What’s New with Selma Cafe

Co-Founder Lisa Gottlieb on the non-profit’s support of local growers

Founded in 2009, Selma Cafe is often associated with their weekly breakfasts filled with locally sourced foods and guest chefs that operated for five years before it closed its doors. Though that aspect of Selma is no longer operational, the non-profit organization is still actively helping local farmers and growers. Co-founder Lisa Gottlieb and the Cafe’s newly revitalized board of directors are now looking to the future, providing grant opportunities for food producers and artisans who are making a positive impact on the local food scene.

What first inspired you to start awarding grants to local growers? 

We did some short term investments in what people call “socially responsible investing.” Since Selma Cafe closed down, the money was just sitting in the account. It was about $70,000.

The board decided we would give the money away to the people who would benefit from it and best serve our local food community.  Like a lot of things, I think Selma Cafe ran its course, and it was time to start focusing on other initiatives. We still have an active non-profit organization with a re-energized board of directors, and my guess is we’ll have an extra $10,000 to grant out over the next year. Therefore, people who may have missed the first cycle of grants will have another opportunity to receive supportive funds.

Selma recently awarded some significant financial grants. How do you hope to spend that money?

We provided a little more than 20 grants, regarding new projects, innovations, and support for emerging farmers— those who presented solid business plans on how to use the money. Many recipients were based in the Detroit area, where it’s challenging to acquire funding. A number of beneficiaries were women farmers, which I feel strongly about supporting. 

We expanded from working with just food to people who are using local ingredients to make things like salves and body products. We’re trying to expand what it means to support local food, products, and agriculture in Southeast Michigan.

There’s a lot of push in our culture to get the cheapest possible food, even if it’s not nutritionally dense or healthful, even if it takes a real measurable toll on our environment. When we support local farms, we keep the money in our community. 

How has Selma Cafe evolved over the years? 

It has been years of transitions— really trying to utilize the funds that guests and volunteers contributed over the years to support the Southeast Michigan local food scene.

One of my biggest interests that came out of Selma Cafe is my interest in nonviolent compassionate communication, which applies to every facet of my life, and I feel strongly about its potential for positive impact. When I was running Selma Cafe, it was important to me to make everyone feel as though they belonged, and whatever someone’s ability was, we would find a job for them— promoting kindness and understanding, taking a stand for what we value.

I’m really interested in finding out how to combine those concepts, especially in this very divisive time in our country. The more of that, the better. 

If you could spread one message about Selma Cafe’s support of local growers, what would that be? 

Look at your food budget, and start with 10 percent of that going to local food. 

Argus Farm Stop is a beautiful example of a resource that offers support for local farms within the community, which is a place where local farmers can drop off their food. Neighborhood shoppers can buy directly from them. Kathy Sample was very helpful in collaborating with me and my board of directors to get that particular grant going, so I really want to shout out to her and her husband, Bill. 

My board of directors is made up of amazing women. It’s never just been me; rather, there are hundreds of volunteers, and now, my current board, that create and contribute to Selma’s success. 

Visit selmacafe.org to learn more about the organization’s mission.

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