By E. B. Allen
Even to a seasoned player in the food quality game, the tour is impressive.
Colin Packard is one of about 40 people who piled into chartered buses to visit Southwest Detroit supermarkets on a crisp Saturday morning as part of a “grocery crawl,” the first event of its kind sponsored by Detroit Economic Growth Corp. (DEGC) A member of the Detroit Food Policy Council, an advisory group formed to make recommendations to local officials on behalf of citizens, Packard knows the terrain. What he hasn’t known until the tour is much of the history and dedication local grocers bring to the community.
“I think the most intriguing thing to me is hearing the store owners,” he says after the tour bus parks at E&L Supermercado, 6000 West Vernor Highway. “I like the pride that comes out when they talk about their stores.”
Pride is indeed part of the theme promoted in what DEGC’s Green Grocer Project, the tour organizer, expects to be the first of several quarterly group trips to local independent markets throughout the city. Sponsored by the Kresge, W.K. Kellogg and Hudson Webber foundations, the grocery crawl aims to both raise consumer awareness of non-national chain stores and educate shoppers about healthy choices available to them, spokesmen say.
There are 70 full-service independent grocery stores throughout Detroit, according to the DEGC.
“It was through working with grocers that we came up with this idea,” says Mimi Pledl, Green Grocer Project manager. “Not everybody shops in their neighborhood grocery store, and maybe it’s because they don’t know these stores have fresh, green products.”
At E&L, Garden Fresh Marketplace, 6680 Michigan Ave., Honey Bee Market, 2443 Bagley Ave., and Prince Valley Market, 5931 Michigan Ave., tour participants talked with store proprietors, enjoyed product samples, and perused the isles, some in locations that have long served their residents.
While Southwest Detroit’s crawl is just the kickoff location for what DEGC envisions as a citywide initiative, the Hispanic influence on markets and market owners in the community is more than circumstantial, says Myrna Segura, who rode the bus to all four stops.
“When immigrant families come here they want to start their own businesses,” says Segura, director of business district development for the Southwest Detroit Business Association. “These stores are very important to us because they are serving a need.”
Southwest Detroit Business Association has supported local supermarkets with business grants and consultation, she says.
Along with meeting and chatting with several market owners, tour guests received free information and handouts from young adult “food ambassadors,” distributing nutrition facts and recipes.
Azher Matty, who has operated Garden Fresh Market with his family for the past seven years, calls the crawl a valuable concept that helps dispel the notion that Detroit is a “food desert,” requiring trips to the suburbs for quality produce and other goods.
“It’s good exposure for the stores,” says Matty, “and especially for the city.”
Photo credit: Paul Engstrom