Talk to a Troublemaker: Livestream about Community Solar

Join the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition tomorrow, Tuesday (11/16) for the latest installment of Talk to a Troublemaker with the Work for Me, DTE crew! Michelle Jones, Mama Shu, and Layla Elabed will talk about community solar — and how its benefits, like healthier communities, lower bills, and stopping shutoffs, come directly from community control.

Layla & Michelle will shed light on the latest on DTE’s latest efforts to obstruct community solar,  and evade accountability for massive power outages this summer. Together, MEJC, Soulardarity, and We the People MI traveled to Lansing last month to testify at the House Energy Committee’s hearing on power outages. Chair Bellino — who, among 11 of the committee members, accepted $1000 from a DTE PAC within days of the hearing — denied us the chance to speak.

Bring your questions and perhaps, an end-of-day snack. You can join us via Zoom or tune in on Facebook Live.

PODCAST: Can COVID help us close gaps in Michigan’s food supply chain?

Reposted from Second Wave Michigan

LISTEN HERE

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on food insecurity and food systems. According to an estimate by Northwestern University, the pandemic more than doubled food insecurity in America, affecting nearly a quarter of all U.S. households last year. Here in Michigan, one and a quarter million people have received expanded emergency food assistance benefits during the pandemic. The pandemic opened many Michiganders’ eyes to food supply chain issues they’d never considered before. And while the darkest days of COVID-prompted food insecurity may be behind us, major gaps in Michigan’s food system remain.

Meghan McDermott, director of programs at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, discusses how we can draw from COVID’s lessons to continue strengthening Michigan’s food system in the long run. Meghan has helped spearhead multiple programs to address food insecurity in Northwest Michigan during the pandemic. We talked about the massive challenges COVID created for Northwest Michigan residents and farmers, and how we all can help to build a stronger, healthier food system in Michigan.

COVID-19 Vaccines Available to Children 5 to 11


The Kent County Health Department (KCHD) is currently taking appointments for the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for this age group. In addition, extended clinic hours at all locations will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 and Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 from 8 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. and from 12:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Appointments can be made for all three KCHD clinic locations during regular business hours by calling (616) 632-7200.

A parent or legal guardian is required to attend the vaccination appointment or send an attestation form with an adult who is at least 18 years old, stating they are legally allowed to sign on behalf of any minor child for the vaccine. This adult should be familiar with the medical history of the child.

“We are tremendously excited to be able to provide this next wave of vaccines to younger children,” says Mary Wisinski, KCHD Immunizations Supervisor. “We have seen an increase in the number of children being infected with COVID-19 since this summer. This vaccine not only protects them, but it will help slow the transmission of the disease in our community. Vaccinating just one child has the potential to save many lives.”

Like the adult version, this vaccine entails two shots of a vaccine, given at least three weeks apart. However, the dose is approximately a third of what adults received. Also, different packaging will be used to guard against mix-ups and smaller needles will likely be used.

Among its findings during clinical testing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the Pfizer vaccine was 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in children 5 to 11. The vaccine safety was studied in approximately 3,100 children aged 5 to 11 with no serious side effects detected in the ongoing study. Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in children ages 5 to 11.
El Departamento de Salud del Condado de Kent (Kent County Health Department) ofrecerá la vacuna contra el COVID-19 a niños de 5 a 11 años
El martes, los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) de EE. UU. autorizaron el uso de emergencia para la vacuna contra el COVID-19 desarrollada por Pfizer y su socio BioNTech a partir del viernes para los niños de 5 a 11 años.

Como resultado de este desarrollo, el Departamento de Salud del Condado de Kent (KCHD) actualmente está programando citas para la vacuna contra el COVID-19 de Pfizer BioNTech para este grupo etario. Además, todos los centros tendrán un horario extendido el martes 9 de noviembre y el martes 16 de noviembre de 2021 de 8 a. m. a 11:45 a. m. y de 12:45 p. m. a 6:45 p. m. Las citas pueden programarse para los tres centros del KCHD llamando al (616) 632-7200 durante el horario de atención habitual.

