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Creating a Robust Sustainable Community Model for Food Security on Detroit's Lower East Side

We are creating food sovereignty in our community by growing produce through multiple channels, leveraging hydroponic technology.

Photo of Kimberly Buffington
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Tikkun Olam dba Eden Gives

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Pastor Barry Randolph - Church of the Messiah Pastor Matt Nickel - Jefferson Ave. Presbyterian Church Pastor Leon Stevenson - Mack Ave. Church | MACC Development Nia Batt - Detroit Blows Patrick Linder - Property Developer Zeke Harris - FreeMens Lab Anika Kafi Summers - Eastern Market Michelle MK Merrigan - Mana Pacific - Solar Energy Scott Ringlein - Solar Energy Joe Swartz - AmHydro - growing technology Kate Gowman - Housing Developer, Photographer Jason Arnold - Civil Engineering - Creative Site Solutions Hunter Moore - Hydroponic growing expert

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Detroit, MI USA

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The work we are completing through this project will be located on Detroit's lower east side community - population 24,000.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We currently conduct food two weekly food distributions in this area.  Also our founder Kimberly Buffington launched a vertical hydroponic farm in this area in August 2018.  We have strong community ties to this community and the community development plan we are submitting for this grant will allow us to achieve significant goals toward the most significant contribution we can offer our community - the creation of a model for food security that can be scaled to other Detroit communities. 

We have 200 volunteers and 11 churches/nonprofits deeply involved in our weekly food distribution work.  Through our partnership with Trader Joe's we feed 300+ families weekly with a box that is largely produce from Trader Joe's.  There is commercial growing of produce occurring in the community through a vertical hydroponic farm that was launched through our founder Kimberly Buffington.  Kimberly is launching a second greenhouse hydroponic farm (for profit farm - 100 greenhouses) that will strengthen the overall strategy for creating food security by selling and donating produce directly to the people in the community.  Additionally 100 jobs will be created over 36 months through the greenhouse farm for people in the community.  Through additional partnerships housing (rental and homes for purchase) are being built within walking distance of the farm. A retail corridor is being developed that will provide coffee shop, restaurant, laundry and additional shops for those who live within walking distance. The farm staff will add 100-200 people to this community in less than 3 years. A commercial kitchen is being built through partnerships that will provide new food related business owners the opportunity to build their products. A community park is being developed that will give people in our community the opportunity to meet and gather for community meals. (The closest park to our community is 1/4 mile away. 


Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

I shared most of this information in the first video. This is what I didn't cover. 

There is one market in the area that services the people in the Islandview community.  The market is not in Islandview but is approximately 1/2 mile away.  In order to access that market they can walk - many of them walk. They can also take what our neighborhood calls a jitney.  A jitney is essentially a cab driven by someone they know or a someone a family member knows.  They will pay $20 - $40 to the jitney driver to drive them to the market, wait for them to shop and take them home. Senior citizens are the primary people who use jitneys. 

The produce at this market is produce that goes bad in 2-3 days after you take it home. It's clearly "seconds" produce which the store owner is selling at a more expensive price than the suburban grocers - which are minimally a 28 minute car drive, 38-45 minute bus ride from Islandview. I do not purchase produce there as I have other options and I think it's a waste of money to buy it there. Many of the seniors in our community do not have the option to shop elsewhere. The additional cost of the jitney ride on a weekly basis is taxing financially. 

High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity are the largest health factors in our community. Many people eat solely from fast food restaurtants and are on high blood pressure medication at very young ages - some in their 30's. We have not done a research study in our community about the connection between obesity and specific diet trends, but I can say on an anecdotal level that in the conversations I have with people who attend our food distributions it is evident that the inaccessibility of produce combined with the lack of knowledge about nutrition and how to prepare meals are the largest contributing factors. 

Agriculture is huge in our community.  Many people have memories of large gardens that their grandparents kept and they loved eating from those gardens.  Some people know how to grow food but have no land to grow on. Others never learned to grow but want to learn to grow. Our goal is to provide grow training of all kinds and be source and support to their dreams when it comes go growing. 

This community was overturned during the 60's and was never rebuilt. It was assaulted again in the 80's and 90's when the Chambers Brothers ran a crack cocaine ring that  decimated families on the lower east side through neighborhood violence, murders, addiction of family members and fear. It's time for a change.  The people who live on the lower east side - many of whom have lived here all their lives - deserve to have something good happen here. They need to be reminded that they are not forgotten, that they are strong and resilient and capable of creating the community they see themselves living in.  

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment - Detroit's water system is exceptionally good.  The land will need to be tested before growing but systems are already in place in the city to accommodate that. 

