Category Archives: Detroit

How they did it: Two Detroit projects draw on ioby resources to succeed

ioby is a community crowdfunding platform. In the past 10 years, we’ve helped more than 1,500 local leaders raise over $4.5 million to improve their neighborhoods.

But as proud as we are of these numbers, there’s much more to ioby than fundraising.

ioby is also a connector, an advocate, and an information hub. We offer leaders free guides, webinars, events, and more to help them build successful campaigns and win lasting positive change where they live. On and offline, we build connections that increase accountability and get things done. In the face of daunting bureaucracy, we can help you surmount roadblocks. We’re even known to chip in with yard work on occasion!

Continue reading How they did it: Two Detroit projects draw on ioby resources to succeed

12 currently funding projects, led by women, on International Women’s Day!

From the Women’s March to the #metoo and #timesup movements—in the past 15 months we’ve seen many strong civic leaders step up and create grassroots movements that speak for women’s rights in all its facets.

Here at ioby, we believe that positive change starts in our backyards. Everyday we see on-the-ground women leaders combat racial injustices, advocate for bike safety, beautify public spaces, mentor young women of color, and SO much more!

Continue reading 12 currently funding projects, led by women, on International Women’s Day!

AWESOME PROJECT: MuslimARC is coming home to Detroit

When Namira Islam had just finished law school and taken the bar exam four years ago, she paused for breath, and went online to check in with her friends and communities. She had thought about the ways in which she’d felt discriminated against during her life – both as a Bangladeshi immigrant in America, and as a non-Arab in the Muslim community – and found herself drawn to the dialogue on exclusion happening on Twitter.

Continue reading AWESOME PROJECT: MuslimARC is coming home to Detroit

AWESOME PROJECT: Creating a multi-generational green space in Bagley, Detroit

Samoy Smith grew up in Detroit, with a Jamaica-born mother who wasn’t comfortable letting her venture far from the family’s tight-knit Jamaican community. It wasn’t until a school friend invited Smith to her church’s youth group one weekend, during middle school, that she really saw just how fulfilling it could be to build one’s own diverse “chosen family,” to accept invitations from neighbors and then extend them right back out to the next person.

Continue reading AWESOME PROJECT: Creating a multi-generational green space in Bagley, Detroit

What we’ve learned in “Phase 0”

We suspect a very small number of people are reading this right now. If you are, you probably live in a city where ioby has an on-the-ground staff person or you are likely one of ioby’s peer organizations who have over the years asked if we would release all our “Phase 0” reports publicly. So, we went back to all the people who we interviewed to produce these reports, and asked their permission to include their quotes in these now publicly available documents.

Continue reading What we’ve learned in “Phase 0”

Detroit Food Academy: Where tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are making today’s tastiest snacks


This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.

“Food is universal; it’s what everybody shares in common,” says Jacob Schoenknecht, Director of Small Batch Detroit, a program of the Detroit Food Academy, and leader of the ioby campaign Mixing Up Detroit Youth Entrepreneurship. “But our program isn’t just for foodies, or about making people into chefs: it’s about leadership and entrepreneurship. Food is just the medium.”

 

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Detroit Food Academy (DFA) works with local educators, chefs, and business owners to give young Detroiters (ages 13-24) self-directed, entrepreneurial, real world experiences rooted in food—from creating healthy meals for their families to facilitating complex conversations about food systems with their community. The Small Batch Detroit program grew out of the earliest of DFA’s student-initiated products: the lip-smacking snack known as Mitten Bites (an homage to Michigan’s mitten-like shape). The cookie-turned-granola-bar, made with locally grown ingredients, “quickly became synonymous with DFA,” Jake says. “People would always see our students out offering samples and selling them.”

In the past few years, Jake has overseen the expansion of Small Batch from a summer program into a  business staffed by DFA students and alumni that paid out $30,000 in wages last year, and is on track for $50,000 in 2017. They’re at Eastern Market every Saturday, year-round, and on Tuesdays in the summertime, spreading the Mitten Bites love to thousands of Detroit-area shoppers. Jake says their presence there leads to more than just sales and increased brand awareness: “Eastern Market’s helped us out a ton. A lot of our students have been hired by other vendors there who’ve seen them at work.”

