Detroit’s food sector industry is primed to grow the city’s economy.
Meredith Freeman, a consultant with the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative (DFFC), says growing Detroit’s food sector by just 30 percent would add 95,000 jobs and about $2.7 billion in earnings in the tri-county region of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. In Detroit, this could add 52,000 additional jobs and $1.3 billion in earnings.
“The food system can play a big part in the city’s continued recovery, diversification and job creation,” said DeWayne Wells, Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative project director.
The DFFC partnered with Econsult Solutions and Urbane Development to explore opportunities and gaps in the city’s food system, releasing their results in a 2014 study, “Economic Analysis of Detroit’s Food System.”
The report shows the city’s food system including supply from local farms and market gardens, processing, distribution and market demand currently produces $3.6 billion in revenue and directly employs more than 36,000 people. The report also illustrates the impact an increase in the localization of the food system would have, providing a range of jobs across the food value chain in management, customer service and commercial driving.
Supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the DFFC is a coalition of Detroit-based civic and community organizations working to improve health outcomes for children and families by reducing barriers to healthy food access and physically fit environments.
“For me, [the report] was an illustration of what we knew were some of the possibilities across the food value chain in a way that other people could see through our daily work,” Wells said. “We now have a place where our numbers are out of our heads and in a place where everybody can get it.”
Wells said an increase of 30 percent in the local food system would raise the industry from the third largest to the second largest employment sector in Detroit behind government.
The report also offers a host of recommendations on how to expand opportunities through Detroit’s food system and strategies for implementation, ranging from marketing tactics to policy and regulations. Some recommendations offered to bolster Detroit’s food sector: creating city-to-farm programs; developing a food-industry social enterprise with a training component; building higher education programs and departments focused on the food industry; and providing bank/lender training on underwriting food businesses.
“A lot of times we talk about localization based on the end product – you know like where did that apple come from, where was that jam made,” Freeman said. “There are opportunities to invest in greater localization of many business requirements - not just the end product - and also invest in things like infrastructure and workforce development.”
The collaborative is sharing the report with stakeholders, funders, producers and small business owners to inform them about workforce development opportunities within the local food system.
Freeman said the DFFC is working with the Detroit Food Policy Council (DFPC) to engage Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration and the City Council on this issue. The collaborative also plans to host focus groups on increasing local food sector opportunities.
“We want to spark creative thinking in the community, and have the dialogue for folks to talk about what they really want to see,” Freeman said.