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Detroit food cooperative key in area revitalization
By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

DETROIT, Mich. — A new food buyers’ cooperative, called Branches of the Vine, was started last year in a blighted neighborhood of this sprawling city, with the hope that it would help meet the needs of local residents who don’t have access to a grocery store.

The bad news so far is that the co-op is only doing $20-$30 worth of business a week; the good news is that the co-op is sustaining itself, and may expand this spring to about five times its current size.

The agricultural agent involved in this project, Mike Score of Washtenaw County, also hopes that if this project succeeds it will help boost people’s optimism about this area’s chances to become revitalized.

Score is in the early stages of talks with unnamed stakeholders about the possibility of creating an agritourism center in the neighborhood. He said he envisions hydroponics gardens as well as one or more displays to showcase the agricultural heritage of the neighborhood.

Only time will tell exactly what this agritourism center would look like. “We’re encouraged that the project is actually functioning,” Score said. “I feel at this point this group has it figured out.”

The group is Peacemakers International Ministries, and the food buyers’ club manager is Teresa Miller.

“It’s slow,” Miller said of business so far. “We still need to work on our advertising.”

Miller said she hopes business will pick up once the co-op begins to sell food outdoors with the warm weather, giving the food buyers’ club more visibility.

The food buyers’ club or co-op, located on Chene Street, is in a neighborhood near to Wayne State University and a large, modern medical complex, but the neighborhood itself doesn’t benefit from these facilities.

“It’s a low-income neighborhood with a high incidence of drug abuse,” Score said.

There are only a handful of businesses in the immediate area, and people don’t feel safe walking in it. For these and other reasons the Chene-Ferry Market, another project that Score helped initiate in 2004 to meet the same goals, didn’t last long.

The co-op, however, seems to be working better, partly because much of the produce is ordered on an as-needed basis, thus eliminating the need for storage.

Sometime after it started the co-op received a license to accept food stamps, and has activated an electronic food stamp reader. This should give more people a chance to participate in the program.

Score also helped residents develop a community garden last summer, and the club was able to sell the vegetables. Miller said they grew tomatoes, spinach and green peppers.

Produce also comes from several farms in the region. Last winter food was obtained from the Eastern Market, which is in another Detroit neighborhood. Peacemakers International Ministries also gives food away at the church, but that program is separate from the food buyers’ club.

For more information about the food buyers’ club, call Mike Score at 734-222-3905, or send an e-mail to scorem@e-washtenaw.org

This farm news was published in the April 12, 2006 issue of Farm World.

4/12/2006