Se requiere que el padre, la madre o el tutor legal asista a la cita de vacunación o que envíe una certificación con un adulto de al menos 18 años de edad que indique que este cuenta con la autorización legal para firmar en nombre del menor para la vacuna. Este adulto debe estar familiarizado con los antecedentes médicos del menor.

“Nos complace enormemente poder ofrecer esta próxima ola de vacunas a los niños más pequeños”, expresó Mary Wisinski, supervisora de vacunación del KCHD. “Detectamos un aumento en la cantidad de niños infectados con COVID-19 desde este verano. Esta vacuna los protege a ellos y también ayudará a disminuir la transmisión de la enfermedad en nuestra comunidad. Vacunar a un solo niño tiene el potencial de salvar muchas vidas”.

Al igual que la versión para adultos, esta vacuna requiere dos dosis, que se administran con una diferencia de al menos tres semanas una de otra. Sin embargo, la dosis es aproximadamente un tercio de la dosis para adultos. Además, se utilizará un empaquetado diferente para evitar confusiones, así como es probable que se usen agujas más pequeñas.

Kent County Food Policy Council interview with Lisa Oliver-King published in The Rapidian.

Lisa Oliver-King, Director of Our Kitchen Table (OKT), shares her food experiences, more about OKT’s work and her vision for a more just, equitable food system in Kent County

Earlier this year, the Kent County Food Policy Council launched to strengthen and grow the food system in Kent County. As we build momentum, discuss, and prioritize issues, we are gathering information and engaging with our community through a project called Everybody Eats: Highlighting Food Experiences in Kent County. Through this project, we are inviting our community to share their experiences with our food system and highlight the good food work that is already happening here. 

Below is an interview with Lisa Oliver-King, Director of Our Kitchen Table (OKT), a grass-roots, nonprofit organization serving greater Grand Rapids. OKT promotes social justice and empowers our neighbors to improve their health and environment through information, community organizing and advocacy. Lisa was a formation team member of the Kent County Food Policy Council. Thank you, Lisa, for your good food work and sharing your thoughts with us!  

Tell me about your relationship with food. 

Lisa: My relationship with food has been built over time. As a child, my mother would prepare different meals for my siblings and I so that we could eat what we really wanted to eat, sometimes she would make each of us a different meal. During the holidays, my family would be up until 3 or 4 in the morning making everything from scratch. My family always really bonded over food. We also had hard times. At one point, the gas in our house was shut off for a week so we had ham in many different forms. Although we got tired of ham, we still ate. 

My family was always involved in every process of food: picking some of our own produce, going to get meat from a butcher, helping with preparation, cooking, and cleaning up before and after meals. These experiences gave me an appreciation for food.  

A big part of my relationship with food is connection. We use food in my family to release tension in difficult conversations. If there is something that my husband or my kids and I need to discuss, we will come to the kitchen table and set out blueberries or other snacks and use that as a buffer or comfort in our conversations. 

Food is so much more than something that we eat…we use it on our skin, we can drink it: it has a greater purpose than solely being consumed. And as I get older, I appreciate the earth more, I appreciate farmers more, I appreciate the importance of food subsidies more. 

In what way does your organization engage in the local food system? 

Lisa: Our Kitchen Table works with people who do not have a good relationship with food. We have to think about why that is and if there is anything that we can do to change that. We look at the whole entity: how food smells, the preparation, harvesting, growing, and cooking food. We try to walk people through every aspect of their relationship with food.  

We work to figure out what experience we can create. One of the ways that we do that is by providing people with a food garden coach and working with them to get past the initial obstacles in their relationship with food — whatever they may be. We help people work with the resources that they have. We ask: what do you have in your household? Is there an obstacle with electricity or gas? If there is, that’s okay because there are so many other options. I have worked with people who use their coffee makers to boil chicken. People who grill due to lack of access to electricity or gas. We work with the resources that they have and come up with creative solutions to educate people on how they can prepare food regardless of limitations. There is no one way, there is no right way. 

