An Hour With… Winona Bynum

Executive Director of the Detroit Food Policy Council

In recent years, grassroots efforts to revitalize Detroit’s complex food system have led to a growing number of urban farms, farmers markets, food trucks, and restaurants. But Detroiters throughout the city’s 140-plus square miles still seek long-term solutions including legislation that addresses accessibility and sustainability for all.

With Winona Bynum at the helm, the Detroit Food Policy Council is working to make such solutions a reality. The DFPC takes an active role in the city’s policy discussion, questioning how each decision affects the food system and regularly administering reports and other resources to maintain a dialogue with the public. Using her experience as a dietitian, Bynum elaborates on how the council is helping to bolster the Detroit food community and power “the glow of good food” in the city.

Hour Detroit: Can you explain what the Detroit Food Policy Council is?

Winona Bynum: The DFPC is a nonprofit organization, and there are so many different food policy councils around the country, so we’re not a one-off thing. We began in 2009, and we were sanctioned by the Detroit City Council by unanimous approval. We have 21 council members that really guide the work we do. They set the priorities of what goes on in our organization. They are comprised of 13 different sectors … all the different pieces of the food system, from growing, to nutrition, to higher education, to K-12, through producers, retailers, environmental. So anything to do with food, there’s someone bringing that aspect to the council to look at food through that lens. Then there are four at-large members, community members who like to eat or are interested in food, and one youth member. And, three appointed members: one from the mayor’s office, one appointed from the city council, and one appointed from the health department.

Why does Detroit need the DFPC?

There are a lot of groups that focus on agriculture, focus on retail (and) focus on entrepreneurship, which is wonderful and those are needed. But then we’re the organization that looks at food across all those things. We get people in a room to talk to one another.

We need to make sure all of these entities can work at their best so that Detroiters have all of the food they need. Healthy food access, that is a huge thing to us, but also being able to have a voice and engage in the economics of the food system.

“Skills (from entry-level food jobs) are so transferrable (and give) meaningful experience that (people) can transfer and put toward making a living.”
Winona Bynum

What has the council accomplished so far?

One of the biggest things … was really spurred by one of our council members, Kathryn Underwood. We helped to get an ordinance, the agriculture ordinance, passed in 2013.

For six years straight, we’ve held a food summit. This year (on March 10-11) we had more than 300 people to attend over two days and talk about food. We had a movie screening about urban agriculture and held a panel discussion afterward. So, there is the policy piece and then there is the education piece and then getting the voice of the community.

It’s so often we want to do things for people, but what do they really want? What’s important? And, making sure that folks have a way to do that.

You mentioned education. What have you accomplished in that area?

We’ve published three food system reports, so looking at the local food system … and publishing that and making that information available, kind of quantifying what is going on.

Another thing we had is a voter’s guide. When all of the council members in 2013 were — well there was a big change — we were going out and getting their positions on some of the things that affect the food system and publishing that so people could make an informed decision.

We will also hold a youth food summit on Oct. 21 at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Obviously health is a benefit from having a sustainable food system. What other benefits can arise from this system? 

A thing I think we discount with the food system and food jobs is the low barrier to entry. … Those skills are so transferrable, and it gives (people) meaningful experience, invaluable experience, that they can transfer and put toward making a living.

We have such negative things out about the bankruptcy, the water or whatever, and this is such a positive that actually brings a lot of buzz and positive attention to the city. So, health, of course, economics, and just the glow of good food.

Recently, there have been many discussions about urban farming and land use in the city. How has the DFPC been involved there?

We’re always injecting food into the conversation. It’s so common that people forget about it. So, a lot of our conversation is around making sure that it’s considered and that it’s valued and that it’s planned in. And we’ve gotten really good response, so there is a lot to come.


Name: Winona Bynum

Position: Executive Director of the Detroit Food Policy Council

Age: “Ageless.”

Education: B.S., dietetics, Wayne State University. Pursuing a master’s of public health from Emory University.

Family: Husband Ranard and children Brittany and Travis

Favorite food(s): Too many to choose just one, but Bynum loves soups served with freshly baked bread. Popcorn is her favorite snack food.

Most trusted/used kitchen utensil or appliance: “A slow cooker is an amazing thing. I also love my rice cooker – it’s definitely not just for rice!”

Council project she’s most proud of: The council’s local food summits because these events not only generate dialogue that furthers the DFPC’s work, but also brings people from all backgrounds into the discussion. Additionally, the council’s expanding youth programs.