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Malik Yakini, executive director and co-founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Develop Detroit President Sonya Mays take part in a groundbreaking for the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, part of the $21.3 million Detroit Food Commons project in the city’s North End. (Courtesy of Khary Frazier)

After more than a decade of visioning and organizing, Black leaders and community members have broken ground on a cooperatively owned full-service grocery store in the city’s North End. 

The Detroit People’s Food Co-op will be part of the larger Detroit Food Commons, a Black-led community development complex on Woodward Avenue expected to include an incubator kitchen for culinary artists and food entrepreneurs, a West African and Detroit-centric healthy foods cafe and will have space for community meetings and events, lectures, films, and performances.

The project, spearheaded by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, seeks to expand access to healthy foods for a predominantly Black and low-income community where residents also face concerns of gentrification and displacement. 

Despite a nearly 80% Black population, Detroit lacks Black-owned grocery stores. While the Detroit People’s Food Co-op will be open to the public and anyone of any race can be involved, it is a primarily Black-led initiative. 

Malik Yakini, the network’s executive director and co-founder, grounded the group’s Saturday groundbreaking in the context of white supremacy and inequity. 

“In the face of these kinds of oppressive systems, cooperative economics is the way that people who are marginalized by the larger society galvanize our collective wealth and rebuild our communities,” said Yakini, of the coalition working to build an equitable food system in Detroit.

Construction on the $21.3 million Detroit Food Commons will take a little over a year, with an anticipated completion date of June 2023. 

“The Detroit Food Commons and the Detroit People’s Food Co-op is most significant when it is linked to ending the extraction of wealth, and the suppression of power of Black communities throughout the United States,” he added. “It pushes back gently – it doesn’t destroy capitalism.”

Malik Yakini and Mama Hanifa Adjuman, of Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network, at the April 25 groundbreaking for the Detroit Food Commons.

Even withinin a co-op, he said, there’s still capitalism, but at least at the retail level community members can own the store they’re purchasing from, and the store will be connected with local growers in Detroit. 

“We’re trying to kind of create a closed loop system … keeping the money from those sales circulating within our community,” he said. 

A 2012 study by the Fair Food Network found that Detroiters spend an average of $200 million annually on groceries in the suburbs, due to a lack of grocery stores in the city, generally, and a lack of quality, nutritious and culturally appropriate foods offered at Detroit grocers.  

The grocery store in the North End will be collectively owned and governed by its members who pay a one-time fee of $200. In exchange, members receive a vote in board elections, share of future profits, and they can run to be a board member themselves. 

Yakini announced Saturday that the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network will be changing its name to the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network. Compared to “food security” the phrase “food sovereignty” highlights ownership over the social and political processes of our food systems.

The project, he added, is significant because it’s led by “a grassroots Black food sovereignty network,” including a nonprofit development company led by a Black woman, two Black architectural firms, a Black construction company and a Black general contractor.

Sonya Mays, president and chief executive officer of Develop Detroit, the organization partnering with the network to create the space, told BridgeDetroit that “We do see cooperative and collective ownership as an important strategy in neighborhoods like this to keep homes affordable, to keep the character of the community more intact.” 

But most people aren’t familiar with cooperative ownership, she noted, and Mays hopes that the DPFC will be a good, clear example of how these kinds of developments can work.

She said the community-owned approach “really does signal” to the neighborhood that it’s for the community. It’s not just a place to shop, but a place where community members can have ownership. All of that, she said, counteracts feelings of gentrification. 

North End resident Jamii Tata has been supporting the project as a member of the co-op since 2014. He is also a co-op board member and chair of its operations committee.  

“We have no grocery stores directly inside the North End. It’s really important to have a grocery store in our neighborhood that’s Black-owned and controlled,” he told BridgeDetroit. 

“T​here are some grocery stores nearby that don’t have quality produce. As a co-op, we can advocate for produce from local farmers and growers right inside the neighborhood,” he said. “We can encourage quality standards, instead of being beholden to a grocery store that’s independent from us.”

In addition to providing access to healthy food, the co-op will benefit the North End in a number of other ways. Tata said it will add jobs, create savings at the grocery store, and educate residents with cooking demonstrations, for example. 

Feeling thankful to reach this point, Shakara Tyler, board president of the food security network added the work isn’t finished. 

The co-op is looking for help with fundraising efforts, outreach, recruiting new members, spreading the word through social media, or through money donations.

“We really need people to dig in as much as they can,” she said. 

To date, the co-op has amassed nearly 1,500 members, just 500 short of their goal.

In the years leading up to the groundbreaking, 40 community engagement sessions were held in and around the North End. The co-op also held monthly member meetings, which will now be held quarterly. Additionally, each month an anti-racist work group meets “to dismantle white supremacy and white privilege through education, accountability, relationships, and reparations within the context of the co-op,” according to the co-op’s newsletter.

Yakini said the project will contribute to the revitalization of the city’s North End community and he’s hopeful it will attract other businesses with a similar value system to create a “liberated zone.”

“The Detroit People’s Food Co-op will serve as a catalyst for more local urban agriculture, and allow local farmers to have a retail outlet to sell on a scale that previously did not exist,” he said. “We certainly hope that what we have done here can be replicated in whole or in part by other Black communities throughout the United States.”

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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3 Comments

  1. While this is a good initiative, Chaldean grocery store owners have served the City of Detroit for many years when others bailed or refused to even set up shop. They do not get credit for sticking with Detroiters when no one else could or would.

  2. This is great news for Detroit. Looking forward to participating in this groundbreaking effort.

  3. It’s true that Chaldean businesses have been in Detroit to provide otherwise unavailable products but they take those profits to the suburbs where they live, which is among the realities that keep the community under resourced. In addition, some but of course not all, have treated residents with blatant disrespect, which should never be the case when businesses profess to “serve” a community. These facts turn a “relationship” into a wealth extraction.

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