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Detroit Regional Food System

A healthier, wealthier, and happier region that is more economically vibrant, environmentally resilient, and socially equitable.

Photo of Dan Carmody
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Eastern Market Corporation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 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.

Keep Growing Detroit, Small NGO Michigan State University, Research Institution The Nature Conservancy, Large NGO CIty of Detroit, Government Michigan Farm to Freezer, Investment Based Organization Cherry Capital Foods, Investment Based Organization

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 10+ years

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

Detroit, Michigan

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

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

Five county area of southeast Michigan corresponding to the SMSA of the Detroit metro area

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Eastern Market is a public market owned by the City of Detroit that has served as Detroit’s regional food distribution center since 1891. It’s where producers meet other producers, processors, distributors, and consumers; its where people, especially those with limited means, go to start businesses, and it’s a place where everyone is warmly welcomed despite their place in society. Eastern Market Corporation is a non-profit that manages the market on behalf of the city. Eastern Market District - is the 225-acre area around the public market - is home to 175 businesses many of which are food related – distributors and processors that provide 5,000 jobs in the food sector with an emphasis on meat and produce processing and distribution. Eastern Market is a hybrid market that serves wholesale and retail markets. Rather than permanent vendors, Eastern Market is a place that serves more than 600 vendors who come, set up, sell, tear down, and leave. It is an entrepreneurial hub. EMC and many partners have collaborated to create a variety of programs to help Detroiter’s become healthier by improving food access, by providing a variety of incentives to make locally grown and more nutritionally dense foods more affordable to vulnerable households, and also to provide a wide range of food education programming. EMC partners with others to build a supportive eco-system to help incubate and accelerate the growth of food businesses. While our retail markets have long been a low-cost way for food businesses to access the marketplace, we recently have provided low cost production spaces for food businesses including pay by hour, co-packing, and first production space options. With many partners we augment low-cost space with enhanced technical assistance and access to capital. Eastern Market and Detroit provides the opportunity to showcase what a vibrant regional food system might look like because all the key pieces can be witnessed in and around the Eastern Market District.

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.

Every Saturday the five sheds at Eastern Market (165,000 sq. ft.) come alive as one of North American’s most distinctive urban experiences. Especially in warmer months, when as many as 40,000 people gather, it’s a place where the full spectrum of Detroit celebrates good food and each other. Included as one of the most iconic public spaces of the 18 selected in a survey completed by MIT in 2013, Eastern Market was chosen for its economic democracy where buyer or seller might come from anywhere along the socioeconomic continuum. In its largest form (May – October) the Saturday Market hosts as many as 250 vendors representing urban and rural businesses that grow food and horticultural products and make value-added food products. Michigan boasts a strong agricultural heritage – with more than 160 crops still grown commercially highlighted by stone fruit and berry crops in northern parts of the state and great cruciferous grown in the part of the state closer to Detroit. The stories of market vendors are many and reflect the rich diversity of SM Michigan. The Kaltz family from the northern edge of the metro area has been selling at the market since it opened in 1891 – five generations have participated with a sixth coming of age. Meanwhile across the way at another stall is the heart of the urban ag movement in Detroit where 40-50 of the largest city growers sell collectively under the Grown in Detroit banner. They represent more than 1,500 city growers who participate in programs provided by Keep Growing Detroit including free transplants grown nearby at the Detroit Market Garden. The smaller, seasonal Tuesday Market provides a sampling of what you might find at the larger, more chaotic Saturday Market but with additional nutrition and fitness programming seniors and families with small children find the less frantic pace and greater convenience compelling as a weekly festival of wellness. On Monday through Thursday from midnight to 6am, through the Michigan growing season, larger growers from the edges of the metropolitan area assemble to sell to wholesale buyers – mostly small produce houses and independent grocers. What was once the dominant wholesale produce market in the region (1891-1940) still exists as a foundation to build a stronger regional distribution chain. Eastern Market is far more than distinctive retail markets. In the adjacent Eastern Market District long time businesses continue to thrive employing thousands of people processing and distributing food products to a variety of regional and national markets. Ownership of these businesses corresponds to the ethnic waves that have come to Detroit from the 1870’s onward. Family businesses owned by German, Lebanese, Chaldean, African-American, and Syrian families are predominant. Meanwhile throughout the rest of the City of Detroit, EMC and community partner organizations coordinate a wide variety of programs to address food access and promote food entrepreneurship.

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.

