Detroit needs a real replacement for Farmer Jack


OK I admit it, this is really starting to piss me off.

Today I’m listening to this radio program on WDET, the local public radio affililiate, and they’re talking about a very important issue in the city, namely how difficult it is to shop for what you need within the city limits. Now that Farmer Jack has closed up shop  there are no chain grocery stores within the city limits. None. And I still haven’t heard any news about whether there are yet any plans for the remaining stores to be bought out by some other company or if they’re just gonna sit there empty.

Now, to me? This shit is serious. There are nearly 900,000 people living here, and anywhere else you go in this country where there are even half as many people living there, you will find sufficient grocery stores – real, full-sized grocery stores, not Mom and Pop operations – to adequately take care of their shopping needs. Detroit deserves no less. We need full-sized stores, and dammit we need them NOW, hear?

So then I hear this brother who I guess is a guest on this show talking as if the fact that we have no chain stores in the city is actually a good thing and that this “opportunity” should push black people toward grocery store alternatives such as home and neighborhood gardening (grow your own vegetables, etc.), neighborhood produce trucks, food coops, and the like. To him, whoever he was, this is the best way to handle the crisis we are currently in because it means we are actively addressing the problem ourselves and not waiting to be “saved” by the chains. Power to the people, self-sufficiency, and all that.

Bullshit, my brother. Bull. Shit.

Listen, I have no problem whatsoever with food coops, with home gardening, or even with Mom and Pop grocery stores. And, for the record, I love Metro Foodland, which is black-owned, very well-run and well-stocked. All of that is cool, and I have definitely done my share of shopping at smaller and alternative marketplaces, but it is also because I have shopped at these locations that I know there is no way they can possibly replace a major chain food store. Period. To get all the stuff I need with any level of convenience at all, what any major-sized urban community needs  is a major-sized store. I’m sorry, but I’m just callin’ it the way it is. And no, I don’t think it’s a sin at this stage in my life to want some convenience to go along with my shopping. I honestly don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Gosh. I’m sorry. Does that sound middle-class? So SHOOT MY ASS THEN. I plead guilty. Whatever. Just give me my damned store.

As for the suggestion that we all get back to the earth and learn to grow our own, I’m afraid that is  a ridiculous approach with an absolute ZERO chance of success when it comes to meeting the needs of the masses. And by the way, what are we supposed to do for things like meat? Last timeI checked it wasn’t legal to keep cattle in your backyard, and you damned sure can’t slaughter chickens on your front porch. And don’t even come at me with the vegetarian thing ‘ cause I am not among them and doubt I ever will be. Or is this considered a sacrifice that we lemmings should be happy and willing to make for the sake of ‘independence’?

Look, to quote an old R&B song, sometimes I “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Yeah. I said it. Because we need more stores in this city. Large stores. Chain stores. Stock full with lots and lots of stuff that regular people like me like to buy at one time under one roof. Conveniently. We need  these stores to meet the needs of the people who are here, and we need them for the folks we are trying to convince to move here and stay longer than a season before they get tired of driving to the next county in search of REAL STORES.

I know times are tough in my beloved city. Honest. I live here, so how could I not know this? But this insane attitude voiced by some that it is better to live like a small war-torn nation so long as we’re not getting any help from anyone, than to live like normal folks with normal amenities, has got to be burned at the stake. Hell, give me the gasoline and I’ll light the fire myself.

Sometimes it’s actually OK to admit that you need help and that you can’t do it all yourself. Because we can’t. And in Detroit, where we are struggling so desperately just to tread water, we look like idiots trying to talk all tough and act like we got it all covered. We don’t. We’re in fucking trouble, and we will never be able to pull ourselves out of this alone.

Recognizing the fact that you need help and that you need others to help you get what you need isn’t begging. It’s called common sense, and it’s usually what you obtain once you grow up.


~ by Keith A. Owens on June 20, 2007.

21 Responses to “Detroit needs a real replacement for Farmer Jack”

  1. I would definitely consider myself a hippie but a hippie that keeps it real.
    There needs to be alternatives. Though I agree to an extent to the caller’s comments on communal markets, it is madness that there are no chain grocery stores in Detroit. Alternative grocers are smaller and cannot absorb the costs as well as larger chains so the prices are higher and outta reach of many residents of your city. The city needs to court a grocery chain for the benefit of it’s residents. Forcing people to travel long distances for their food supply is harmful to the environment and limiting to those who do not have access to transportation.
    Just ridiculous.

    Keep on keeping on my friend.

  2. I feel you Bro.Detroit need a chain store.My question is why don’t the media address this issue,is it racism or should we look at a new business model.The right amount of investigated reporting could uncover some answer.

  3. This is so unabelievable. I thought about the gardening stuff, matter of fact, I have been taking strawberries from my sisters garden. I started a garden last year above ground and much of my stuff did not take.

    I feel you on the chain stores. If cities are not going to prove for us, we are going to have to become more mobile and move. And the surburbs are too expensive.

    However, I believe that whoever his name is has a good point about mobilizing to get a store if you don’t wnat to do the garden thing. Is this 2007?

  4. […] Read more here… […]

  5. Why did Farmer Jack’s chain grocery store close?

  6. Ccims1,

    First of all, thanks for dropping by. Why did Farmer Jack’s close? My understanding is money, which usually the cause behind something like this. What’s more disappointing is thatKroger’s bought up a number of the Farmer Jack locations – but they didn’t touch the two left in Detroit. So who knows what will happen to them now. And the one on East Jefferson was a huge and very nice location. Just the kind of large market this city needs. Now it’s gone…

  7. Danielle,

    Thanks much for your comments, and you’re absolutely right. No chain grocery store out here is total madness. But I will for sure ‘keep keepin’ on’, because what else can I do?