Diets - There is a severe lack of produce in the city. As I mentioned previously in this application the growing of produce in communities is a strong solution to that issue.  With the addition of produce into communities the diet of fast food which is causal to many health issues will be mediated. 

Economics - The economics issues in Detroit on a business level are being dealt with through increased opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as job creation.  The community economics are positively affected when projects like the one described in this application are brought to life. 

Technology - There is a lack of technology including internet access on the lower east side.  The solutions for increasing technology and internet access are weak at this point. 

Policy - In the city of Detroit if you have an idea in any industry there is an openness to give you what you need to bring that idea to life.  In regard to food policy there are several groups in the city that working in the food safety, food security space.  No one is growing at the scale that we are yet.  We partner with all of the groups in discussions about food security and share ideas and knowledge. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Environment - Our approach to the use of the land is to create a sustainable food ecosystem utilizing solar energy, geothermal heating and cooling, 90% less water usage for growing produce. Every building that is place in our community development project will be powered by solar energy.

Diets - We will provide accessible produce for 24,000+ people as well as grow training, resources for home growing of produce, opportunity to own a greenhouse hydroponic farm. All of these resources create the opportunity for more people to have access to produce and increase their health. 

Economics - Likely the most dynamic impact this community development project will have is providing the opportunity to create entrepreneurs through the establishment of additional farms around the city.  The technology we are using to grow produce is very nimble - meaning it can be installed one greenhouse at a time. It's possible to stratetically place farms around the city where the need for produce is the greatest.  Leaning into the network of 60 pastors we have it is possible build a plan for the launch of farms who will sell produce through the larger farm Kimberly is starting now and will also be able to seel someo f the produce into the community. Using this model we can create business owners who are building a thriving business while also providing much needed produce in their community contributing to the overall growth of food security. 

Additionally we will provide minimally 100 jobs in the lower east side community.  Those jobs start at $15.00 per hour which is a wage that is not easily found in the city of Detroit. 

Technology - The use of hydroponic technology to grow produce in the lower east side community provides a context to increase education opportunities using growing technology as the backdrop. We are connected to schools in Detroit through our partnership with Chrystal Ridgeway  and BTR Solutions.  They provide grow education by putting a tower grow system in a school classroom for a year of school.  Chyrstal's team provides weekly STEM lessons that focus on growing healthy produce which the kids eat in class.  These are the types of collaborations we will continue to create using the resources in our hands to engage students in the use of technology as a way of life. 

Policy - By completing the work we are setting out to do greater opportunities will arise to be part of local policy discussions about food security, food systems and how best to address and eliminate the hunger that has been so prevalent on the lower east side for the last 40 years. Additionally as we are successful at what we are attempting to do now we can join the larger conversation nationally to share our model with other communities. This type of collaboration is necessary to create a robust national food system that is not reliant on funding from our government. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

When our project is complete the people in our community will no longer live with the fear of hunger. That base fear is so strong that it freezes out possibility thinking. It is so impairing that creativity cannot exist. The existence of multiple channels of food provision will allow our residents to breath and relax. That perhaps is the most important outcome that will be created. 

With hunger eliminated and a strong food supply in place, our residents will be able to relax and create the life they see themselves living.  When they are given the opportunity to own a business another layer of confidence will arise and they will have resource to pour back into the community.  Our experience as we have served the people of Detroit with a box of food every week is that they are grateful, resilient, hardworking, thoughtful and helpful people. With more resources in their hands they will continue to be all of that and more as we rebuild our community together.

The people in our community will be empowered to be change agents themselves. They will acquire skill sets as we go through this community development project together. They will be educated and make the connections in the city that will allow them to continue to build the community and develop other areas of our community. I can see them rising up with confidence, working hard and rebuilding the community they talk about with so much love when they remember better times.  

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In 2050 Detroit will have a robust food system that is independent of the national government and produce that is trucked in from other locations in the U.S. Through collective farming-gardening the residents will have full sovereignty and agency for the food that is in local stores and markets.  Detroiters will decide how best to access food and will create the appropriate access points so that everyone living within the city will have access to produce and healthy food. 

The food production industry will bring people together in Detroit as food always has.  The reliance on each other to increase food production to cover the needs of the community will require collaboration and thoughtful growing. This community which has been known for being tight knit, caring and productive will once again thrive in that way. Crime will be reduced, more people will be working in jobs that pay a livable wage or higher. More people will have access to becoming a business owner through food production. 

The food system will be robust in that it can thrive financially from the sales of produce by collectively growing crops that can go out of our food system to other cities. We will have abundant supply of produce for our town and will no longer be known as a food desert. There will be food to help those who do not have the funds to pay. The community can also come around those who are struggling to first provide food for them and then to resource them by connecting them to jobs, housing and perhaps the most valuable thing - a sense of belonging to a community and not being alone. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


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