Urban Farming and Food Hubs in Michigan

Detroit has quickly become one of the leaders of urban farming in North America.  With such a large amount of vacant land in the city due to blighted property, former industrial lands, and uninhabited homes, there is ample availability to transform these sites into indoor and outdoor urban farms that grow produce year round.  Many investors have been striking deals with the City of Detroit over the past several years to acquire properties for localized urban agricultural uses.  This includes fields, hydroponic farms, greenhouses, and processing facilities.

In 2015, Inhabitat reported that Detroit was home to more than 1,000 community gardens, which typically supply food either free or at a low cost to food banks and community groups for distribution.  Local community farming has become so popular, city planners and council are becoming continually involved in figuring out how much land should be allocated for urban farming uses, making sure to keep vacant land available for other commercial uses.


Small-scale Urban Farm in Detroit – Image credited to Inhabitat.com


Where it gets interesting is that there are now local entrepreneurial for-profit organizations that are sprouting up around Detroit and throughout Michigan due to the proliferation of urban farming.  Food hubs have increasingly become established to collect and distribute produce within the local communities.  The thought process is that many smaller farmers have a difficult time getting their product to stores and markets, so food hubs become the connection point between the grower and consumer.  Many large scale agricultural companies have their own distribution networks, so food hubs fill the role for smaller local entrepreneurial enterprise.  Stores and markets who would rather obtain fruits, vegetables, and other local goods (rather than out-of-state items) can connect with food hubs to obtain a wide variety of local food on a consistent basis.  Food hubs can also connect restaurants to local goods in a manner that would be much more difficult and time consuming than in the past.  In short, food hubs gather and distribute local food to local markets in a highly efficient manner.

One of the largest food hubs in Michigan is located in Traverse City, Michigan which is approximately 4 hours NW of Detroit.  Cherry Capital Foods tagline is “we put the to in farm to table”, aptly describing how they connect the dots between food producer and consumer.  From the Cherry Capital Foods website:

Cherry Capital Foods is a unique food distributor based in Traverse City, Michigan. We work with farmers, growers and producers both locally and regionally but only from the state of Michigan.

By focusing on local and Michigan sources, we encourage the growing focus on regional foodsheds as well as support the Michigan economy and environment. We keep duplicate trucks off the road and create efficiencies for our food providers and our customers. One refrigerated truck, one delivery, one invoice – multiple, independent food sources.

Cherry Capital Foods is primarily a food distributor, helping our customers and our farmers figure out how to source local food and how to provide local food to the marketplace. We help customers find specific Michigan products and also help producers find unique customers. We help our customers educate their guests and shoppers about which farms they are buying from, as we keep all farm products separate in our warehouse and inventory.

Our product categories include:

  • Produce: fresh vegetables and fruits. Many fruits also offered frozen and dried.
  • Proteins: tofu, beef, veal, pork, lamb, rabbit, chicken, duck, turkey.
  • Eggs: chicken, duck, quail.
  • Dairy: milk, butter, and cheeses from cows, goats, sheep.
  • Value Added items for both retail and food service.
  • Wine (through our sister company, Up North Distributing).

The Cherry Capital Foods 60,000 SF warehouse and distribution center is located in a renovated hockey arena, a very innovative transformation of space since both previous and current use requires high levels of refrigeration.

Michigan previously was not the first place to come to mind when discussing local agribusiness innovation.  There is really a great entrepreneurial spirit that has come about over the past 5 to 7 years due to tough economic times for many of the cities and communities throughout the State.  It has forced them to be innovative and think outside-the-box.  There are things that are happening in Detroit and around Michigan that need to be studied, as there are applications and implementation techniques to be put into use in other similar cities who require economic diversification, food security, and entrepreneurial growth.

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