 

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Small Batch participants do indeed work for their success—on multiple levels. In addition to being trained to make Mitten Bites in the kitchen and sell them to the public, students can advance within the program and take classes about financial literacy, become team managers, learn advanced cooking techniques and production standards, and even take a shot at creating their own new products. “They’re really all ‘leaders,’ not just ‘students,’” Jake says. “On top of dealing with school and the everyday life challenges that a lot of young people in Detroit face, Small Batch participants also take on the commitment of coming here to learn, grow, and give back to DFA.”

 

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Mixing Up Detroit Youth Entrepreneurship is raising money for the purchase of a 60-quart commercial mixer that Jake hopes will allow Small Batch to quadruple its production output in the same amount of kitchen time. “We’ve already evolved our process quite a bit in the past few years,” he says. “When I first got here, we were mixing our ingredients in a 20-quart mixer and scooping them out by hand, which took forever and gave everyone carpal tunnel syndrome!” The program has since procured an automated sealing system for its packages, and will soon be getting a custom-made hydraulic flattener; the mixer is the last big piece of equipment they need to reach optimal production speed and uniformity.

Their crowdfunding experience has been great so far, Jake says. One reason? It’s easy for donors to see what they’re giving to. “A lot of times with nonprofit fundraising, when organizations just say ‘this is the work we do, please fund us,’ donors can feel unclear about where exactly their money will go,” Jake says. “But this is so practical.”

Jake thinks a similar practicality is at play in the success of Small Batch as a whole. “Whether you’re interested in business management, the culinary arts, becoming an entrepreneur of any kind… There are so many ways that each person’s own enjoyment can come out in this context. You don’t get too many people joining the basketball team who aren’t interested in playing basketball! But we get plenty of students here who don’t come in super interested in cooking, but who still leave the program with lots of useful knowledge and skills.”

 

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Jake is working to make Small Batch totally sustainable, meaning that sales of Mitten Bites will both pay the program’s expenses and generate additional proceeds for DFA. He also wants it, eventually, to be run exclusively by alumni. “I want to get this down to a science so that it can be run by just a few people, and then we could start another product and expand again.”

Ideally, Jake sees Small Batch becoming a consistent source of job training, employment, and networking for young Detroiters, as well as the “counseling arm” of DFA that can help them identify and address their personal and professional goals more broadly.

To this end, Jake says the best way to help Small Batch is to purchase Mitten Bites: at Eastern Market, in area Whole Foods, and online—with more outlets in the works. “People anywhere will buy Girl Scout cookies because they get the connection,” he says. “I want people to know that they can buy this granola bar from Detroit and be doing something good for the city and for these kids, while treating themselves to a good snack.”

Learn more about Mixing Up Detroit Youth Entrepreneurship on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners! If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars will go twice as far until April 3.

 

Detroit Mushroom Factory brings wild nutrition home for locals


This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.

“I think Americans got their ‘myco-phobia’ from the British,” says Chris Carrier, half of the team behind the Detroit Mushroom Factory, about Westerners’ fear of mushrooms. “We don’t have the same history of foraging for mushrooms that people from Eastern Europe or Japan do, and mushrooms certainly aren’t as prominent in our cooking.”

“Sometimes people walk into our 100-year-old house, where mushroom production is going on in every room, and they get a little weirded out!” says Deana Wojcik, Chris’s partner.

 

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Indeed, fantastical-looking fungi can appear more like something out of Dr. Seuss than an item you’d want on your dinner plate. But it’s Deana and Chris’s mission to dispel the weirdness around mushrooms and spread the word about the good nutrition, flexible farming options, and rich culinary possibilities they offer. The Detroit Mushroom Factory, their urban farm, grows several types of edible and medicinal mushrooms, year-round, on recycled materials produced locally—like sawdust from a furniture maker and grain from a brewery. Then they sell them at Eastern Market on Saturdays and to local shops and eateries.

 

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They got the idea to build a mushroom business after taking a social entrepreneurship class a few years ago at Detroit’s Build Institute. Chris’s career background is in software engineering, and Deana’s is in education. Together, they wanted to start something that could make money, do good, and draw from their past experience. Initially they landed on the idea of teaching code to young people, but soon realized that not only was that too similar to their previous day jobs, “it’s also more fun to work on something that many people are unfamiliar with,” Deana says. “A lot of us approach STEM with baggage: we already think of ourselves as math and science people—or not. But mushrooms are new and fascinating! It’s easier for people to say, ‘I know nothing about this. Teach me!’ As an educator, I love that openness.”

