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June 6 Detroitisit Hosts a Panel of Food Policy and Funding Leaders During the Food Summit Kickoff

Policy Creation and Funding are Priorities in Conversation During the Business of Food Summit

On June 6, 2023,  Detroitisit is kicking off its first Business of Food Summit in Eastern Market.  The summit will focus on conversations about food funding and policy, equity and justice, urban farms and grocers, plus highlighting chefs and what goes into the making of a restaurant.

When speaking of funding and policy the emphasis on community input should be front and center. We are devoting a panel to learning about how policies, organizations, and leaders impact the charge to make Detroit a sustainable food industry. Watch the full panel here

The pandemic strained the world of resources and inflation seems to have taken the rest of what has been left. Families that relied on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and food banks were and continue to be at risk for food insecurity. Winona Bynum, Executive Director of Detroit Food Policy Council knows about this topic all too well. Bynum is a volunteer with Fair Food Network where she assisted with the Double Up program. This program supports more than one million Michiganders receiving (SNAP) benefits. The Double Up program matches up to $10 per day of EBT/Bridge Card and food stamp dollars spent on healthy eating of fruits and vegetables. This program helps families, farmers, and markets while simultaneously creating a healthier food system throughout greater Detroit. The Double Up Program originated in Detroit and is now in more than 900 locations around the country.

After the success of the Double Up Program, Bynum worked with Gleaners Food Bank where she was involved in nutrition and youth programs. “That’s where I saw the importance of policy,” she shared. While working the summer food service program she saw firsthand how some programs, though well-meaning, don’t fully serve the community due to structural restrictions. For example, students that relied on school lunches to meet their food needs during the school year had to be in a summer program to not go hungry during that time. This realization led her to the education, advocacy, and policy organization led by and for Detroiters, the Detroit Food Policy Council(DFPC). DFPC aims to create a locally sustainable food system through the lens of food security, justice, and sovereignty. The policy aims to provide more than short-term fixes, “Our first thing to do when thinking of food policy is to think about emergency food.” Bynum goes on to say,

I always tell people, if I am hungry today don’t tell me about a policy that will help me in 6 months. But once I am fed, let’s talk about policies that will help me in the long term.

When Bynum first began working in the food justice space it was challenging to receive funding for long-term programming or policy. Funders couldn’t wrap their head around the concept, she says, “All they could think about was, are you giving out food or at the very least growing food?” Bynum says the funders were missing how food funding connects to retail, agriculture, urban planning, and the environment. 

Edwina King, native Detroiter and the Associate Director of Legislative Affairs and Equitable Development at the Planning and Development Department for the City of Detroit is also participating in the Food Policy and Funding panel on June 6. She says, “Part of talking about food policy is knowing, [no pun intended,] who’s at the table? Who are we fighting to dine at the table?” Collaborative outreach is the Department’s go-to method of action. The department communes with correlating entities such as The Department of Neighborhoods, the Mayor’s office, the Office of Sustainability, the Department of Public Work, the Land Bank, higher education institutions, and the Detroit community.

When creating policy it’s equally important to understand that each vision for the city of Detroit will differ and collaboration is key. Some want gardens in empty neighborhood lots, others want to build houses on lots. After listening to citizens, she says,

Funding is a very real concern for those looking to develop policy, especially as it requires the use of capital. Another concern is the environment. What condition is the land in? If the land is damaged due to overuse or nearby factories and costs are higher to rehabilitate, that may make it difficult to fund, but not impossible.

It’s not impossible because Detroit has the Business Support Network Office, New Economy Initiative, Invest Detroit, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan partnering to strengthen small business organizations in Wayne County. Paul Jones, the Director of the Business Support Network says, “We go out and intentionally fund large businesses that support organizations and help with small businesses.” Jones, a Detroit native and serial entrepreneur is able to relate to the up-and-coming businesses on a personal level. Upon research and meeting with small businesses, nonprofits, and organizations, the Business Support Network Office determines what the challenges are versus what is provided and they can come in and fill in the gaps where needed. 

He goes on to share,

It’s an intentional approach to building an ecosystem that helps underserved business owners, underserved communities, or under-resourced communities. We measure that clearly.

They do this by speaking directly to the community. The Business Support Network noticed that when the government gave out PPP loans to small businesses the grants didn’t land in the communities requiring the money because no gateway existed to siphon the resources needed to allocate the funds for long-term use. The Business Support Network helps funders understand their data, see where they’re doing well, hone in on what population segments they’re addressing, and where there’s more opportunity for growth. 

While the Business Support Network Office is filling the gaps in small business resources Detroit Community Wealth Fund(DCWF) is investing in community-based businesses in Detroit. David Finet, Loan Officer and Co-op Trainer of the Community Wealth Fund is involved with granting non-extractive financing, micro and large loans for worker and community-owned businesses, start-ups, and businesses looking to transition into Co-ops. DCWF also creates Co-op opportunities and holds consistent workshops and an annual Co-op incubator. In a Co-op, workers do not have one single boss given that everyone is equally responsible. In a Co-op, there are shared risks and rewards. 

Finet explains models of a variety of Co-Ops. The worker-owned Co-op functions by empowering the workers as the owners. A membership-owned Co-op means a membership buy-in exists to fund the start-up but the customers are the owners instead of the workers. A hybrid of the two exists whereby there are member-owned shares for community members while the workers may also be offered a share of the business.

Finet shares, The nice thing about co-ops is they are very flexible in finding out how they best meet the needs of any given community.

One critical component to allocating funding is that the DCWF does not check credit scores or bankruptcy history. While they do check the organization’s values, they specialize in working with businesses that address community needs and empowerment. The DCWF will only support organizations that prioritize enriching and livable wages for their members while working with businesses that include marginalized members.

When it comes to both policy and funding King adds two words to the public,

Get involved. And Shop local. I am a huge proponent of small-based businesses, urban farms, and farmer’s markets. To the best of my ability, I will make sure my dollar circulates amongst my community.

Getting involved means advocating towards your local officials. Share the needs of the community so they can know how to best help the community. 

The Funding & Policy panel is 1:35 -2:30 pm June 6. Panelists include chefs Edwina King, Wafa Dinaro, David Finet, Winona Bynum, and Paul Jones.

Register for the one day, two-part free Summit here. 9am-5pm panels and discussions. 5:30-9pm food truck competition, cash bar, and more.


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