Detroit, Michigan is a well-known hub of urban farms, providing the city with fresh produce and experiences with agriculture. Paige Plfeger of WhyY news cites an estimate of 1,500 urban farms within the Detroit area. The concentration of urban farms in the city provides a unique experience for the Campus Kitchen at the University of Detroit Mercy (CKUDM).
CKUDM has three primary areas of operation: a pick-up from a high-end grocery store, food delivery of fresh produce to local citizens, and a partnership with their nearby community garden. The pick-up from a local grocer, who has strict, high-quality standards for their product, provides CKUDM with fresh, healthy produce and other products that they redistribute to their community partners. Their food delivery program serves three groups: the Lakeridge Village transitional housing center, a workforce preparation program called Greening of Detroit, and weekly door-to-door deliveries to senior citizens in partnership with the Princeton Street Block Club. Their partnership with their local urban garden provides additional fresh produce for those deliveries.
In addition to their typical operations, CKUDM seeks out opportunities to support and encourage student ideas and passions. This is exemplified by the recent Bite Size Pitch event, which was essentially a food justice shark tank. Students with project ideas relevant to food waste and food insecurity were connected with Clara Gamalski, the CKUDM advisor and an employee of the university’s service learning department. The students who entered the competition were required to submit a project proposal including a description of the problem and the solution, a budget for the project, and their personal motivation for the project. After the proposal was submitted, the students were paired with a mentor to refine their project and prepare for the live competition.
The Bite Size Pitch event was held on March 26, and lasted two hours. Over 50 people were in attendance, in addition to qualified judges from food system professions and university stakeholders. Each student had 5-7 minutes to present their project idea, then open the floor questions from the judges. The project ideas included bringing composting on campus, social enterprise through creating snacks from pre-consumer waste, collaboration with future medical students to encourage food security research, and educating immigrants on their opportunities for food insecurity aid and how current legislation affects them.
The formal winner was Melba Dearing, who created a system to use pre-consumer waste to make snacks to sell for profit. However, each student who proposed an idea received funding to jump-start their project.
The Bite Size Pitch was a huge success for CKUDM, and is an event that they will plan to host year after year. This model can be used throughout the Campus Kitchens network as an opportunity to raise awareness and promote special projects. Consider hosting your own Bite Size Pitch competition- you might be surprised by the ingenuitive ideas of your peers!