Food Entrepreneurs for a just, vibrant, and sustainable Detroit
What do they do?
FoodLab Detroit is a non-profit organization that connects and supports a diverse community of food businesses and partners working to create a sustainable local food economy accessible to all. Their work falls into three categories: cultivate (helping values-based businesses start, grow, and experiment); connect (building relationships through member mixers and meetups); and catalyze (getting members engaged in the larger food community of Detroit).
FoodLab Detroit has over 200 members. Members of Foodlab are independent food businesses rooted in Detroit and dedicated to cultivating their business, empowering Detroit, and building valuable relationships.
FoodLab provides its members with workshops, resources, and training. Currently, FoodLab maintains three workshops. The first being a How To Series, which details how to start a food business. The second teaches people how to build a brand by first helping them realize their mission and values. Lastly, FoodLab teaches a leadership development workshop that asks important questions, such as “How do you as a business owner become empowered?” and “How do you develop your own leadership skills to be a part of the local good food movement?”
Upon joining FoodLab, members also receive a multitude of connections within the FoodLab member family. For example, founding Foodlab member April Anderson of Good Cakes and Bakes sourced supplies for her cafe from other Food Lab member Jane Bate. Moreover, Callie Bradford of Go Smoothies gained financial assistance from FoodLab members Kristen and Erica Boyd of Detroit Vegan Soul. Kirsten and Erica gifted Callie a $5,000 check to forward her business.
In addition to workshops and networking, FoodLab is a trustee for the crowdfunding platform Kiva Zip. This allows them to aid their members in raising money towards the creation of their food businesses.
Devita Davison, interviewee and Marketing and Communications Director. FoodLab was founded by Jess Daniel and is governed by a board of directors. At the Green Garage, you’ll find staff members Angela Dagle, Director of Member Engagement; Ajara Alghali, Program Director; and Jessica Webb, Membership Services Coordinator.
FoodLab was started by a group of five would-be food entrepreneurs in January of 2011. Its creation stood between two monumental financial crises. The first, the 2007-08 economic crisis, and the second, the 2013 declaration of Detroit’s bankruptcy. Being stuck without federal or state aid, FoodLab’s founder, Jess Daniel, was forced to DIY creating a business. Thus, FoodLab was created by experimental entrepreneurs for experimental entrepreneurs.
FoodLab was founded on two major principles: being a value-based business and being a part of a diverse community. From the beginning, FoodLab wanted to start food businesses wrapped in purpose. The businesses they created had to be rooted in the rebirth of Detroit. However, after months of development, the five founders asked themselves who was not at the table, and the answer was entrepreneurs of color. From this, they realized they needed to make an organization that was inclusive of all folds.
FoodLab hopes to consistently provide a curriculum that strategically addresses the needs of beginning food entrepreneurs while also remaining accessible to any demographic of people. Furthermore, FoodLab focuses on building a strong network amongst its members, considering that many times in business, it’s not what you know but who you know. Thus, FoodLab can provide all the skills they want, but if they aren’t connecting people, they’ve done nothing.
Being raised in Alabama, Devita was always well-versed in food. This knowledge of food followed her throughout her and her family’s life. For instance, Devita’s grandfather owned Philpot Market in Salem, AL, a market shelved with produce and shelf-stable items.His market served as her inspiration to own her own store in Brooklyn, New York called The Southern Pantry Co. There she sold shelf-stable items,organic food items, and produce. However, after owning her store for a number of years and participating in the Brooklyn food scene, Devita realized that the food movement of New York was predominantly caucasian and very segregated. Realizing that the movement did not
cater to everyone’s needs, she grew concerned, considering many people of color didn’t have a voice in the resources they received. A number of years after opening her business, Devita experienced Hurricane Sandy which robbed her and countless others of their homes. As a result, she moved back to Detroit with the intention to recoup and journey back to New York in no time. Yet, fate had other plans. In early 2012, Devita met Peggy Brennan of the Green Garage who introduced her to Jess Daniel. Jess discussed a project she was working on that partnered newly started food businesses with underutilized church kitchens. Through this program, Detroit Kitchen Connect, Devita launched 18-20 businesses. This program, paired with Hurricane Sandy, were the driving forces that led Devita to what she believes to be her lifelong destiny.
What I’ve Learned:
“The lord didn’t send the water to drown you, he sent it to move you.”
Through Devita’s life story and her mother’s wise words above, I discovered that we all have a driving force at the base of who we are. We have something in life that will push us one step closer to our destinies.
Want to learn more about FoodLab Detroit or how to get involved? Contact them at 313-799-3468 or visit their website, www.foodlabdetroit.com
Green Garage business-in-residence spotlights are written by Nehe-Miah Scarborough, a student at Detroit Cristo Rey High School who’s working with the Green Garage during the 2015-16 school year.