The Rapidian: “Local market creates access to fresh food in urban neighborhood”

Reposted from The Rapidian. By Nicholas Garbaty

Locally grown food sits on a vendors table at the South East Area Farmer’s Market /Nicholas Garbaty

The Southeast Area Farmer’s Market, run by Our Kitchen Table, sells locally-cultivated produce and goods in the southeast community of Grand Rapids. It aims to foster social justice, with the market as just one area in which that mission is lived out.

Blending groceries with a cause, the Southeast Area Farmer’s Market brings together local vendors and produce to help make natural food more accessible to the area. Located at Garfield Park (2111 Madison SE) on Fridays and the Gerald R. Ford Academic Center (851 Madison Ave SE)on Saturdays during the summer, the market is currently managed by Our Kitchen Table (OKT), a grassroots nonprofit organization that works with the communities of Grand Rapids to sustain healthy living and social justice.

The market started out as a collaboration between the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council and the Kent County Health Department 11 years ago. Since then, the main management of the market has shifted to OKT, but the goal remains the same.

“This market matters because it’s about addressing that we need to be here no matter what,” says Lisa Oliver-King, executive director of OKT. “It is supported by a community of color saying that they want to see food system change in their neighborhood.”

Most of the food sold at the market comes from urban farms within the area, none of which is out of season, according to Christina Flier, the market manager for OKT. Flier, along with other members of her community, helps out at the Thomas Street Community Garden in the Baxter neighborhood, which in turn sells its produce to the market.

“We all have a passion and our main passion is that everybody has access to food,” Flier says. “There aren’t a lot of grocery stores around here that you can go to and get fresh produce, so making that available to people is our main purpose.”

Though smaller in size, the market offers a range of products, from vegetables and fruits to spices and tea leaves. The type of food and the vendors change weekly, so each week offers a slightly different selection than the last.

Roscoe Price, an 87-year-old vendor, sells cherries, peaches and corn as well as J.R. Watkinsproducts. He’s sold the Watkins products alone for more than 30 years.

“We are the oldest direct-selling vendor in the USA,” Price says. “You go to the store, you won’t get the same results.”

Another vendor and member of OKT, Laura Casaletto, sells foraged materials, such as different grasses, leaves and berries, for use as tea ingredients. To her, great food can be easy to find if one knows just for what and where to look.

“There are things for you to eat everywhere,” she says. “I sell things to chefs in restaurants who’ll pay $40 a pound for stuff that is growing right [in my yard].”

Casaletto teaches foraging classes and engages in other projects with OKT, like the extension of bike lanes and planting of fruit trees in parks, to help educate and improve the community.

The market emphasizes the people of southeast Grand Rapids, but it has drawn in and welcomes people from outside the area, too.

“We’ve had constituents from East Grand Rapids, Caledonia, Wyoming, northeast and northwest Grand Rapids,” Oliver-King says. “We have had patrons from people who just drive by and see our yellow tents. They stop to see what we have and they come back.”

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