New York Times article giddy over downtown GR market

Reposted from

Yesterday, the New York Times published a story about the market in downtown Grand Rapids, which is currently under construction.

The NYTs piece does what most local news coverage has done with this story so far, presented it as a wonderful thing. The Times piece talks about public/private partnerships, the benevolence of local philanthropists, the growing local food interest and how the market is one piece in the ongoing development of downtown Grand Rapids.

The only sources cited in the article are David Frey, a member of Grand Action, the entity that made the proposal; a representative from Rockford Construction, which is the primary construction company on this project; and the person who was hired to manage the market.

Excluded from the article are voices and perspectives that see this project through a much different lens.

For example, Our Kitchen Table, a local grassroots group working on food justice, had this to say about the New York Times article:

While it’s nice to see Grand Rapids receive national recognition, access to fresh, nutritious food in Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods remains a privilege reserved for those who can afford higher prices and transportation outside of the city’s food desserts. Our Kitchen Table works to address this injustice through food gardening programs and the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market. However, as government policies do not favor the small farmer, we have a hard time finding vendors who can afford the small returns our market brings them. In addition, existing philanthropic efforts to feed the hungry more often fill bellies with low-nutrient, high sugar, processed foods that only exacerbate medical issues caused by malnutrition: obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and behavioral problems. While food industry donors get write offs, lower income families are written off. Furthermore, we do not believe the new Downtown Market will do anything to improve access to healthy foods for the Grand Rapids families who need it most.

Such a statement speaks to why this blog have been critical of the proposal from the beginning. We pointed out in an April 2010 article that the project was not just a farmers market, but a larger food complex that will serve an upscale population. InMay of 2010, we posted a second article that provided a summary from a meeting where area residents and food activists raised questions about the proposal, stating that many who live in the Heartside area and south and south east of the market site were not included in any discussions about the project.

The project was approved despite the lack of public input and since then has been receiving millions of dollars in public funding. Is this what is meant is meant by public private partnership? The private sector benefits, while the public foots the bill?

We reported in a December 2011 article that the amount of public funds for this project are substantial. The Michigan Economic Growth Authority (public money) gave the project a $4.5 million grant, the DEQ (public money) gave a $1 million grant for demolishing the previous building on site and the DDA (public money) has also provided the project with over $1 million and is committing an additional $75,000 annually for the next 20 years.

Imagine if that kind of monetary commitment was given to groups like Our Kitchen Table, we might actually be able to eliminate malnourishment in Grand Rapids. Too bad that is not anywhere near the goal of the soon to be open downtown market.