Keep Growing Detroit’s Online Farm Store challenges residents to rethink their relationship with food

All photos by Gabriel Guzmán. Keep Growing Detroit market operations coordinator Molly Hubbell picks golden beets.

On a humid July morning, Molly Hubbell goes to work plucking bountiful bushels of carrots and photogenic golden beets from a pair of raised garden beds at Keep Growing Detroit.

Once she’s bound them in hefty bundles and filled them up in a wheelbarrow, she hauls them off to a cleaning station, where she soaks the root vegetables in cool water. Meanwhile, a team from CWO Farms (which stands for Corn Wine Oil) in Detroit’s Virginia Park neighborhood, are busy packaging their freshly-harvested kale into bags.

A few hours later, those carrots, beets, and kale make up just some of the bounty that will be picked up curbside by dozens of customers of the organization’s Online Farm Store.

The profits from the kale and other produce sourced from the Detroit farms like CWO circulate back to the growers. By evening, customers like Althea Kyles — a regular of the digital farmers market — prep those veggies in time for dinner.

Althea Kyles collects her weekly online order.

The inventory changes each week along with the changes of the season. If radishes are available one week, for example, they may not be the following week, but heirloom tomatoes might be, says Danielle Daguio, fundraising and data specialist at Keep Growing Detroit. In its second year, the Online Farm Store has inspired loyal customers to plan ahead, making it a point to place their orders as soon as the window opens up each week just to be sure they have the most variety to choose from.

“It is an inherent thing that our customers figure out, their idea of what the food system is and what the food system should be begins to change just because they participate in the online store,” says Daguio.

That exchange, from the soil to the grower to the website to the customer’s dining table and back to the farmer’s pocketbook is just one piece of what food sovereignty looks like in pandemic-era Detroit.

The Online Farm Store was born out of necessity in 2020. While the public, wary of in-person shopping, turned to online purchases in droves, organizers at Keep Growing Detroit built out the nonprofit’s digital presence with the needs of Detroiters and urban farmers alike in mind. Unlike apps like Shipt and PostMates, which tack on monthly membership or delivery fees, the organization looked to be accessible to Detroiters who may have experienced economic hardship and the growers who rely on their crops to earn a living.

One key distinction between other grocery delivery services and Keep Growing Detroit’s Online Farm Store is that it accepts Bridge Cards. As of May 2021, more than 700,000 Michigan households became eligible for increases to their existing monthly benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program as a result of economic hardships experienced during the pandemic, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In Michigan, those benefits are distributed to families in the form of EBT cards known as Bridge Cards.

Ordering goes live by 9 a.m. Fridays. Customers must place orders online by noon on Tuesdays. Curbside pickup takes place between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursdays. Pickups take place at the Keep Growing Detroit Farm at 1850 Erskine (corner of Orleans and Wilkins in the Eastern Market). Customers can also pay with a credit or debit card and CashApp. Those wishing to place an order and pay using cash can reach out to Keep Growing Detroit directly for assistance. The organization also has an in-person farm stand on Saturdays in Shed 2 at Eastern Market. 

Keep Growing Detroit market operations coordinator Molly Hubbell pulls bushels of carrots hours before customers pick up online orders.

 

A crew packages up kale harvested by CWO Farms ahead of pickup time for the Online Farm Store.

This year the Online Farm Store also began participating in the Double Up Food Bucks program, an initiative of the Fair Food Network. Individuals who have a Bridge Card can also sign up for a Double Up Food Bucks card. For every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables with the Bridge Card, a dollar is matched on the user’s Double Up card, up to $50 per day, which can then be used on even more produce. In addition to being able to use the card for carrots, kale, strawberries, and other produce, customers can buy seeds and transplants to start their own gardens.

Perks like accepting Bridge Cards and participation in the Double Up Food Bucks program are what make the Online Farm Store especially appealing to customers like Kyles, who started her own garden last year as part of a resolution to be more mindful about her health.

She first got involved with Keep Growing Detroit through its Garden Resource Program, which provides members with seeds, transplants, and technical support to grow their own food.

Kyles never considered herself a gardener prior to last year, but as her children, grandchild, in-laws, and neighbors started to enjoy the unique fruits of her and her husband’s labor, she says she will never look at supermarket produce in the same way again.

For items that Kyles doesn’t have in her garden, she turns to the Online Farm Store each week.

“I think that’s such a blessing for families, especially big families,” says Kyles, a social worker and licensed therapist. “It’s convenient. You pay everything online. You don’t have to get out of your car, they bring it to your car. I don’t think it can get any better than that.”

This article was sponsored by Keep Growing Detroit. Tostada Magazine maintains editorial independence of all sponsored content.

 

Serena Maria Daniels

Author: Serena Maria Daniels

Serena Maria Daniels is the co-founder and head chingona of Tostada Magazine. She is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit and specializes on the intersection of food, identity, and culture.

Find her on Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!

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