Challenges Environment (2020) Detroit has large vacant land areas that fragment the City making it costly to provide essential public services and or give a sense of security to those living in places with few neighbors. The fragmented nature of land ownership makes it difficult to assemble land for redevelopment of anything larger than a few acres so that while emerging growers can develop their skills on small farms there is no place for them to grow beyond that scale. The region is part of the Great Lakes watershed and current US farm practices, including those within the regional food shed, need to be revised to eliminate problems like algae plumes that threaten long-term environmental sustainability. (2050) More restorative forms of agriculture will be required to contain greenhouse gases. The Great Lakes as a source of fresh water is even more critical given climate change. Diets (2020) Detroit confirms national data that reveals an epidemic of diet-related diseases in low income and/or among households of color. From maternal malnutrition to shortened lives from diabetes and/or hypertension these challenges affect entire lifetimes of many demographic groups. (2050) Growing populations around the world together with rising national security issues work in tandem to reduce global food trade. Economics (2020) The high cost of health care (fueled by diet-related disease) threatens fiscal solvency in both the private and public sector. A lack of entry level jobs for low skilled workers that pay a living wage keeps labor force participation rates low and poverty rates high. (2050) Continued consolidation of the economy into fewer, larger businesses along with robotics and artificial intelligence reduces the number of jobs and greatly reduces economic democracy. Culture (2020) Over the last fifty years, once proud food traditions have been lost as convenience stores and fast food restaurants became the sole surviving food provisioners in many Detroit neighborhoods. (2050) With increasing technological advances food cultures continue to evolve in ways that are confusing to the consumer. Technology (2020) Like other global small plot producers, urban farmers in Detroit are limited by the high cost and limited availability of mechanization or automation intended to assist smaller producers. High cost of new technologies (i.e. high-pressure pasteurization, hamper the launch or growth of new value-added makers. (2050) Increasing technological innovation makes economic viability an ever-increasing concern. Policy (2020) The loss of market viability of small and medium sized companies across the food chain reduce the food sector’s role in nurturing economic democracy. The lack of enforcement of anti-trust and other regulations tilts the market towards bigger and bigger entities. (2050) Ensuring adequate nutrition in a world with ten billion mouths to feed requires economically viable food production at a variety of scales.

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

Challenges Environment An expanding Eastern Market will showcase how to develop connective greenways that buffer conflicting land use while providing stormwater management, urban forestry, recreational amenities, and a variety of landscapes that yield food products as a template for repurposing largely vacant land. A continuum will be developed to nourish new farmers within the City until they are a few acres in size before expanding to regional farm incubators that will be established as close to Detroit. Financial incentives will be instituted to help emerging farmers buy land to replenish the farmer population of Michigan. Diets Eastern Market will continue to leverage its Saturday Market as the weekly celebration that nurtures a healthier Detroit. Expanded work with many partners will continue to improve access to nutritionally dense foods around the city while helping low income households afford a healthy diet and working across generations to build kitchen acumen to serve healthy meals with varying degrees of convenience. A stronger Detroit Community Market Network will keep the celebration of good food going throughout the week while an expanded food prescription program will help the medical industry bring its considerable heft to the fight to improve diets. Economics In close cooperation with the City of Detroit, EMC succeeds in attracting 1.5 million square feet of new food processing and retaining/attracting 2,000 jobs. Through aggressive workforce development programs long time unemployed residents return to the workforce. A robust set of incubators and accelerators helps value added food makers scale their businesses creating new enterprises and jobs to inspire Detroit residents. Other mid-sized infrastructure in primary processing of locally grown crops helps area farmers get more income from their fields. Technologies that preserve locally grown, nutrient dense foods for year-round consumption both improve local farmer’s incomes while making it easier for local residents to eat healthier diets. Culture A stronger local food economy gives future Detroit residents a source of pride in their community as groups within the community enjoy friendly competition to build their own sub-brands. African-American, Middle Eastern, and Hispanic cultures especially enjoy success as value-added food makers from these communities gain prominence. Technology A full portfolio of shared-use facilities from early incubation to late stage 2 acceleration helps level the playing field so that emerging producers can access the technologies needed to complete. The clustering of smaller enterprises continues to provide benefit as has been the case over the last 128 years of the market’s life. Policy Institutional buyers will become aligned with the need to strengthen the regional food economy and help grow markets to support emerging growers and value-added producers.

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.