I have always thought about food as it relates to power. I have the power of selecting what I want to eat, which items I want to purchase, and how I prepare my food. I get to choose what goes into my body. Ultimately, we teach others about food power. 

If you were to design a food system rooted in equity, justice and sovereignty, where would you focus your attention and why? 

Lisa: I would focus my attention on ensuring that food is available in public spaces and that it is available to all. And looking at the issue of equity when it comes to availability. We need to come together and make sure that food is available for all; but also, some spaces may need more support. In those public spaces, we want things to be set up in a puzzle perspective: with charitable organizations, retail, areas where you can just go, and pick produce for free.

We have to ask: how do we create a diversification in the food space that meets the needs of the community at large? And with the promise of no stigma and no judgment. That when you access food, you make sure that others are accessing it without barriers as well. That would be my dream. 

Interview by: Nicole Kukla

COVID-19 Testing Site for Kent County School Staff & Students

Grand Rapids Public Schools–Kent County Health Department–Artic Medical Laboratories

Ken-O-Sha Park School Door B
1353 Van Auken St SE   
Grand Rapids, MI  49508

Good Afternoon Staff and Families,

Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kent County Health Department and Artic Medical Laboratories are partnering to provide COVID-19 testing for Kent County school staff and studentsat Ken O Sha Park Elementary(1353 Van Auken St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49508, Door B).  This testing is available to staff and students ONLY who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Monday, Wednesday, & Friday 12:00-2:30 pm by appointment beginning October 25, 2021.

 Common symptoms associated with COVID-19 include: 
 Temperature 100.4 degrees F or higher OR feels warm to touch. New cough or change in cough. Shortness of breath. Loss of taste or smell  Sore throat. Body aches. Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Severe headache. Extreme Tiredness. Congestion or runny nose 

Step 1: Schedule your appointment here:  COVID testing site scheduler (you are welcome to sign up at the most convenient location through this scheduler).

Step 2: Complete the registration paperwork for your appointment using this link or QR code: COVID testing registration information.

Upon arrival at Ken O Sha, please pull up under the canopy along the southeast side of the building outside DOOR B (the former preschool) and remain in your vehicle. Arctic Lab staff will bring the testing supplies out to your vehicle.  This is a Saliva PCR test which will be sent to a laboratory to determine if COVID is detected.  To take this test, you cannot eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum for a ½ hour before the test so please refrain from doing so for 30 minutes prior to your appointment.

Test results will be texted or emailed using the information you provide in the registration link.

For more information follow this link: School Laboratory Partnership
For questions about your returned test results, call the Arctic Medical Labs
Customer Support line @ 616.747.0307

Learn More about COVID-19 Youth Vaccinations 

Parent University and the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute have partnered to present GRPS caregivers an opportunity to receive non-bias information about the Covid-19 Youth Vaccination.

If you have any questions, please contact the F.A.C.E. office at 616.819.1977 or parentengagement@grps.org.
 
To attend the morning session, CLICK HERE
To attend the evening session, CLICK HERE

Grand Rapids students invited to write about and celebrate the life of Rosa Parks

Annual contest offers prizes up to $500 Rosa Parks Essay Contest image

As part of their mission to provide continuing education on the impact that Rosa Parks had on this nation, the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission (CRC) and the Office of Equity and Engagement are once again hosting the Rosa Parks Essay Writing Contest. Students in grades 6-12 attending a school in Grand Rapids are encouraged to write an essay and reflect on this year’s prompt:

“Healing Without Hate.” There will never be a time in American history where the heroism of Rosa Parks will be forgotten. Although she did not plan to become a hero, her heroic actions helped this nation fight racism and hate while creating pathways to healing. How will you practice acts of healing to combat injustices and inequities to keep the legacy of Rosa Parks alive? 