    I’m not real sure why the mainstream media isn’t digging into this more. They have definitely covered the fact that Farmer Jack’s is going, going, gone, but there really hasn’t been any analysis of this situation which is sorely needed because the impact of this is huge.


    Good to see you in the house. And you may be right about mobilizing to get a store. We definitely can’t just sit here passively and say ‘oh well,’. This is a spike through the heart of this city, and rallying together to make the case for waht we need probably is the only viable approach.

  8. It would seem to me that if the residents want to be self sufficient, there should be a push for a black business consortium to buy a franchise, if any of the chains in the suburbs operate that way. You have the buildings all would be needed is capital, maybe the Small business Administration could help with loans. Probably the ex-employees could manage and operate the store.

  9. Hathor,
    Thank you for dropping by, and I appreciate your comments. Although some are indeed pushing the self-sufficiency agtenda, such as the guest on that radio show, this isn’t what I’m pushing at this particular juncture. Although I thinmk self-sufficiency is great when it can be sustained, what I’m saying is that sometimes you have to realize that you just can’t do it alone. You just don’t have the resources for self-sufficiency. Which is why I say we need the chains. Period. If we have part ownership, then fine. If not, frankly, I don’t care. But we have to have the chains to sufficiently provide what we need. We can build from there, but first we need the ‘there.’

  10. […] of community. Checking out an interview with Grace Lee Boggs on Bill Moyers, as well as reading Keith Owens’ post about the lack of grocery stores in Detroit, helped to crystallize this for […]

  11. It is utterly incomprehensible that a city as large as Detroit is not an attractive enough marketplace for ANY large-scale food retailer. I have lived in the city (not on the outskirts, not in the suburbs, but IN the city) since the early ’60s and I have seen this once-proud city crumble bit-by-bit. How long will we wait before the city is covered in gas stations and liquor stores, but no grocery stores? When will we speak up and focus attention on the broken storefronts and abandoned businesses? When will we stop accepting sub-standard goods and services, marginal quality foodstuffs, and apathetic business owners?

    Home gardening is NOT the answer! Can you grow enough in your back yard to last the winter? I tried 2 years in a row and what the squirrels didn’t eat, the neighbors stole (ain’t THAT pathetic). I agree with you Bro, I will NOT go vegetarian – dead cow, chicken and pig (yeah, I said it!) are all on my menu.

    Self-sufficiency is a great concept and when a coalition of citizens comes together to realistically address this situation is formed I will be there. Until then, someone with leverage and influence (Kwame, Detroit Newspaper Corp, WDIV, etc…) should be investigating the “root cause” of this food desert in Detroit. It’s not because there isn’t money here being spent. It’s not (necessarily) because losses are too high in Detroit (they don’t steal in Roseville, or Southfield?). It’s not because there is no market (c’mon 900,000 hungry folks).

    My gut says “race” and “politics” are in the mix.

  12. Hey Roger!

    Thanks much for stopping by, and I really appreciate your comments. This is obviously a critical issue that will need to be followed for months – and possibly years – to come.

  13. I hear you and whole-heartedly agree. While we are on the topic about fod shopping, let’s talk about the quality of the food that is being offerred for sale in Detroit. Let’s demand fresh meat and food stuff without expired “best used beofre” dates.

  14. Hey Rick!

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. And you’ve definitely hit the nail on the head about food quality, man. No doubt. Seems like it’s been that way so long that you almost forget it’s supposed to be better than that…

  15. So basically wait on someone else to help us? Or beg and plead for someone else to give us a grocery store. You are basically saying folks striving to do for self when others basically abandoned us are “fucking idiots”. Wow, how nice. You say ask for help…How long have we in the D been asking for help 40+ years. Careful what you sacrifice for convenience and careful what you ask for. Hopefully you wont be taxed out your home. 🙂

  16. Actually, Angela, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m not calling anyone a “fucking idiot”. Those who want to grow their own food wherever they want to grow it is fine with me. You might want to check out my post in support of Urban Farming. But what I AM saying is that there are a wide variety of items – and not just items for convenience – that we simply cannot grow out of the ground or get on our own. Period. And for those of us who are not vegetarians, beef, pork, and chicken happen to be among those items. Not to mention eggs. And di I mention laundry detergent? The list goes on.

    Not all of us want to turn back the clock and live as we did in the wild and forage for our goods. Other major cities have stores, so is it really so outlandish to want some of the basic things that other cities have? Or are we willing to be so stubborn and defiant, swearing we don’t need any help, that we’re willing to punish ourselves in the name of self-sufficiency.

    There is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Everybody needs somebody, and we all need help sometimes. And we need to be willing to admit when we need that help.

    Detroit needs help.

  17. I agree with everything said here. Detroit does nerd real grocery stores. And if we can’t get the big fancy chain, we at least need independent grocers that sre willing to strive for fresh foods and everything. Mazen Foods just doesn’t cut it. I know stores such as Glory and Mike’s are trying, but they’re just not enough.

    The media and politics won’t help a thing. They sure didn’t convince all the retail that has left Detroit to stay or locate here. The grocres are all about the money, no matter what’s happening. We must make Detroit seem more attractive to them. Also, let’s try to welcome in some of the “less knowledgable” chains to the city instead of the ones that continually dodge us.

  18. Hello,
    I am interested in food retail history in Detroit. I was wondering if you know the name of the CEO of Famer Jack when it shut down. Thanks

  19. Wow! that was a quick answer. Thanks a lot!

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