Southeast Area Farmers’ Market opens June 19

IMG_5084The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market kicks off its 2015 season on Friday June 19, 3 – 7 p.m.,  at Garfield Park, 334 Burton St. SE. and Saturday June 20, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Gerald R Ford Academic Center, 851 Madison SE. The market is managed by Our Kitchen Table (OKT). The market warmly welcomes patrons using Bridge cards (SNAP), Double Up Food Bucks ,WIC Project Fresh, Cash Value Benefits, Summer EBT and debit cards.

As part of a Fair Food Network pilot project and in cooperation with the Kent County Health Department, OKT has been signing people up for the Double Up Food Bucks program. Patrons purchasing Michigan produce at select farmers’ markets with Bridge cards receive $1 for each $1 dollar spent, up to $20 each market visit.

The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market has an exciting line-up of market activities on its 2015 calendar. In addition, community organizations will be on hand with information, activities and services. The following events will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Friday market and 12 to 2 p.m. at the Saturday market:

Cooking Demos: June 26, 27, July 24, 25, Aug. 21, 22, Sept. 26, Oct. 24 and Nov. 7.

  • seafm logoJune 27 Summer Celebration DJ & fun activities
  • July 10 & 11 Urban Foraging Workshop
  • July 31 & Aug.1 Make Your Own Personal Care Items Workshop
  • Sept. 5 Urban Foraging Workshop
  • Sept. 19 Art at the Market
  • Oct. 10 Greens Cook-off & Fried Green Tomato Festival
  • Oct. 17 World Food Day Activities
  • Oct. 31 Fall Celebration

The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market is sponsored by Kent County Health Department, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council & OKT, market managers.

OKT gardens are growing!

OKT has distributed the thousands of heirloom food plants grown at Blandford Farm. Approximately 40 households are doing OKT gardens at their homes this year. In addition to providing each household with a grub box of nearly 40 food and herb plants, OKT also brings them containers or raised beds and organic soil–all at no charge. Also, each household has an assigned OKT garden coach who meets with them every week to ensure their garden thrives. OKT is also contributing plants and know-how to many school, agency and community gardens.

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Thomas Street Neighborhood Garden plans orchard with Friends of GR Parks grant

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks offers mini-grants to neighborhoods and individuals to increase Grand Rapids’ tree canopy and engage citizens in caring for mature trees.
Thomas Street Neighborhood Garden choose apple, pear, cherry, plum, peach, and apricot trees for their mini orchard.

Courtesy of Jack Amick

Thomas Street Neighborhood Garden choose apple, pear, cherry, plum, peach, and apricot trees for their mini orchard.

Grand Rapids will be increasing its tree count to the delight of both neighbors on Thomas Street and those at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks working to see the city’s tree canopy grow. The new Thomas Street Community Garden is receiving six fruit trees through a mini-grant from the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

Sarah Scott, a member of the Baxter Community, was dreaming about adding some dwarf fruit trees to the new garden for shade and community at a neighborhood meeting.

“We liked the idea of fruit trees on the land because our neighborhood has often been overlooked, and we have not had a good way to connect with each other on our block. I have a fruit tree in my front yard, which is a few doors down from the garden space, and I’ve spent a lot of time in my own yard talking to neighbors, picking and eating fruit together. Our group thought fruit trees on our garden land would be great for teaching each other how to take care of the trees, while picking and harvesting and connecting with one another while doing so,” says Scott.

Scott mentioned saving up for the trees herself to Anna Green, who works at Baxter Community Center greenhouse. Green referred her to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks for their mini-grant program for just such projects.

Scott’s process was as simple as going to their Urban Forest Project website and filling out the mini-grant application form.

“We serve as a resource for other neighborhood groups and individuals. Our goal is to keep it as open and available as possible so neighborhoods can come to us with great projects they already support. Our matching program is pretty easy to do and includes contributions through volunteer hours, donations, or in-kind gifts,” says Steve Faber, executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

Scott’s experience, she says, proved to be easy.

“The process was incredibly user-friendly and easy,” says Scott. “The mini-grants are only two pages long, and most is just basic info about the intent of the tree planting you would like to do. I asked the Thomas Street group for feedback and hand-wrote the grant in 20 minutes. They followed up with a call and a site visit, both of which were quick and easy. It’s clear that Friends of GR Parks wants this money to be accessible to groups and projects, and not make us jump through lots of red tape.”

Faber says the goal is to “get a project done.”

“We work with them to facilitate what needs to happen,” he says. “It’s long-term thinking of long-term survival, so we not only work to get new trees in, but focus on caring for the trees as they grow as well.”

Faber also notes that as Grand Rapids works to return to a 40 percent tree canopy, caring for mature trees is also very important.

“Mini-orchards help people identify with trees and begin to care about the trees around them. We need this because part of our goal is to preserve and protect what is already there. We must preserve the old, big trees to make it to the 40 percent goal,” he says. “We can plant trees all day, but if the big trees die, it’s decades to replace their spot in the canopy.”

The mini-orchard at the Thomas Street Community Garden will be joining this canopy soon.

