Last year, Dazmonique Carr took a trip to Florida when she learned that coconuts, dates, and papaya can grow in a backyard.
“That is free food that someone planted years ago and is the definition of self-sufficiency,” she says.
From helping students eat healthier while studying for finals to delivering food packages to seniors and veterans, Carr is on a mission to promote food sovereignty in Detroit through her business Deeply Rooted Produce. Her goal is to increase access to healthier foods without sacrificing quality for lower prices, she says.
Founded in 2017, Deeply Rooted Produce, a local food distribution hub that grows its own produce as well as works with local farmers to sell their produce to consumers, recently launched home delivery, bringing healthy meals and produce to the doorsteps of seniors and veterans. The mobile food distribution company has also partnered with the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation to serve customers of the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market by delivering farm-fresh products to residents of Grandmont Rosedale.
“Their partnership will allow us to maintain a market presence in the community, support our small business vendors, and ensure our community has access to nutritious food all season long,” says Kiki Louya, Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation’s economic development manager who is heading up the farmers market this year. She met Carr a few years ago to talk about nontraditional alternatives to food access to communities outside of downtown. Later, they reconnected at the Detroit Community Markets network.
“Dazmonique brings a much needed service at a time when people need it most. I’m excited to watch her business continue to grow,” she says.
Putting down roots
Carr’s work in promoting healthier lifestyles in Detroit began at Wayne State University, where she studied kinesiology and exercise science as an undergrad from 2013-17 before earning a master’s in sports administration in 2018.
“I grew up just like anyone else with the unhealthy diet, no fault to my parents, but they weren’t particularly knowledgeable about healthy eating,” says Carr, 24.
Born in Washington state and raised in New Jersey, she was also a track athlete in college, so she needed to fuel her body properly; at one point through diet and intermittent fasting, her times got closer to Olympic trial levels. She also suffered from chronic acid reflux. Then she learned how to cook for herself and discovered that was the best way to treat her condition. She started eating a plant-based diet four years ago.
The food options at Wayne State were typical college options, Carr says: Students either ate on or off-campus but either way, it wasn’t affordable if they didn’t have a job. “The trend on any campus in general is not healthy eating, it’s convenience,” she says.
She started Students Feeding Students as a way to help her peers eat healthier. Through the student organization, she passed out free locally sourced meals to students.
Now as founder of Deeply Rooted Produce, she’s taking the mission to a broader level, specifically serving seniors and veterans through the new food delivery program.
Through Deeply Rooted Produce’s mobile grocery store type distribution model, Carr and her team aggregate and purchase produce wholesale from vendors and then the goods are sold to consumers. A majority of the produce is sourced from local farmers such as Brother Nature Produce, Georgia Street Community Collective, and Rivendell Gardens. Produce is also sourced through Grow Eastern Market, which has its own network of farms. Carr is also an urban farmer herself, having participated in Earthworks Training Program, a nine-month urban agriculture program based at Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Her farm on the east side produced and delivered about 800 pounds of produce last year to various businesses.
Deeply Rooted Produce works with local farmers to connect Detroiters to high-quality produce.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to adapt, but there were some positives as Deeply Rooted Produce got ready to launch distribution of the food packages and home delivery, she says.
“It has become the duty of small businesses and grassroots organizations to facilitate the ‘revitalization’ of the neighborhoods and the education of essential topics — like food education and financial literacy,” she says. “In some ways, COVID-19 was a blessing. Although there was loss of life for the people we love most, it is teaching us what is most important.”
Deeply Rooted Produce last week launched food packages geared toward Detroiters ages 55 and older and veterans. The package includes meal kits prepared by plant-based food businesses such as Sisters on a Roll and Cooking with Que, as well as recipes, produce, and citrus fruit, which helps the immune system, Carr says, who adds she’s still looking for more partners from chefs to urban farmers.
Seniors and veterans face inequity and neglect, and the goal is to make sure they are not forgotten during the pandemic, Carr says.
“Food is a human right no matter how old you are,” Carr says. “Some people forget that veterans and seniors or people over the age of 55 are on this earth as well, even though they've gone through their experiences, either physically or emotionally. We all deserve to be helped, and it shouldn't be at an increased price.”
Through her work, she aims to change mindsets, whether it’s perceptions of a plant-based diet being expensive or that growing your own food is too much work. The current COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected communities of color, underscores the need to change some of the systemic issues in the food system as well as educating and empowering people.
“Many people are trained to devalue their food and to believe that it is OK not to know where it comes from. America was perfectly planned out the way that the powers that shouldn’t be wanted — everything connects back to international slave trade and we are making an effort to change the mindset around ‘effort’ & growing your own food. The Earth grows the food, you just have to plant a seed. When you know better, you do better and we strive to change the perception of food.”