State Seeds Fresh Food Delivery in Detroit

Kimberly Hayes Taylor, Detroit News, August 22, 2009

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The MI (pronounced “my”) Neighborhood Food Movers, a fresh food delivery program that officially launches Tuesday, is designed to change that for some Detroit residents. Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office has invested $75,000 in seed money for the pilot program, which they plan to develop into a larger initiative that will include urban gardens, more delivery services, cooking classes and other programs.

“We needed some way to get fresh produce into the community,” said Kim Trent, director of the governor’s southeast Michigan office in Detroit, who is working with Detroit nonprofits, businesses and other state departments.

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The program represents a gleam of hope for Detroiters who haven’t had access to fresh produce. A 2007 study concluded that Detroiters had limited access to full-service grocery stores, largely due to a lack of transportation.

“We found that 92 percent of food providers in Detroit are what we call fringe–liquor stores, gas stations, party stores, dollar stores, pharmacies and convenient stores,” said Mari Gallagher, president of Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group in Chicago, who conducted the food desert study. “Only 8 percent are small, medium and large grocery stores.”

The Food Movers program will operate with deliveries to three Detroit neighborhoods, and, on designated days, to high-traffic areas such as church parking lots on Sundays. The drivers are entrepreneurs who received marketing, technical support and loans to purchase specially marked delivery trucks that allow shoppers to select fresh fruit and vegetables.

A partnership between the state and Eastern Market Corp. will keep the produce prices competitive with grocery stores or big-box supermarkets. Customers also will have several payment options, including cash, credit, debit or the Michigan Bridge Card.

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M.J. “Butch” Robinson of Highland Park has been driving the Peaches & Greens truck through his city, the central Woodward area and other parts of Detroit’s west side for a couple of months.

“The people seem very excited,” he said Friday while scouring Detroit’s neighborhoods for customers. He drives slowly, just like an ice cream truck driver, and stops when people flag him down. His fruits and vegetables are so popular they sometimes sell out.

“You got any green tomatoes?” one man yelled at him on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. “No, I already ran out of them,” he replied.

“I need a big, old, fat watermelon,” another man said as he pulled up in his car. “Sorry,” Robinson said. “I already sold my last watermelon.

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