Farmers Michigan, like many other states, faces a huge generational turn over with its farmers. Few places have had the surge in small urban growers than Detroit. Because of the problems of aggregating land within the City few of those farmers can grow to more than a few acres. With support from MSU on innovative growing regimens (including restorative practices) and support from The Nature Conservancy on affordably acquiring land, a bridge from micro to mid-sized production will enable growers to move from 2 to 15 acres. Primary Processors Modern consumers equally demand “cleaner” food products that are nutritionally dense without the additives and preservatives that contribute to diet related diseases AND foods that are convenient to prepare. Individual quick frozen (IQF) processing, dehydration, and fermentation are some examples of primary processing that allow consumers to enjoy more convenient, healthy local food all year-round. The new generation of Wholesale Market at Eastern Market will link distribution and primary processing in ways that benefit both farmers and consumers. Value-Added Makers Big food has not demonstrated the ability to deliver to consumers healthy AND convenient food products which is a large reason why small value-added food businesses are exploding around the country. EMC and its collaborators will continue to build out an extensive system of support to incubate and accelerate the growth of food businesses in Detroit. Consumers Consumers will be able to eat local all year round which will both build a stronger local economy while improving their health. Continuing to celebrate healthy food and our neighbors at events like the Saturday Market or Detroit Community Markets will help build a stronger culture of healthy lifestyles while expanding food access programs will enable households with low incomes to fully participate in Detroit’s nutritional renaissance.

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

Full Vision Farmers Keep Growing Detroit serves more than 1,500 growers in the City of Detroit. Their growth is choked off by the difficulty in assembling land greater is size than 2 acres. Our vision creates a way to scale successful growers to create economic opportunity for Detroit residents while answering the vexing question of who farms next. Partners include Keep Growing Detroit, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, and The Nature Conservancy. Primary Processors The riddle of health AND convenient provides an opportunity to turbo charge regional food economies by inextricably linking distribution of fresh local produce with primary processing to develop more market channels while providing opportunities for people to eat local all year round. New food technologies to ensure nutrient density and preservation without preservatives must be integrated at medium sized scale to support regional foodsheds around the nations. Partners include: Michigan Farm to Freezer, Cherry Capital Foods, local produce houses and the existing wholesale growers at Eastern Market. Value-Added Makers EMC and partners have a well-developed ecosystem to support food entrepreneurs that number some 400 in Metro Detroit. Continuing to build out the system particularly by providing stronger technical assistance and access to reasonably price space to accelerate food businesses is critical. Partners include: Michigan State University Product Center, FoodLab Detroit, Build Institute, Detroit Kitchen Connect, Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development, and USDA. Beyond incubation and acceleration, there is also a different set of programs needed to keep or attract more established food businesses to Detroit. Plans to expand the Eastern Market District provide for a set of innovative practices about how light manufacturing might be added to an urban fabric in ways that improve the environment (capturing stormwater runoff) while improving equity for nearby residents (walking access to jobs). Partners include: City of Detroit, local food businesses, The Nature Conservancy, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, USDA. Consumers Improving the health of Detroit residents by enhancing their diets is highly complicated and will take a long-term commitment. Building upon previous work with regard to operating mobile Farm Stand Sites, organizing a network of Detroit Community Markets in the neighborhoods of Detroit along with programs to make available food incentives in myriad forms and many layers of food nutrition programming, EMC is committed to not only providing the information to improve diets but also the motivation by continuing to celebrated good food at markets across the city. Partners include Department of Parks and Recreation, Detroit Community Market site partners, local health care providers, and state and city department of public health.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Attachments (1)

Final Exec Sum-160209.pdf

Eastern Market 2025 Strategy Executive Summary


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alana Libow

Hi Dan Carmody and team - Welcome to The Food System Vision Prize!

First: To answer your question re how do you edit this: You can update/edit your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" button. Please let us know if you need further assistance.

Second: Given one of your interests is to develop a food prescription program, check out Ethos Farm Project/Ethos Health by Ron Weiss   You may find it beneficial to connect with Dr. Weiss.

Third: Additional support reminders:
1. We've built a very comprehensive Food Vision Prize Toolkit with a lot of information, activities, and guidelines. The Toolkit will help you refine your Vision and make it systemic, human-centred and well informed for the future. Prize Toolkit:

2. Webinars: This week there is a webinar on Future-Casting -- for honing 2050 visions. And our previously recorded Systems Thinking Webinar is also available for review -- both can be found here:

Look forward to seeing your Vision continue to evolve!

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