The bed of watercress beneath chef Andy Hollyday's barbecued pork belly? Local. The ruby-hued crabapple jelly made by the Detroit Zymology Guild? That too. And the pectin for the preserves, the sorrel in Brother Nature Produce's salad, the scarlet beets and crisp dilly beans hand-pickled by Suddenly Sauer. In fact, the food offered by Detroit's hottest restaurateurs and food vendors at Home Slice, a recent benefit for Detroit's contemporary art museum, could probably have been found any food-conscious event in the country. But—this being Detroit—there was a unique twist: For the Motor City's food vanguard, "local" isn't measured in miles, but in city blocks.
"You can't beat the freshness factor" of city-grown produce, said Nikki Barbour, owner of Atlas Global Bistro, as she set out a tray of hors d'oeuvres: delicate rounds of crisped pita topped with duck confit and slivers of herbs. Barbour buys microgreens and heirloom tomatoes for her restaurant in the lively Midtown neighborhood from Brother Nature Produce, a one-acre farm in Corktown—the next neighborhood to the west. (Barbour's staff also grows much of their own produce in a nearby community garden that offers restaurants plots.) "And the pricing is very competitive," she added.
Just one year old, Brother Nature was founded by Greg Willerer, a former teacher who'd been growing food for market through Grown in Detroit, a cooperative selling excess produce from the city's 1,200 community garden and urban farm plots. Today, he sells to 10 restaurants, ranging from Andy Hollyday's Roast in downtown's Book Cadillac Hotel to the casual Russell Street Deli at Eastern Market, and has had to turn down several more. Next year, Willerer will boost production on his existing plot (just under an acre) through better organization, add three more lots, and be earning more than he did as a teacher.