 

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Currently, Deana and Chris produce mostly fan-shaped oyster mushrooms (which Chris describes as “most people’s introduction to the gourmet mushroom world—which is really everything beyond the white buttons in the salad bar!”); a spiky puffball one called lion’s mane; and a stick-shaped one called reishi which they package for use as coffee stirrers. While many of their customers (particularly people without access to quality health care) key in on mushrooms’ purported medicinal benefits, Chris and Deana are careful not to over-promise.

“We’re not doctors or scientists,” Chris says. “We can attest that mushrooms are high in protein, low in fat, and sometimes contain other nutritional value like B vitamins. And they taste good! But we just talk about them as something that’s healthy to eat, not as a cure for anything.”

After about three years in business, Deana and Chris are experiencing every entrepreneur’s ideal problem: customers’ demand is exceeding their supply, both in terms of volume and variety. To keep up with all the locally-grown mushrooms Rose’s Fine Food wants for their broth bowls, Sister Pie wants for their savory scones, and The Farmer’s Hand wants to stock on their shelves, Detroit Mushroom Factory will be expanding into a formerly obsolete warehouse near Chris and Deana’s home in Detroit’s North End. The pair is also raising money to buy more robust equipment like a high-pressure misting kit and a commercial refrigerator. Together, these changes will mean a hefty increase in production capabilities, customer satisfaction, educational opportunities, and community building.

“We’ve moved around a lot as adults, and it can be hard to meet people,” Deana says. “The Factory has been a great way for us to find community here. The degree to which we’ve been been embraced, as business owners and as people, has been exciting and surprising. But Detroit is a very creative and collaborative place. When we started introducing ourselves as mushroom farmers, that’s when the good conversations really started.”

 

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She and Chris are talking with administrators at the elementary school near their new space about offering field trips and hands-on mushroom workshops to students, and they want to expand into other green markets across the city. They’ve gotten interest from beyond Detroit’s borders—like fine dining restaurants in Ann Arbor. “But before we start reaching out, we want to make sure that every Detroit restaurant and resident who wants Detroit-grown mushrooms is getting them,” Deana says.

“We’re in the right place to do this,” she continues. “I don’t think we would have had the same success somewhere else, and we want to give back by being a source of education, training, and eventually jobs. For now, we hope that providing fresh, healthy, affordable produce to our neighbors is a good way to say thank you.”

Learn more about Detroit Mushroom Factory on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners. If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars go twice as far until April 3!

Lush Yummies Pie Company: Detroit entrepreneurship at its sweetest


This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.

Lush Yummies Pie Company makes delicious “lemon butta” pies using founder Jennifer Lyle’s grandfather’s recipe, fresh ingredients, and lots of love. But she thinks there’s another reason Detroiters go gaga for the velvety citrus treats: they’re reminders of home.

 

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“A lot of people who live in Michigan aren’t from here,” she explains. “In particular, a lot of African Americans, like my granddad, moved to Detroit from Alabama to work for Chrysler when the automotive industry was booming. People like him have southern roots, and you can’t get all the same food here; people miss it. These kinds of creamy lemon pies are native to the south—up north, they’re more like Jell-o. No thanks!”

After spending a couple of post-college years in Atlanta with Teach for America, Jennifer decided to follow her first passion—food—and enrolled at the Pâtisserie and Baking Certificate program at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami. She returned to Detroit about five years ago and experimented with making and marketing a number of dessert types, from wedding cakes to granola candy bars. “After all that, I came back to my granddad’s recipe that he made with his mother in the 1940s on their farm in Birmingham. I came back to the basics.”

 

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Jennifer currently has two employees (not including her husband, who handles the majority of Lush Yummies deliveries—in addition to holding a full-time job). Her long-term goal is to grow her accounts so she can hire more kitchen staff (Detroit locals preferred) and eventually take herself out of the production process. “Oddly, I think getting out of the kitchen is what most food entrepreneurs want to do!” she says. “Being there 24-7 just wears you out. I want to focus on building my brand, and eventually securing my own production facility.”

