Detroit Youth Food Brigade

Detroit Youth Food Brigade
Jen Rusciano, Co-Director, Detroit Youth Food Brigade

The Project:
The Detroit Youth Food Brigade (DYFB) is a collaboration between local high school students, food businesses, and neighborhood markets to promote food justice and build the local food economy in Detroit. Through the vehicle of food entrepreneurship and engagement with food system challenges, DYFB transforms Detroit youth into the solution-oriented leaders of the future.

DYFB launched in 2011 as a summer program to engage high school youth with healthy food and an entrepreneurial experience wholesaling and selling fresh and prepared products at the largest outdoor market in the country, Detroit’s Eastern Market. In 2012, the success of this pilot attracted funding to grow from one day per week to five days per week, expand to neighborhood markets throughout the city, and develop intern-mentor relationships with local food businesses. We partnered each youth team with a mentor food business, where they learned to craft artisanal food products and gained an appreciation for the art of food business directly from an established entrepreneur. Youth leaders then sold their mentor’s product at neighborhood markets around the City, expanding the offerings to improve the destination appeal of local markets and growing the market reach of business owners, all while learning the skills and modeling the qualities needed to be a successful leader.

This impactful summer program appealed to one of our partner high schools, the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody Rouge, whose principal and staff invited DYFB to pilot a classroom curriculum. The result is the Good Food, Good Business, Good People course developed around the core values of DYFB: youth empowerment, local food entrepreneurship, healthy living, and knowledge and engagement in the food system. Underpinning the hands-on exploration of these skills is the students’ semester long project – designing and launching their own triple-bottom line healthy food business. Student leaders develop knowledge and skills through classes, time with established business mentors, health trainings from medical professionals, visits with local farmers, and culinary adventures creating and experimenting in the kitchen. At the end of the semester, student teams will present their business plan in front of peers and business owners, and will put their knowledge into pr actice by debuting their final products at the Detroit Eastern Market’s Winter Market. These pilot products will become the building blocks of a DYFB product line that will engage future cohorts in product development, brand management, and sales.

DYFB is run by a 4-member director team. It was founded by Amy Berkhoudt, an English teacher at Detroit high school the Cesar Chavez Academy, and Noam Kimelman, owner of mission-driven business Fresh Corner Cafe which works to nourish neighborhoods and increase access to fresh and healthy foods in Detroit. To grow the breadth and depth of the program in the summer of 2012, a teacher from Cesar Chavez Academy Anna Choi and Farm to School educator Jen Rusciano joined the team. The program is shaped and expanded by the experiences of the more than 90 youth who have participated since its inception. Directors and youth represent the City of Detroit and all are committed to living, working, and playing in this great community.

Our Impact:
DYFB generates direct benefits and ripple effects at multiple levels: within communities, across the City, and throughout lives. Our goal is to equip young leaders with the lifelong skills, knowledge, and solution-based thinking to address challenges facing their community. Through the vehicle of food entrepreneurship, DYFB youth achieve this goal while contributing to the local economy, addressing health issues, and building food justice in Detroit’s neighborhoods.

Students develop valuable skills and a direct understanding of launching, managing, and growing a thriving food business through the hands-on internship experience in the summer and building their own product during the school year. Practical food business skills like sales, customer service and culinary arts compliment the equally key qualities of creative thinking, responsibility, and teamwork. DYFB students engage with relevant issues in the Detroit food system while directly building community food access, the local food economy, and business diversity.

Our youth leaders not only strengthen themselves, but also directly support local food businesses and our community. Businesses grow their legacy by passing on technical and knowledge-intensive skills in entrepreneurship and food-based production, while benefiting from the support interns offer. Mentor businesses and local farms gain greater product distribution at neighborhood markets. Our community experiences increased access and support for healthy food outlets, cultivation of a healthier food culture, growth in the local economy, and effective engagement of its youth.

Stories from our students, business mentors, and community members are the reason we believe in this program: students report positive changes in their eating habits and visions of a future where their business venture grows wellness and hope in neighborhoods; business mentors celebrate successful market days and increased demand for their products; community members relish the diversity of foods and conversation at more robust neighborhood markets. Through this wide-reaching program, DYFB shapes future leaders and builds an environment of empowerment and proactive engagement around food in the City of Detroit.

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