At FoodLab Detroit, we know that in order to build a more equitable city, communities must be empowered to reach their full potential. To be empowered, individuals must have access to those things that enable one to live a healthy, productive life: nourishing food, high quality jobs, and opportunities for growth.
We know the key to promoting equitable and sustainable change is to assure that our work is informed by our community. With this in mind, in partnership with the Work Department (a women-led social innovation design firm) we convened a strategy council of FoodLab member businesses who embody our core values. These business owners go beyond providing wholesome, nourishing food, to operate triple-bottom-line businesses that empower individuals and support their communities' vision for health and well-being.
This was the second such convening, known as a co-lab, and established the first Good Stewardship Strategy Council. Members met twice over the course of four weeks to define the core principles that enable the creation of Good Food and Good Planet guidelines and measurement tool.
In order to center the discussion around our connections with the earth, council members were asked to share a meaningful experience or magical moment they had in nature. Members shared stories of unexpected beauty in nature, patterns and rhythms, and an acknowledgement of humankind’s undeniable impact on the earth. Memories of happening upon a hot springs along the Appalachian trail, the break in the patterns of the ocean waves giving way to a family of hunchback whales rising to the surface, the sanctuary provided by a small suburban wood or a city backyard and foraging and drinking from a clean stream: these experiences revealed a respect for nature and an understanding of our place within it as humans.
As discussions about stewardship continued, members articulated how this understanding influences their approach to their businesses. Having established a sense of how we are connected to the earth as individuals, the next step was for council members to discuss their motivations as food entrepreneurs to care for the planet. Several common themes emerged as council members shared their thoughts:
As part of the Annual FoodLab Detroit Network gathering earlier this year, we asked members to offer feedback on a series of questions about sustainability and local food considerations. These questions covered ideas for sustainability and stewardship throughout the whole food system: production, sourcing, preparation, distribution and disposal. Network feedback was gathered and shared with Good Stewardship Strategy Council members. They were asked to review the ideas and elaborate on their own ideas and practices.
Council Members strongly agreed with the network feedback and had additional insights from their own practice:
When sourcing ingredients, council members consider the region where it was produced and the practices and packaging used to produce it. They try to balance the economics and accessibility of high quality food for their customers. They also value the relationships they have with food producers; they know the lifestyle and farming or food production practices of their vendors and so do many of their customers. Members agreed that fresh local ingredients tend to last longer than those from other conventional source, in some cases, compensating for the price difference.
When making food, council members consider all the ways they can minimize waste, including: customizing recipes to minimize waste, portion control, inventory management, composting scraps that can’t be used in other ways, and diverting kitchen waste for other uses like animal feed or soup stock.
Council members detailed their focus on minimizing waste. They accomplish this through reusable plates and flatware, using the smallest amount of packaging possible for grab-and-go and catering events, using more foil than plastic wrap because it is recyclable.
Reusable and recyclable materials in packaging and distribution is important to Council members. They also recommended making use of fuel-efficient vehicles and seeking out systems that are already in place before you create your own. However, members felt it was equally important to collaborate with the food community (including non-foodlab members) to develop systems where there are none in-place yet. An example was offered: Developing a shared delivery service or system to reduce the use of vehicles and fuel use; something that could also promote cycling or alternative modes of transportation.
Members discussed the development of no-waste or waste-minimizing kitchen policies. They talked about ways to repurpose items that would otherwise be discarded, like using bread ends to create breadcrumbs; turning beet greens into pesto and making a tea from lemonade pulp. Training staff to minimize kitchen waste through planning and preservation is key. Council members recommended connecting with a food donation program, such as Forgotten Harvest, as a great way to make use of pre-consumer food that would otherwise go to waste. Members agreed that while it is fairly easy to compost kitchen waste, it is more difficult with food waste from food trucks, or catering jobs.
Network meeting feedback included additional ways to care for the planet like reducing meat intake, considering water conservation methods, and reducing energy use. Council members had some additional ideas, like sourcing from farmers who don't use harmful chemicals, using natural and home remedies for pest control, utilizing green cleaning methods and offering more vegan and vegetarian options.
Each council member considers educating staff, consumers, and community members a part of their role as local business owners. They felt public education (especially for kids) and raising awareness by educating staff and customers is an important responsibility. One member shared that she has regular talks with her staff about food system issues like the milk and dairy industries, or the pros and cons of adding more veggies to your diet (for the planet and your own health).
Through their discussions, council members identified several other observations they have as they integrate their values for a sustainable and just world into their practice. Members thought it would be great to have a way to help restaurants connect to food donation programs. Several members discussed how they are trying to shift their business models to profit-sharing or more transparent management so staff can see where profits go, how wasteful waste really is, and how the businesses are reinvesting in their communities. The importance of community, sharing and collaboration among business owners was discussed: sharing tools and methods is also key to making these changes last.
Each council member is engaging in creative and inspiring strategies to source local and sustainable food, reduce food waste and serve as educators in their communities. They understand that their role is much bigger than just serving good food. They understand that FoodLab members can play a role in educating their customers and staff, and empower them to take actions that support healthier, sustainable communities.
The second and final Good Stewardship Strategy Council met on October 23, 2017. This co-lab focused on refining the principles of sustainability and further defining the roles and expectations of FoodLab members in changing the landscape for sustainable local businesses.
This is the second series of gatherings known as co-labs. Read about our Good Food, Good Jobs Co-Labs Below: