Rohani Foulkes - Roihani Foulkes Story

Torres News Column: A Torres Strait Islander in Detroit – Rohani Foulkes’ Story

I write a weekly column for my local paper; The Torres News. The column is called Ailan Yarns (translates to Island Chats) and it focuses on sharing positive stories from within the community. It also shines a light on local issues to give the community a chance to voice their opinions. Enjoy.

Published in The Torres News
Printed: 13th July 2018
Author: Kantesha Takai

Rohani Foulkes lives in Detorit and alongside her business partner – another strong woman of colour – they run an organic food market called The Farmer’s Hand and just recently, they’ve opened a sister restaurant called Folk.

By working directly with local farmer’s and food producers, The Farmer’s Hand is working to strengthen the relationship between their shoppers and the sources of food and beverage products they consume. The market also brings much needed access to high quality fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy and more. While many locals have grown their own fruit and vegetable crops for years, access to such staple were – for a time – non-existent.

“When I first arrived in Michigan, I spent a lot of time pretending like the tomatoes at the grocery store tasted good, but they just didn’t. I also spent a long time searching for a butcher. It sounds crazy, but they just didn’t exist.”

Born and raised in Cairns, Rohani explained that unlike Detroit, the temperate climate in North Queensland allows farmers to grow an abundance of healthy and fresh fruit and vegetables year-round.

“Back home in Cairns, you can grow beautiful, tropical, delicious fruits and vegetables almost year long. You can’t do that here. I know that back home (Australia), a lot of suburbs have their own bakery, fruit and vegetable markets and butcher shops. They don’t have that here or at least it hasn’t existed in the city of Detroit for a long time.”

The Farmer’s Hand was started with the underlying intent to connect community and bring back that local feel of grocery shopping where everyone knows your name. More importantly, it was created to increase access to fresh and healthy food grown locally.

And, although Rohani is on her mission to empower and make fresh food readily available in Detroit, she hasn’t forgotten her identity as a proud Torres Strait woman. She is a descendent of the Bin Doraho family and has come from humble beginnings.

“I was born and raised in Cairns, but I have lived in Weipa and spent some time in the Torres Strait.”

Rohani yarned about the time she was sent to TI to live with her Neneh on Milman Street when she was in High School.

“I was a bit naughty when I was younger, and my parents sent me to my Neneh to be straightened out. I went to TI High while I was there and completed year 9.”

She may have been a bit of a rebel in High School, but Rohani always knew what she wanted to do with her life. She always wanted to be a chef.

“I actually dropped out of High School after year 9 and then went into a prevocational course and started a hospitality apprenticeship.”

Becoming a mother shortly after finishing that apprenticeship, Rohani made a move to Sydney and into education as a long-term career. She became a vocational teacher of Design Technology in Culinary Arts and taught High School students how to become chefs.

“I became more interested in where our food comes from, how you grow food, the farming industry, farming advocacy and local food.”

Her career and passion led Rohani into a role with the United Nations in their Education Outreach division which took her across to New York, where she met her husband. They found themselves co-living between New York and Sydney with frequent visits to Detroit, where her husband is from originally.

“We decided to move to Detroit permanently and I started working for a non-profit. The biggest food bank in the south-east of Michigan called Gleaners Community Food Bank. I was involved in a program called Cooking Matters which empowered low-income earners and showed them how to make the most of their food budget.”

Through the program, Rohani noticed the lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables and this shocking reality sparked her need to learn more and research the issue. Rohani’s research led her to Kiki Louya, her business partner, who has a similar viewpoint and more importantly, was born and raised in Detroit with a deep-rooted understanding of the struggles involved with accessing fresh, quality food in the city growing up.

Together, the pair opened The Farmer’s Hand in 2016. It partners with local producers and farmers to bring fresh produce to Michigan residents. The success of the market has supported the opening of their very own restaurant, which employs people from all walks of life.

“We went from being a small team of just Kiki and I to now almost 20 staff members. And, while we’re not all women, we’re majority women, LGBTQ, non-identifiers, African-American, Asian, you name it.”

Rohani has immersed herself into the food industry and continues to be a strong advocate for a robust and healthy, sovereign food system in Detroit.

Too deadly Rohani. Thank you for sharing your story.

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