Lush Yummies is currently stocked in 15 stores, and will be adding Whole Foods to their roster starting in May. Jennifer would love to expand further, into outlets like Kroger and Wal-Mart nationwide. In the meantime, she’s set her crowdfunding sights on one important upgrade: a commercial-grade citrus squeezer that will save her and her staff the many hours a week they currently spend squeezing hundreds of lemons by hand!

 

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While her company is poised to go far, Jennifer recognizes that there’s no place like home. “Eastern Market is wonderful,” she says. “They really treat you like family. I support them and they support me.” Jennifer participates in the organization’s vendor gatherings, and has enjoyed visiting the market herself when she’s not working. “There are always families here,” she says. “I’ve pulled my kids down here in their wagon. They have music going, high school bands, you can smell the barbecue from down the block… It’s like New Orleans!”

She also appreciates Eastern Market shoppers. “The market is really diverse, and has put me in front of a lot of customers who wouldn’t otherwise see me,” Jennifer says. “The people who shop there want to support Detroit: they like meeting the farmers, they really interact with their produce. It’s ideal.”

Jennifer grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, and spent time working in their businesses. Her powerhouse grandmother, for example, was the first female president of Michigan’s Booker T. Washington Business Association, an African American Chamber of Commerce, as well as the first woman to run the state’s Liquor Control Commission—and she founded her own network of Detroit-area adult education facilities. “Honestly, it was sometimes difficult working with her,” Jennifer says. “The dynamics of a family business can be intense, and her expectations were very high. When something is yours, it’s different from when you’re a manager or director: your heart and soul is in it.”

Eventually, Jennifer had to explain to her grandmother that she had dreams and aspirations of her own, and didn’t want to take over the family business. Now, her two small kids are growing up with a strong entrepreneurial caretaker, too. “When I’m able to have my own commercial kitchen, my own sustainable company with my own name on it, when I’m able to hire all the Detroiters I need: that will give me ultimate pride in my business. I want my kids to say, ‘This is my mom’s company.’ I want them to know this is something their mom did.”

 

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Learn more about Lush Yummies Pie Company on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners! If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars will go twice as far until April 3.

Farm to Freezer: Celebrating Michigan’s growing diversity in every season

This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double all donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of the fabulous projects getting underway now.

 

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“There’s nothing new about freezing fruits and veggies,” says Brandon Seng, founder of Farm to Freezer, a program that flash-freezes produce at peak ripeness for schools, institutions, and retailers to offer throughout the year. “People have long been putting up food grown in season for consumption in the wintertime. It’s the way we’re doing it that’s unique.”

Farm to Freezer, founded in Traverse City, partners with farmers across Michigan to procure high-quality produce that’s prepped and frozen in small batches by people with barriers to employment: many are returning from prison, recovering from addiction, or transitioning from homelessness; some have been out of the workforce for years. Farm to Freezer gives them the opportunity to learn marketable job skills (both physical and social) and healthy cooking basics, while helping to make the most of a tremendous local resource.

“Michigan is the number-one blueberry producer in the nation,” says Brandon. “We grow 78 percent of the nation’s tart cherries! Plus a significant amount of apples, peaches, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower—the list goes on. We’re really kind of a national leader when it comes to what you find on your dinner plate and in your smoothies.”

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Of course, Michigan’s awesome produce is limited to a relatively short growing season: basically June through October. Farm to Freezer got its start about five years ago when Brandon was directing a school lunch program. He wanted to get more local produce on his menus, but while the farm season was on, school was out—hence the motivation to freeze.

“We do some really cool stuff with what I believe to be misunderstood veggies, like romanesco and kohlrabi,” Brandon says. “All of our produce bags are clear, so people can see the color and texture variation in what they’re eating. I’m most excited about our root vegetable medley—it’s just a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.”

Farm to Freezer couples their produce offerings with extensive educational outreach to their consumers, so people know how best to prepare the food. Their packages also give simple instructions like, “Best roasted or grilled on high heat with the oil of your choice,” and they’ll soon be posting recipes online. “Eating whole foods simply is so easy and tastes great,” Brandon says. “That’s what I’m encouraging folks to do.”

