In Detroit, Collaboration is Key for Farm and Food Businesses’ Success

Last spring, when lockdown measures were in place and trips to the grocery store were fraught, Detroit farm and food businesses stepped in to offer an alternative. “Covid changed everything,” remembers Molly Hubbell, co-owner of Ambassador Fridge farm in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. “There was a real issue with [fresh food] supply in the city. It increased the demand for local produce.”

Ambassador Fridge had been a flower farm since its founding in 2015, but the onset of the pandemic led to what Hubbell calls “The Big Pivot.” In March of 2020, the farm shifted focus from cut flowers to produce. “That was our adaptation and we were happy to meet that need,” she recalls. The farm now has a half acre of fruit and vegetables in production, and sells produce and transplants through TLD partner businesses, Grown in Detroit and City Commons. Hubbell credits these cooperatives for supporting her farm through its transition. “We had to be strategic about how we spent our time and money. [In a co-op] the risk of the growing season is shared, so there’s more flexibility and you get to specialize or try something new, whereas you might be more risk averse if you were on your own.”

Molly Hubbell of Ambassador Fridge

Collaboration among growers is a founding principle of City Commons. The multi-farm CSA has followed a cooperative model since its founding in 2012. The co-op comprises 8 Detroit-based member farms: Fields of Plenty, Singing Tree Garden, Iroquois Avenue Farm, Occupy Yourself Farm, Ambassador Fridge, Greydale Farm, Wild Earth, and Villekulla Flora. These growers co-own the business and contribute not only produce grown on their farms, but also administrative work to keep the organization running smoothly. They pool their harvests to offer a greater quantity and diversity of produce than individual farmers could cultivate on their own. 

The Power of Female Collaboration

Le’Genevieve Squires, Co-owner, Culinary Curator, and Community Liaison, of Experience Relish also views collaboration as integral to her business. She notes a particularly strong culture of camaraderie and support among Detroit’s female food entrepreneurs, “It’s the women. [We] go to great lengths to help each other—whether it’s catering jobs, or opening kitchens for pop-ups, or being business mentors at the high level.” 

Squires, who also works with Detroit Food Academy and is a 2021 Kamada Fellow, finds building relationships to be “fundamental to our growth” and leads to new opportunities. A recent example is Experience Relish’s Juneteenth pop-up event at Folk. Squires started out doing prep at the cafe and market, and called it a “full-circle experience” to return to Folk as the headline chef. 

As she continues to grow her business, Squires feels supported by her community and notes how the female business owners she works with continue to lift up one another. She highlights Deveri Gifford of Brooklyn St. Local; Ederique Goudia of Taste the Diaspora and Gabriel Hall; Gwen Meyer and Alison Heeres of Coriander Kitchen & Farm; Kiki Louya of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation; April Jones of Good Cakes and Bakes; and Rohani Foulkes of Folk as allies who consistently show up and look for ways to support Experience Relish’s work. Through recommendations and referrals, promoting and attending events, and spreading the word on social media, “They care about the food that we produce. It means a great deal to us.” 

There are many ways for you to eat local and support these collaborative and resilient Detroit-based businesses. Experience Relish currently offers catering services and private cooking classes through their Cooking with Friends program. Follow their social media at @experience_relish and send catering and Cooking with Friends inquiries to [email protected]. You can purchase City Commons produce weekly through their online store and at their Eastern Market stall in Shed 4 every Saturday. Sign-ups for 2022 CSA memberships will open in January.

Deana Wojcik is a TLD Content Creator and also the owner of The Mushroom Factory. Contact her at [email protected].

Header Photo: Le’Genevieve Squires and Brittiany Peeler of Experience Relish