Winning student authors will be awarded $500-first place, $300-second place and $200-third place prizes for each group (6-8 grade, 9-10 grade and 11-12 grade).

Essay submissions are due October 21 via crc@grcity.us or must be postmarked by that date. The winning essays will be announced at 3 p.m. December 2 at Grand Rapids City Hall, City Commission Chambers, 9th Floor, 300 Monroe NW, Grand Rapids. For more details visit https://bit.ly/GREQUITY.

December 1 marks the 66th anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2010, the City of Grand Rapids dedicated a sculpture to honor the life of this brave woman who changed American society in a monumental way. The bronze monument standing at the entrance of Rosa Parks Circle, 135 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, is a message to those who continue her work, uphold her philosophy, and demonstrate dignity with the pride and courage with perseverance.

Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next weeks. Here is the conclusion, part seven. Read the full paper here.

Cooperatives and Community-Based Organizations

Blacks have farmed in America for four centuries, yet for that entire time, they have struggled to own and retain farmland. This is the case because a variety of institutional mechanisms were used to restrict black landownership. Moreover, once blacks gained ownership of farmland, systematic discrimination by government and non-governmental sources precipitated land loss. Discrimination took several forms, namely separate and unequal policies and services, segregation, isolation, inadequate resources, forcing blacks to live in hazardous places. In response, blacks have founded several institutions to help ameliorate their situation.

For more than a century, blacks have used the cooperative model to help them retain farmland. Today, cooperatives still play important roles in farm preservation and vitality in the black community. In this vein, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives has been working with more than 25,000 low-income families in more than 100 communities throughout the South. In 1993 and 1994 alone, the multi-racial organization helped 200 families retain 17,500 acres of land they would have lost otherwise (Zippert 2002; Merem 2006, pp. 88–92). Another organization, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, is working with families to educate them about heirs’ property and to help them navigate the legal hurdles involved in resolving the issues arising with such property (Southern Coalition for Social Justice, 2009).

Other organizations focused on preventing land loss have emerged. Foremost among them, the Land Loss Prevention Project, founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, provides support to financially distressed farmers in the state and elsewhere. The group provides legal help, as well as help with policy making and promoting sustainable agricultural practices. They have provided technical assistance and legal support to more than 20,000 people (Land Loss Prevention Project 2009).

Another organization, the Black Family Land Trust, was founded in North Carolina in 2004 with the mission of combining traditional land trust tools with community economic development to help preserve black farms. It is a coalition of advocacy groups working on the preservation of black landownership that includes the Land Loss Prevention Project and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (Black Family Land Trust 2002). Other groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus have helped black farmers by sponsoring and supporting legislation in Congress. The Rural Coalition and the National Family Farm Coalition have also been involved in initiatives to prevent the loss of farmland amongst blacks.

The USDA was not alone in its treatment of blacks. Discriminatory actions in the USDA mirror those of other federal and local agencies charged with housing and financing, education, and general welfare. The fear of racial mixing and opposition to racial equality drove agency personnel to segregate farms and deliver inadequate financing and resources to blacks. This was similar to the way housing agencies segregated urban and suburban communities and either denied credit or influenced banks to withhold credit from blacks (Taylor 2014). Education departments denied blacks the right to equal education when they segregated schools also.

