A local coalition of chefs, bakers, nonprofits, volunteers, and food rescue organizations have come together over the last six days to prepare Thanksgiving meals for 1,000 Detroit families. Chef Phil Jones, founder of the forthcoming meal service Farmacy Food, is helping lead the project. Between 50 and 60 volunteers will begin distributing meals on Wednesday, November 25 at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church to food-insecure families across the city.
Speaking by phone from the Marygrove Conservancy’s commercial kitchen in the Fitzgerald neighborhood of Northwest Detroit, Jones described a tremendous effort by partners who began organizing nearly six weeks ago. On Friday, November 20, many volunteers including chefs and bakers like Ederique Goudia of Gabriel Hall, Deveri Gifford of Brooklyn Street Local, and Experience Relish partners Brittany Peeler and Le’Genevieve Squires started the arduous process of preparing turkey dinner for roughly 5,000 people. On the menu: roasted turkey donated by Cherry Capital Foods as well as stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and sweet potato souffle.
Jones has been involved in major food distribution efforts throughout the pandemic including a project over the summer where he and volunteers through Make Food, Not Waste and Food Rescue US helped prepare and give away 100,000 pounds of chicken. However, given the growing economic challenges from the pandemic Jones is seeing an even greater need for food assistance in Detroit. “There has always been a need for food, even pre-COVID, [in Detroit], and it become increasingly more important in the throes of COVID,” Jones says. “Unemployment is running out now, the second stimulus didn’t happen — and at this point in time it might not happen at all — and the cost of living hasn’t changed,” he observes. “And so, if you can get a meal and some ingredients, and not have to take that out of your budget, people are so appreciative of it.”
Jones says that in spite of the horrors of the pandemic and the resulting economic misery, providing food to the community has allowed him to see the good in a challenging situation. “This may sound odd, but the food distributions have become social events. We’re seeing the same faces over and over again... and community has been created,” he says. “People are finding commonality in crisis, there’s still some beauty in this in this tragic time.” He adds, “We’re in a time where just knowing that you’re loved means a lot to people.”
Jones’s work centers around creating communities that are more healthy and resilient through food, something he hopes to bring to the forefront with Farmacy Food. The startup, which was initially envisioned as a restaurant, has transformed due to the pandemic and the altered needs of Detroiters. “When COVID hit, the [Farmacy Food model] was in peril, because restaurants are closing and we didn’t want to be a part of that problem,” he says.
Instead, Farmacy Food switched gears to focus on creating a subscription meal plan and retail locations in small businesses like cafes that don’t have a full kitchen. One of its first distribution locations will be at Detroit Sip on West McNichols Road near the Marygrove Campus. “We want to compete with fast food, and we’re doing it in the pricing and convenience,” he says. “One of the things that we want people to understand is that this is an easy process.”
Farmacy Food is also developing a responsive, community oriented app component that will allow subscribers to input their personal health goals and interact with other subscribers and share their food experiences. “We want people to adopt Farmacy Food as a lifestyle as opposed to a night out,” he says.
Unlike diet culture, which tends to focus on restricting calories and associating negative feelings with food, Jones’s approach will focus on what he calls “mindful eating for the beloved community.” The chef describes this as a different more conscious way of thinking about food and how individuals relate to it. “You’ll find that you’ll get more results by just loving your foods and loving yourself in the process,” he says. “And this is something that will have tremendous health benefits inside communities of color.” Jones adds that communities of color are often overlooked or when they are targeted for healthy eating programs, those programs tend to be led and designed by people outside the community who control the resources. Jones wants to see that change.
The company is partnering with the Marygrove Conservancy, which has granted Jones and his team use of its kitchen facilities. As part of that collaboration, Farmacy Food will also be acting as an incubator for food businesses and a training facility for hospitality workers.
Jones expects to begin launching Farmacy Foods in some form within the next two to three weeks. In the meantime, he’s focused on Thanksgiving and the difficult weeks ahead for food insecure families Jones recommends that people who want to get involved in fighting food insecurity reach out to any of the many local organizations that distribute food in the region, organizations like Food Rescue US and Hazon: the Jewish Lab for Sustainability.
“The need is real, and I hate to say this, it’s going to get worse. And so, we’re going to have to redouble our efforts.”