His idea quickly attracted interest from from parents, colleagues, and other schools in the area, and he eventually partnered with Goodwill Industries to become a full-fledged workforce development program offering healthy produce throughout Northwest Michigan.

 

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Now, “we want to grow the food system and share Michigan produce more widely,” Brandon says. Motor City is next on the list.

“Opening a location in Detroit will help us connect the regional food economies in the Southeast part of the state,” he explains. Currently, Farm to Freezer’s Traverse City location serves an area with a population around 400,000; when they open in Detroit, they’ll be able to market to the roughly six million consumers in the city’s metro area. He looks forward to making relationships with new farmers as well as new buyers.

He also looks forward to relocating. “Because we’re taking an old model and renewing it, it’s really fun and fitting to be moving into an institution like Eastern Market that has such a vibrant heritage in the state,” Brandon says. The building Farm to Freezer will be occupying has been vacant for 10 years. “I don’t want to be quiet about it coming back to life,” he says. “I want folks to know that we want to connect with the region in a new and exciting way. To that end, we want to stand out with artwork that speaks to our initiative.”

 

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The $6,046 Farm to Freezer is raising on ioby will pay for the design and installation of a 20’ x 20’ banner that will hang outside their space on Mack Avenue. Brandon’s vision for it is a celebration of the beauty of agriculture.

“If you’re able to drive through any of these rural areas and see the cherry blossoms when they’re out, the fields of cauliflower in pretty rows with the sun on them… There’s such striking imagery here. I’m in love with it, and I want to share it in a powerful statement that speaks to who we are and what we’re about.”

As for the long-term future of Farm to Freezer, Brandon’s goals are clear. They’ll grow into their Eastern Market space, starting with five employees and increasing to 25 by their fifth year. “Michigan has a ton to offer the rest of the country by way of the food we produce,” he says. “We want to limit our sourcing to the state, but we hope to soon be utilizing the Detroit hub to serve sales channels into Toledo and Chicago, and hopefully Canada at some point.”

“I know we’re going to rock it,” he says. “We’re really fired up about it.”

Learn more about Farm to Freezer on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners. If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars go twice as far until April 3!

Eastern Market and ioby: Bigger is better in Detroit this spring!


Look out, Detroit! This spring, something big is about to get bigger.

ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, up to $3,000 total. That’s big!

 

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But “big” is nothing new here. The venerable Eastern Market has been a big deal for the city of Detroit for well over 100 years. Each week, hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers congregate inside and outside its signature network of “sheds” to buy and sell fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, and more. As a nonprofit organization with a mission to enrich Detroit—nutritionally, culturally, and economically—Eastern Market Development Corporation (EMDC) also develops and supports a variety of local programs and development projects that help to build a healthier, wealthier, and happier Detroit.

With a history and mission this cool, we’re nothing short of ecstatic to be taking part in this matching grant challenge.

 

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Joe Rashid, ioby’s Detroit Action Strategist, says Eastern Market is an ideal partner because they have deep roots in the community and can help ioby Leaders make the kinds of important connections that can help them grow their businesses long-term. While supporting the local economy and food system are the big focus, Joe says the growth spurred by these projects stands to reach beyond Eastern Market’s purview—to neighborhood-based urban farms and businesses around the city, and in some cases, even to agricultural operations in rural parts of the state.

“Especially in Detroit, trying to grow the local economy outside of the central business district is really important. Doing that helps to support the entire city, not just the part where the ‘action’ is,” he says. “And in a time when many small businesses in Detroit are having difficulty securing funding, I really think the crowdfunding model—together with great matching grants like these—can play an integral role in getting new businesses off the ground and shaping Detroit’s future.”

 

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The Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge adds another layer of support to the services EMDC has been providing to its vendors for years. We’re excited to be helping to make this big deal even bigger.

“Supporting local businesses one-on-one is really meaningful,” Joe says. “And it’s another expression of the ioby model of working on the project level to create a much larger impact.”

Read more about the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge—including the amazing additional in-kind donations being offered to project Leaders by Skidmore Studio! If you’re curious about how these projects were chosen, check out the eligibility page.

p.s. ioby is organizing a Detroit Convening on April 29, location TBA. Stay tuned for more details!