majority of wealth in the hands of few. We talked about how land is and has been the basis of power, the ability to grow food, and the means by which people are able to create a community. People dispossessed of land are also dispossessed of power. To him, challenging the way Hantz can come in and purchase this land would also be challenging this way of thinking about land ownership. He says that public land shouldn’t be used for individual wealth, but instead to benefit the common good.

My uncle and dad both lived on kibbutzim for a few years in Israel when they were younger. I was going to spend a few months on a kibbutz last summer, but ended up going on a road trip and working at summer camp instead (?? kind of the same thing ?) Kibbutzim have existed in Israel for, like, ever (that’s verbatim from the Torah btw), and function as small socialist communities where residents might spend their entire lives. Children of the people on the kibbutz are raised by the entire community, and every person works on the kibbutz cooking food, cleaning, building, etc; everything is shared, everything is communal. Ideas about sustainable living and these potential changes in land distribution seem radical sometimes, but I keep remembering that many other cultures have been doing things differently for a long time.

Challenging the capitalist idea of private ownership is not an easy feat, and I don’t think it’s what my supervisor meant when he asked me to try and understand what FSEP could do for these food security-related organizations, but I can’t help but continue to find that this is something many of those organizations are most concerned about. Which kinda makes sense; trying to understand and change institutionalized injustices should come from understanding the deep-rooted structural and policy-related issues that cause them. I’m hoping FSEP’s role in that might become more clear as I organize my research.

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