Heritage Tourism and Historic Preservation

In response, some black communities and black land owners have been exploring the idea of using heritage tourism and historic preservation as mechanisms for protecting black land ownership. The Penn Center located on St. Helena Island, South Carolina offers an example of a rural site that uses black heritage as the cornerstone of its farm-based preservation efforts. The Penn Center preserves its land, waterfront, trails, the Gullah language spoken by slaves, crops planted by them, the culture of the Gullah people, its historic school house built by freed slaves, museum, art, as well as its famed conference center and dorms that served as the meeting place for civil rights activists (Penn School 2017). The 40-acre Freewoods Farm, located in Burgess (Myrtle Beach), South Carolina replicates life on a nineteenth century animal-powered African American farm. Freewoods has a museum, wetlands preserve, and a main street (Freewoods Farm 2017). The 500-acre Smith Family Farm Park, located in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, relies on visits by black recreationers to supplement their farm income. The farm has been in the family for three generation and the five Smith brothers grow grain, raise cattle, and propagate fish in aquaculture ponds. They have converted 41 acres of the farm into a recreational park that is used primarily by black visitors for family reunions, horseback riding, and motorcycle club gatherings. The 14-acre catfish pond, horse trails, and all-terrain vehicle trails are popular (Freeman and Taylor 2010, pp. 267–268).

Responses in Michigan

There are efforts underway in Michigan to preserve black farming traditions. The Michigan Food and Farming SystemsFootnote16 Women in Agriculture program in Genesee County runs a 3-acre farm that trains blacks and women of many racial and ethnic backgrounds to become farmers. Earthworks Urban Farm collaborates with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen to train aspiring black agriculturalists on their 2.5-acre farm in Detroit (Boehm 2017).

Black-operated farms such as D-Town Farm also train black youths and community members to farm. D-Town is a combination farm and food-buying cooperative operated by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (White 20102011a; Yakini 20102013; Taylor 20002014; Taylor and Ard 2015).

The Southeast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA) is a cooperative located in Sumpter Township that serves small- to medium-sized farms. Most of the members are black and they live in the Detroit to Ann Arbor corridor of the state. They aggregate their produce, certify, and market black farmers to help them gain access to urban markets, and schools in the area. The cooperative also seeks to reduce land loss among black farmers. There are about 50 black farmers in the region covered by SEMPA (Boehm 2017; Michigan Public Radio 2012; Barry 2013). SEMPA collaborates with black farms, CanStrong Food Service Management, and the state’s Farm-to-School Program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local schools (Tell Us USA News Network 2015).

The relationships forged between southern black cooperatives, Michigan’s black farmers, and Detroit’s consumers still endure. However, these relationships require further study to assess their future viability. This is particularly true since the city now has a robust urban agriculture sector. To strengthen their economic position, Michigan’s black farmers need to continue seeking new outlets for their produce.

They could look beyond Detroit to other cities within Michigan or to neighboring states. Black farmers can also expand their Farm-to-School operations and develop partnerships with restaurants, hospitals, and colleges and universities, etc. Black farmers in Michigan and around the country have adapted to changing social, political, and economic conditions in the past. They are taking steps to help them survive in the current agricultural climate.

New coalition aims to support Black farmers in Ypsilanti and throughout Washtenaw County

By Sarah Rigg, Reposted from Second Wave Michigan

“Look at the current food system. It’s working the way it’s designed, and it was designed to be inequitable,” says coalition leader Keesa Johnson, who is also the racial equity chair for the Washtenaw Food Policy Council. “You can trace every oppression known to man back to food, because food is the first economy.”
Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund coalition leader Keesa Johnson.
Besides Johnson, the coalition is made up of local farmers, nonprofit leaders, and community members: Growing Hope Executive Director Cynthia VanRenterghem and Program Director Julius Buzzard; Willow Run Acres founder TC Collins; Argus Farm Stop owner Kathy Sample; We the People Opportunity Farm founder Melvin Parson; 2Marines co-founder Josh McAllister; Old City Acres founder Alexander Ball; Fair Food Network Investor Relations Officer Lolita Nunn; Michigan State University Extension Washtenaw County Food Systems Coordinator Jae Gerhart; and designer Larrea Young.

A project called the Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund (WCBFF) is aiming to make farming more equitable across the county, particularly in the greater Ypsilanti area.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 1% of farmers in the United States are Black, and just 0.1% of a 2020 COVID-19 assistance package for farmers went to farmers of color. That’s just one example of inequity in agriculture.

