Model D Speaker Series: Mo' food panel in review

Last Tuesday, hundreds of metro-Detroiters gathered at Cliff Bell's for our speaker series "Mo' Food: Creating a New Local Economy". Co-sponsored by WDET and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), the event sought to spark a conversation centering on how food fits into the city's economic growth and development.

Speaker Series coordinator Claire Nelson assembled the panel of guests, a cross-section of leaders in the food community: Joe McClure, owner of McClure's Pickles; Jim Garrison, kitchen manager of Honey Bee Market; Todd Abrams, food writer and co-founder of Gourmet Underground Detroit; Jess Daniel, founder of pop-up restaurant Neighborhood Noodle; and the formidable Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corporation. Nelson pitched the event as an opportunity to discuss "everything from urban agriculture and food justice to artisan food production, mobile food service and fine dining. We'd like to offer a broad view of the food landscape, highlighting emerging trends and creative solutions, as well as needs and opportunities."

While the topic of food is vast, the panelists, along with moderator Noah Ovshinsky of WDET, managed to cover a lot of territory. After allowing the guests a few minutes to introduce themselves and talk about their businesses and projects, Ovshinsky quickly focused his questions on the economic aspect of food in Detroit. Joe McClure talked about how his business grew from a hobby into a career with the support of area grocery chains willing to carry his product. Todd Abrams discussed why he feels people are willing to favor local products at the store or market even if the cost is higher- the knowledge of knowing those dollars are staying in the community is worth it, he said, and they are often of a better quality to boot. Jim Garrison was all smiles when two of his store's house-made products, the chorizo and the guacamole, got enthusiastic shout-outs from the audience.

Jess Daniel highlighted the fact that food isn't just a commodity. She explained that when she moved to Detroit, she didn't know anyone, and "food was a way to meet people and connect with the community". Neighborhood Noodle was wildly successful from its first incarnation in her tiny Woodbridge kitchen, thanks to social networking, which she discussed as a tool of food entrepreneurship. Daniel is heavily involved in food policy issues, mentioning that the city codes governing food trucks were up for review shortly, and encouraging attendees of the speaker series to get involved to enact change (currently the laws are quite prohibitive, making entrepreneurship difficult). She is also the organizer/creator of Making Good Food Work, a three-day workshop on food policy and systems taking place April 19-21.

For those who want to dive in and get their hands dirty, Dan Carmody told the audience about the exciting new commercial kitchen being built in Shed 5 of Eastern Market, slated to be completed towards the end of this year, that will serve as a business incubator for entrepreneurs interested in growing a prepared foods or catering business. He brought to light that Detroit Public Schools have "some of the best commercial kitchens in the country", and that many of these kitchens sit empty. He called for the city to put these facilities to use in a similar manner, to encourage business growth and opportunity. Carmody also announced the addition of a second public market day on
Tuesdays which will offer exclusively Michigan products and vendors, a sure boost to the local food economy.

Ovshinsky, the panelists, and the audience touched on many of the other topics set forth by Nelson and although they are too numerous to fully cover in this space -- listen to Ovshinsky interviewed about the event and the local food economy in this WDET radio feature -- we hope that the event will be a jumping-off point for these conversations to continue among Detroit's current and future food entrepreneurs, concerned citizens and food lovers.

Noelle Lothamer is happily busy these days keeping up with the emerging food economy. Read her feature recapping the first weekend of Detroit Restaurant Week and keep watching for her series SimmerD each month in Model D.