By Annie Hakim, a Challenge Detroit Fellow working at RecoveryPark.
Last September, I began my Challenge Detroit Fellowship and joined the incredibly talented and passionate team at my host company, RecoveryPark.
In 2010, RecoveryPark launched not only to convert blighted land in the City of Detroit into urban agriculture and aquaculture businesses, but to spur economic development in Detroit neighborhoods (beyond Midtown and Downtown) by creating jobs for the Detroiters who live here.
Last year, RecoveryPark built a pilot farm in Detroit to validate key aspects of our business model, and we are proud to say that produce from our pilot farm has already been, and continues to be, featured on the menus of several high-end Metro-Detroit restaurants including:
Selden Standard, The Republic Tavern, Johnny Noodle King, Bacco Ristorante, The Stand Gastro Bistro, The Root Restaurant and Bar, Stockyard Detroit, Streetside Seafood, Torino, Cuisine, Forest Grill, and Wright & Company.
More recently, we took over 40,000 square feet of indoor greenhouse space in Oakland County that had fallen into disuse. Over the course of the next year, we will be using the space as a research and training facility to increase our production ten-fold, sell to new restaurants on our waiting list, and continue to work toward the realization of our social mission (creating jobs for individuals with barriers to employment) by adding six associates to our team, and building out our Associate Support Platform (ASP) alongside our partners at SHAR House and Michigan Rehabilitative Services.
RecoveryPark’s ASP model is unique and will offer a systemic change in the way Michigan can approach the challenge of chronic unemployment, starting in Detroit. There are 200,000 unemployed and underemployed residents in Detroit, 71% of whom face barriers to employment (returning citizens, recovering addicts, individuals with low literacy).
Traditional workforce-development programs generally focus only on short-term support (about three months) and are managed by non-profits and social-service agencies, not employers. By utilizing the ‘collective impact model,’ the RecoveryPark ASP team will coordinate three years of personal and workforce-development support services by connecting Associates (employees) with partner organizations throughout the city- ensuring that they have access to adequate housing, life and job coaches, and mental and physical health services.
RecoveryPark also has a few other noteworthy opportunities on the horizon for 2015.
Alongside Ford Motor Company, RecoveryPark is co-sponsoring NextEnergy Center’s NextChallenge-Lighting. Participants from all over the world will submit ideas to advance agricultural lighting systems. The winner will get up to $80,000 to implement a design that will maximize our greenhouse energy efficiency and extend our winter food production.
Click here to watch an information video about NextChallenge-Lighting
We are also working closely with Mayor Duggan and his team to determine our expansion options in Detroit. Over the next ten years, I am proud to say that we expect to create over 1,000 jobs in Detroit’s “local, live, fresh” food movement.
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