The coalition’s first goal is to raise $50,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help Black farmers acquire land, pay down debt, buy equipment, improve farm infrastructure, and cover operational costs. As of late September, the campaign had raised a little over $40,000 of that total. Once the initial round of fundraising is over on Oct. 8, a committee will be formed and an application process designed so that five to 10 Black farmers can apply for assistance.

Nunn says FFN’s mission is “creating health and wealth through food,” and the Fair Food Fund is already investing in Black, Indigenous, people of color-owned and women-owned food businesses.

“We’re an organization that has an investment in supporting underserved and marginalized communities, so it was a no-brainer to be part of the Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund,” Nunn says. “This is an opportunity where we can align our organizational goals to support community goals.”

Coalition member TC Collins says farming can get expensive, especially when there’s a flood, as happened to many farmers in Washtenaw County this summer.

“We lost 90% of our crops twice this year, and that was a big hit,” he says. He also had to pay for farm vehicles, as one was vandalized and stolen and another had the engine go out. “We’re still making it work, growing and harvesting produce, and collecting seeds for next year.”
Willow Run Acres founder TC Collins.
But while flooding affected a variety of farmers in the county, other barriers are unique for farmers of color. 

“There are severe issues with redlining and digital redlining,” Johnson says. 

Redlining is a discriminatory practice that denies real estate, financial, and other services to people based on race or ethnicity. Digital redlining, she says, takes those biases online.

“Digital redlining affects what you see in your [social media] stream,” she says. 

Black entrepreneurs, including farmers, may hesitate to have their name or photo associated with their business page, for instance, out of fear that conscious and unconscious biases will affect how much and what sort of support they’re given.

Buzzard says the Black community may also experience psychological barriers that keep them from pursuing a career in agriculture.

“I think that to feel any sort of real welcome or connection with the land, because of our history within this country, is a barrier for a lot of Black folks,” he says. “Specifically, think of slavery. There’s a stigma to having a relationship with the land, or it’s felt to be not a space for people who look like us.”
Growing Hope Program Coordinator Julius Buzzard.
Buzzard says the WCBFF was a natural fit for Growing Hope because of the focus on overcoming barriers.

“Growing Hope puts a high value on justice and equality, and has a recognition that racism plays a clear part in the food system, specifically with land accessibility,” Buzzard says. “[This program] has a strong tie to our mission and desire to create a more equitable food system in Washtenaw County and specifically in Ypsilanti.”

McAllister says paperwork, red tape, and faulty communication can also create barriers for farmers, especially farmers of color.

“I went to apply to the USDA for funds, and they asked if I had two years of business taxes to show them. And I’d only started up three years ago,” he says. “No one seems to know that if you don’t have a record of business taxes, and you’re trying to start some sort of business in farming, you can’t pull funds from the USDA. It’s about a lack of communication.”

McAllister’s nonprofit, 2Marines, helps former military personnel reintegrate into civilian life and find affordable housing. McAllister would like to use his connections within the WCBFF program to find places for those veterans to volunteer as well.

McAllister says he sees some nonprofits, like Collins’ Willow Run Acres, struggle with a lack of volunteers, while veterans need to build “soft skills” that will help them in civilian jobs. He’d like to connect the two.
2Marines co-founder Josh McAllister.
“I’m an urban farmer. That’s my area of expertise, so that’s why I’m deploying my veterans into Growing Hope and We the People and Willow Run Acres,” McAllister says. 

Collins says he feels a personal connection to the mission of the WCBFF.

“There are not a lot of African-American farmers in Washtenaw County in general. I’m a sixth-generation farmer, and my sons and grandchildren would be seventh- and eighth-generation. I’m trying to keep our legacy, our family line, alive,” he says. 

Collins notes that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed problems with the food system and encouraged people to start pursuing hobbies like growing and preserving their own food. He thinks that’s a good thing.

“The pandemic was a lesson for our community and all communities to start growing our own food again, to start preserving and canning – not so much from a survivalist standpoint, but because agriculture is part of our roots,” Collins says.

More information about the WCBFF is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.