Laina Stebbins

Detroit, a blossoming modern city

farmers hand coffee

When we walked into our first stop, a tiny nontraditional grocery store called The Farmer’s Hand, Andrew Bird was playing through the speakers. I knew from that moment that our day in Detroit would be special.

The Farmer’s Hand is charmingly rustic, with what I can most accurately describe as Ann Arbor vibes. It made complete sense to me, then, when Rohani and Kiki told us that their shop is modeled off of Ann Arbor’s Argus Farm Stop. I adore Argus Farm Stop. I’m so happy that its business model can be replicated else elsewhere with such a strong likeness, because I think every city needs what The Farmer’s Hand and Argus Farm Stop can offer.

When the owners, Rohani and Kiki, were talking about the struggle many people face in cities without the availability of fresh produce, I found myself thinking back to my time as a freshman at Loyola University Chicago. Although I transferred after a year, I did learn a lot about socioeconomic inequality in the city while I was there – which, where privilege is concerned, has a lot more to deal with food availability than I had thought. “Food deserts,” for example, are areas (usually impoverished) with no access to any real food or grocery stores. People in some areas of Detroit are forced to lengthy public transportation rides just to buy fresh produce.

Reflecting on this made me think about how business models like The Farmer’s Hand can be crucially helpful in places like Detroit and the outskirts of Chicago – not only in terms of the socioeconomic need they fill, but also as hubs for community engagement and awareness about sustainability and healthier living.  A shop like that can truly transform a community.

What I learned from Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya of The Farmer’s Hand:

  • Be able to show previous success from a similar business model
  • Keeping a “personal touch” for your business makes it special and more engaging
  • Have a team of really strong players who share your vision and your passion

After a delicious coffee from Anthology Coffee at PonyRide (again, very Ann Arbor-y vibes), Amy Kaherl of Detroit Soup gave us what I think was a much-needed dose of reality. The most memorable takeaway from her talk was her notion that no one is waiting around for you to do this thing; no one is waiting around to congratulate you or hand you a check just because you did something good for the world. The world isn’t waiting for your good deeds, and it is likely that they will often go unnoticed.

Wisdom from Melissa Butler of The Lip Bar and Gwen Jimmere of Naturalicious, who manufacture their cosmetic and body products in PonyRide:

  • Once you reach a certain level of success, give back to the community that helped you get there
  • After a certain point, for your company to grow you have to start to delegate – you can’t grow if you’re still doing everything on your own
  • Dedicate yourself to your path. Failures along the way are a natural part of your progress

Wisdom from Brad Hoos & Kay-Anne Reed of The Outloud Group:

  • Influencer marketing, aka “word-of-mouth marketing on scale,” can be an effective way to reach a much larger audience

Wisdom from Detroit’s Garlin Gilchrest II and Tamara Kamara, from the City of Detroit’s Department of Innovation and Technology:

  • If you’re stuck, it doesn’t matter which direction you go. “Just move the damn car!”
  • “Be careful of using words that don’t have good definitions”
  • Don’t be afraid of something scary/daunting just because you don’t know a lot about it – lean into it
  • Keep these questions in mind: What is your intended outcome? What do you want to be your finished product / endpoint?
  • Write out a list of goals/everything that you need to change or address. Lots of these little goals act as “small winds” to “keep you sailing” by solving a lot of little problems quickly
  • Have the flexibility to be able to say: “That doesn’t derail me – it just changes my path.”
    • “The water’s gonna flow. It just might not be in a straight path.”
    • You may have to figure out an alternative way to get to your end goal, but your end goal has to be solid in your mind and has to be YOURS.
  • Have an enabler, and BE an enabler.
  • Delegate! “The fastest way to fail is having to touch everything.”
    • Give team members the confidence that you trust them; this empowers them and will allow growth
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