Cultivating Community Beyond Food and Drink

Cultivating Community Beyond Food and Drink | Food & Nutrition | Student Scoop
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Local food and drink establishments are part of what differentiates cities and towns from each other. Simply having a distinctive menu can bring a community together over the joy of eating. In addition to creating a unique dining experience, many of these home-grown restaurants are finding ways to give back to the community.

One of my favorite places in Ypsilanti, MI, has a unique business model and distinct goal to cultivate community. Designed as a multi-purpose cafe and event space, the coffee and tap house operates as a non-profit/restaurant hybrid. In addition to offering delicious food, a full coffee bar and local brews, the business has a literal beer garden where produce is grown and donated to a local food bank. The large dining room accommodates various groups and organizations that need a comfortable place to meet and share experiences. The coffee and tap house also sponsors free events to engage the community, such as offering free tacos and chair massages for students during finals week.

Down the street from the coffee and tap house is a brewery that was born and raised with funky Ypsilanti style. Their mission is to make craft beer accessible to the diverse community by providing quality drinks at reasonable prices. The brewery also features local musicians looking to make a name for themselves, and the inclusive atmosphere is ideal for getting some work done or playing a board game with friends.

Other ways restaurants, cafes and breweries are giving back to their communities include:

  • Hosting charity fundraisers or donating certificates to a silent auction.
  • Using a “pay what you can” model of sales.
  • Partnering with local farmers and food producers, and promoting their businesses.
  • Donating unused ingredients to food banks, or a percentage of sales to charity.
  • Providing job training for individuals with disabilities or those re-entering the workforce post-incarceration.
  • Having a “giving tap” where the earnings from that beverage are donated to a partnering charity.
  • Crafting menu items that are plant-based, low-salt or sugar-free to cater to the dietary needs of the community.

When moving to a new community for school or work, or exploring your childhood neighborhood, find a place where you can be comfortable and feel supported. Be open to becoming a community member at these places — connections with other customers or employees can make a lifelong impact. Whether it is a large metropolis or small town, the community flocks to places that are warm, welcoming and serve great food and drink.

Nicole Flynn
Nikki graduated with her master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan. After completing the dietetic internship, she hopes to apply her skills to community based interventions. Flynn has a passion for food literacy and food security, and aims to develop her own non-profit.