Citywide SOUP Winner – June 2012
Ponyride SOUP Winner – September 2013

The Detroit Food Academy (DFA) uses butternut squash and purple carrots to involve young people in weighty conversations about the issues and opportunities facing the city and the world.

DFA is a nonprofit program directed toward leadership development in the young people of Detroit through food education and business.

“There’s a lot that food can teach,” says Jen Rusicano, the co-founder and executive director. “Food is this really engaging medium that people love to talk about … and it also touches everything. So we can talk about culture and racism and lack of access and we can use this as a pretty engaging framework to think through both problems but also really great solutions.”

DFA partners with several schools to bring “The Academy” to young people during the school semester. It’s a course where students learn culinary arts and can even plan for their own socially conscious food businesses.

During the summers, they take a more concentrated group of individuals through a five-day-a-week intensive program where students work closely with a local food business and develop product ideas that they pitch to a large group at the end of the year.

She says through working their ideas out in the microcosms of their food stands and business models, these young people have seen first-hand that they can affect change.

“I think young people all over share the common gift that they have vision and they want things to be different and they are not afraid to stand up and say they have a new idea,” says Jen. “If we can just offer some support to that, especially the young people who I think have been systematically under-resourced throughout their entire lives in many ways … then we’ve created a platform that our students are going to be able to follow … into bringing their ideas into reality in our city and far beyond it. That’s what really gets me excited”

Crucial connections

Jen and her co-founders, Noam Kimelman and Amy Berkhoudt, attended SOUP back in 2012 with the hopes of hearing the community’s feedback on their idea to expand the once-a-week partnership with Eastern Market to a daily summer internship.

After winning that evening, their grant helped kickstart the very first summer internship just a few weeks later.

That summer internship went on to blossom into what is now a year-round social entrepreneurship program.

The support they received that evening was not just financial. That initial DFA team developed significant relationships with educators and owners of food businesses through the event.

“It was the biggest building block for us,” Jen says.

Not only that – SOUP has become a resource to her students. Jen says seeing the powerful SOUP network in action has served as an inspiration to the young people in DFA. She sends her students to Youth SOUPs where they too have shared their ideas with peers and received support.

“We try to connect our students to the resources closest to them in their neighborhood, in their farmers market, their business community … and I think a lot of that really started at SOUP when we started to hear people sharing [how they could plug in to the program].”

Jen views the work DFA does to foster direct interactions between people of different ages and backgrounds with Detroit youth as crucial to the city’s well being.

“It really changes the way we think about young people instead of just as this challenge but as this amazing treasure trove of resources and vision,” she says. “I think it strengthens the fabric of the city in a lot of ways.”

Visit DFA at: www.detroitfoodacademy.com

– Shelby Jouppi