“We are in the process of obtaining six semi-dwarf, self-pollinating fruit trees from Flowerland, which are grown in Michigan. Our neighborhood group decided on cherry, apple, plum, peach, pear and apricot trees. Five of the trees will be planted at the back of the garden, so as not to overshade the raised beds we will be putting in with the help of Baxter neighborhood and generous donations of neighbors. One tree will be closer to the front of the land and we hope to have a picnic table under it, for shade from the more intense growing months,” says Scott.

For more resources on caring for existing trees, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has a list here.

For those thinking of planting mini-orchards in their community gardens, Faber encourages them to apply now for the fall planting season. This season is already full, and spring trees were ordered in February. There’s still room in the fall planting season, which is two months long. Interested people can apply here.

Applications are due by August 15 for fall tree planting.

OKT co-sponsored chestnut tree planting at Alexander Park

alexanderOn Saturday Nov. 1, Our Kitchen Table’s urban forester, Laura Casaletto, joined a group of volunteers from Friends of Grand Rapids Parks in planting chestnut trees at Alexander Park. Laura shares, ” In a neglected and devalued street of Grand Rapids once thriving with it’s own grocery and large stately homes, Alexander Park took shape years ago when long term residents advocated to gain a public space cobbled together out of the abandoned properties. Now this peaceful play space has a mini orchard of fruit and nut trees. A dozen volunteers showed up to support the beginnings of a permaculture designed to benefit neighbors in years to come with little maintenance. Our Kitchen Table and Yesterdog worked together to feed the cold and hungry crew a good lunch afterwards and hear the latest news about edible chestnuts, urban foraging and sustainable living–and to make some new friends. Long live trees! Long live the feisty spirit of the Alexander residents!”

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The last slide shows  the one-year-old  fruit trees planted at Martin Luther King Park. Last year, they took  a heavy toll of vandalism damage. This year, a beautiful dedication sign was installed and  made all the difference.

Beyond Eating Local: OKT’s Food Justice Class begins this Saturday

storyimages_1323208706_img3894For the better part of a decade, people in West Michigan have been excited about and explored the importance of eating local and eating organic.

The idea of eating local in many ways is very mainstream. There are more Farmers Markets now than there were 10 years ago and greater interesting in people growing at least some of their own food.

However, for those of us who embrace the principles of food justice and try to learn from the international movement, eating local is not enough. Not only is eating local not enough, what we see happening over and over again is that the local “food movement” continues to operate within the narrow confines of the market economy, thus limiting the real possibilities of creating food justice that leads to food sovereignty.

The OKT class on Food Justice is designed to critically engage participants in a much deeper conversation about the food system and how we practice food justice. The five week sessions will cover the following topics:

  • tomato justiceUnderstanding the current food system
  • Exploring the principles and origin of food justice
  • Investigating how Food Justice is linked to other justice movements
  • How to practice Food Justice, especially in West MI

The class format is mostly discussion, with lots of information presented that can be accessed online. Participation is not limited to being able to attend all 5 sessions, but attending at least three is important for continuity.

The classes are free and people can just show up or let us know by contacting Our Kitchen Table at

Cook, Eat & Talk Saturday Nov. 1: Pumpkin power!

Cook Eat & Talk:
Preparing and preserving pumpkin seeds and puree
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Nov. 1, 2014
Sherman Street Church kitchen
1000 Sherman St. SE 49506

One of the first cultivated foods of the Americas, pumpkins were a staple food in Oaxaca (Mexico) as early as 8750 BC—long before corn or beans. By 2700 BC, they had spread to the eastern United States .The Pueblo, Apaches, Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, Papago, Pima and Yuman all counted on the pumpkin’s flesh and seeds as a staple food. They roasted the seeds and ate them with chili powder or mixed with fruits and nuts. As for the flesh, they roasted, dried or boiled it. Mashed boiled pumpkin was mixed with batter or syrup or used to thicken soup. Dried pumpkin was sliced into rings and hung in storerooms for winter. Another historical pumpkin tidbit, resourceful African American slaves who were afforded few cooking utensils used carved out pumpkins and other squash as cooking pots.

From the Americas, pumpkins spread to Eastern Europe, India, Asia and the Mediterranean, where pumpkin seeds became a standard part of everyday cuisine and medical traditions. According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite food was pumpkin. Jack O’ Lanterns, carved from pumpkins, are a Halloween tradition linked to the Christian celebration of All Souls Day, initiated by the Irish. Today, Michigan is one of the top pumpkin producing states.

Pumpkin flesh is low in fat and rich in nutrients. One cup of cooked pumpkin provides three grams of fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, C and E—200% of your daily requirement of vitamin A (for healthy eyes). It also provides carotenoids, which can help lower your risk for cancer. Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) have anti‐microbial benefits, including anti‐fungal and antiviral properties. So, they are a great snack during the cold and flu season. Studies have shown pumpkin seeds may improve insulin regulation and help kidney function.

This Saturday, Nov. 1, OKT cooking coach, Toni Scott, and garden coach, Camilla Voelker, will share how to prepare and preserve pumpkin seeds and pumpkin puree. Cook, Eat & Talk It takes place from 10 a.m. to noon at Sherman Street Church kitchen, 1000 Sherman St. SE. .