In the beginning of 2016, two women from vastly different backgrounds came together for a common goal: to give Detroiters fresh, locally sourced, and affordable groceries within city limits.
Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya, co-owners of The Farmer’s Hand in Corktown, opened in the old Bagley-Trumbull Market in September. They say it’s Detroit’s first completely locally sourced walkable grocery store, and it’s stocked with all Michigan-made products, including artisan bread, jams, eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables.
The co-owners met while independently planning separate stores.
“Kiki and I both had been working on really similar models,” says Foulkes. “We were looking in the same places for space to move into; we were talking to a lot of the same people, farmers, and producers, and somewhere along the line people started getting us confused for one another.”
They eventually met and hit it off, drawn together over their shared experiences as well as their differences. While Foulkes hails from Australia, Louya is a Detroit native, raised in Rosedale Park.
Foulkes and Louya have invested $100,000 in the leased space to bring their shared vision to life.
For some Detroiters, especially those who lack access to transportation or live in neighborhoods with limited fresh food options, finding healthy, whole produce can be a challenge. Through The Farmer’s Hand, Louya and Foulkes hope to address that issue.
Before doors even opened in September, the duo recruited over 100 partners to supply the store with staples such as milk, eggs, fresh vegetables, and proteins. Partners include well-known Detroit brands like Gus & Grey, Sister Pie, and Avalon, plus smaller operations like Artesian Farms.
They plan to offer goods such as eggs at various prices that fit any budget to help accommodate customers’ different needs. Foulkes says the goal is to help educate customers on the products they sell, and explain the difference, giving them the power to decide how they shop. No matter the price, all the products will come from only small-to-midsize local businesses.
Because Michigan winters pose a threat to locally sourced fresh produce, they have partnered with businesses that have year-round greenhouses, winter storage, and vertical growing operations.
Another goal is to have 70 percent of the money made in the shop go directly back to the partners. To do this, Foulkes says they will work with farmers and producers directly as opposed to working with food distributors who take a portion of the profits. This close relationship not only benefits the farmers and producers, but also connects shoppers with the source of their goods.
The location will also serve as a café, as both Louya and Foulkes have culinary backgrounds. It will pull inspiration from their diverse backgrounds, featuring Australasia and African influences — like Breakfast Boko-Boko, an African grain dish, or Nightshade, made with Australian bush tomato. The debut menu is simple, yet hearty, with sandwiches like the Saltie, made on buttered focaccia with country ham, farmstead cheddar, stoneground mustard, and mayo. Brunch options include yogurt bowls made with Fluffy Bottom Farms dairy, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
The sense of community is important to both owners. As the market grows, Louya and Foulkes aim to be in tune with their customers’ wants and needs.
“We really want to listen to the community and get their feedback, hear about what they what they want in the market,” says Foulkes.
The two plan to host events and workshops focused on good nutrition.
“We’re not only providing a retail outlet for food access but a community space that is providing educational opportunities,” says Foulkes.