Cooking Up Something Local: Azeezah Ford
Azeezah Ford is a chef and farmer based in Detroit. Her future aspirations include a move to Michigan's Benzie County to improve food access and literacy in the area.
Azeezah Ford began her career unaware of her love of farming and where it would lead her.
After growing up in Detroit, Ford’s passion for good – and delicious – food led her to attend a culinary school in Vermont. She left culinary school to work at a farm-to-table restaurant where she helped grow crops. Ford realized that she enjoyed connecting with food by growing it and she wanted to learn more.
That led her to the MSU Student Organic Farm’s Organic Farmer Training Program. Over the course of nine months, she learned the fundamentals of farming using organic practices, which has become valuable to her as she begins to make change in Michigan.
From Chef to Farmer, to Farmer Chef
Ford is now a chef de partie at a restaurant in Detroit called Flowers of Vietnam. This summer, her plans extend beyond the kitchen.
She will begin a garden to support the needs of the restaurant, providing herbs and fruit, like strawberries. If there is any excess produce that can’t be used at Flowers of Vietnam, she hopes to sell it to other local Detroit restaurants.
Ford’s mission in her own words is, “I want to help fill restaurants with as much Michigan produce as possible.”
Increasing Food Access and Literacy in Benzie County
Azeezah has her eyes set on a Benzie County farm, called Wild Things Farm, for late 2018 or 2019. She plans on partnering with Louann and Hank Werksma to bring fresh food to Michiganders year-round. While its far from where Ford grew up, she sees potential for improvement in the Benzie area food system and opportunities for personal growth in gaining a broader experience.
“While I’m here in Detroit, I’m developing and strengthening relationships with chefs that we can potentially market our produce to next year,” Ford says.
She also notes her desire to offer “[her] hands and [her] time” to the community in Benzie County, especially by volunteering at and learning from Grow Benzie.
“I’m really hoping to get a cooking program going, aligned with a CSA that I’m running or a CSA that someone else is running.”
By integrating her cooking skills with her knowledge of crops, Ford believes she can help people get excited about cooking new foods, and thus improve food literacy. By equipping a community with knowledge about how food is grown, where it comes from, and how to prepare it, the health of the individuals, community, and environment increases.
“I don’t want anybody to be scared when making kohlrabi [for the first time]. I want it to be exciting, like, ‘I know what to do with that.’” Ford knows what this is like. When she lived in Kalamazoo for a time, she led several cooking workshops and felt the rewards of teaching then.
Ford is hoping to help the community around Wild Things Farm with food access as well as food literacy. Benzie County has some access issues, especially during the winter months. One of her goals at Wild Things Farm is to help fill some gaps in the local food system, hopefully providing locally grown produce throughout winter.
Inspiring Young Farmers
As the farming community grows in Michigan, Azeezah encourages young farmers, especially Black farmers and farmers of color, to take an active role in their local food system.
“I think Michigan can be a leader in agricultural production. I’m really excited to see that happen in the next ten years. I think we have a lot of resources and a lot of ambitious young farmers, including myself.”
Ford’s advice: “Always be open to learning.” She credits opening herself to opportunities involving farming and cooking early on with helping her shape a career that brings healthy, fair, green, and affordable food to Michiganders.
To learn more about Azeezah’s plans and aspirations, listen to her interview with Michigan Radio from August 23, 2017.