Weigh in on Urban Ag at the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market Saturday

grSoutheast Area Farmer’s Market
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Oct. 27
MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller Ave. SE

Bridge Cards, Double Up Food Bucks and WIC Welcome!

The City of Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee wants to know your thoughts about urban agriculture. Come to the market Saturday and let them know what you think. OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King is on the committee. Some questions that she and Our Kitchen Table is asking include:

  • Should zoning ordinances be changed to support urban farms? If they are, who should operate them? City residents and small, local farmers, or high-powered agricultural industrialists looking for investment opportunities?
  • Who should eat the food? Neighborhood residents with little access to healthy whole foods or the clientele of high-end restaurants?
  • How will urban ag projects will impact the neighborhoods where they operate? Will they support the existing residential community or hasten gentrification and higher housing costs?

“School gardens, urban farms, [and] composting and educational initiatives have tremendous potential for shaping a city’s fabric,” says Levi Gardner, Urban Ag committee chair. “Through this community engagement process, we hope to better understand how these initiatives and many others like them fit into our growing city. While we are benchmarking against other cities in this process; we are welcoming Grand Rapids residents to voice their ideas, questions, and concerns about this work.”


Expired Farm Bill Bad for Farmers Markets & Farmers

unnamed (4)Reposted from Farmers Market Coalition

Farmers, agriculture organizations, and local food advocates across the country have spent the past year fighting for a farm bill that’s supportive of farmers markets, the 2014 Farm Bill expired on October 1st with no replacement and no extension in sight. With midterm elections looming, and the House now on recess until after the midterms, it seems unlikely that any progress will be made before congress reconvenes for the lame duck session in November.

Unfortunately, even that timeline may be optimistic as some members of Congress have speculated that there may not be the political will to get a bill done during a lame duck session. This is an incredibly disappointing — if not deeply concerning — outcome for two reasons:

Over the course of the farm bill’s history, this is only the second time it has expired without a new bill in place (note: When the farm bill expired for the first time October 1, 2012, an extension quickly passed in December of that year, but a new bill wasn’t finalized until 2014). The increasingly partisan nature of Congress has now once again stymied what used to be a very bipartisan process.

Letting the farm bill lapse with no extension on the foreseeable horizon puts critical programs for farmers and farmers markets in jeopardy at a time when farmers are particularly vulnerable.While grants already awarded through the Farmers Market & Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), and other federal programs will remain operational, no new grants can be awarded until Congress passes new legislation. Congress must either pass a new farm bill or pass language that authorizes funding for FMLFPP and FINI and eight other related programs, collectively known as the “Tiny But Mighty” programs.

Congress should pass a new farm bill, incorporating the Senate’s Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) before the end of the year. Absent that, Congress must pass an extension that provides funding for the “Tiny But Mighty” programs — otherwise these successful programs would cease to operate.

What can you do?

First, contact your members of Congress today, and tell them the time for delay is over; farmers need a farm bill now.

Second, remember this is an election year. Show up to town halls and campaign rallies in your area, speak up in your support of farmers markets, and vote!

Food Access in Michigan Project launches website


Percent of food insecure* households in Michigan

The Food Access in Michigan (FAIM) Project has launched its website – – highlighting the systemic challenges in addressing food insecurity while seeking to support regional food systems that strengthen local communities across the state.

The FAIM Project is a USDA-funded study rooted in an environmental justice framework examining food access and food insecurity in Michigan. Primarily housed within the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, the multi-disciplinary research team is a collaboration across co-investigators from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Michigan-Flint, Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, Lake Superior State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One in 7 people are food insecure in Michigan, while state also has a growing local food economy, with agriculture making up the second largest industry in Michigan. The goal of the FAIM project is to develop strategies for fostering vibrant, food secure communities that are rooted in principles of justice and equity for everyone along the food chain.

The FAIM Project website shares current research on food insecurity and food access, the challenges facing small farmers across Michigan, a database of policies that support food access and local food economies, interactive maps and spatial analysis of the future potential for Michigan’s agricultural land, illustrations of the ways food retailers shape people’s daily experiences with food, as well as highlighting the work of FAIM Project community partners endeavoring to engage their communities in growing food through a variety of urban agriculture initiatives.

The FAIM Project team hopes the website will serve as a resource for researchers, activists, and community members working to address food insecurity; for food retailers and farmers, whose daily work enriches all our lives; and for public health & emergency food assistance professionals, and truly anyone interested in working to create a more just and equitable food system across Michigan.

To learn more about the FAIM Project please visit:

To connect with the FAIM Project team, please email:

Farm bill developments further food assistance stigma by including work requirements and diet education

OKT would like to point out that the developing farm bill further stigmatizes people receiving food assistance by including work requirements and education stipulations. These imply that the reason for hunger and under-nutrition is that people are unwilling to work and/or unable to make smart food choices. In fact, the problem is lack of  employment opportunities that pay a living wage and limited access to healthy foods within income-challenged neighborhoods. –Editor

GetStoredImageAugust Update:
2018 Farm Bill
Nutrition Programs

By: Grace Michienzi

Back in June, the Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill with a bipartisan 86-11 vote, according to the Washington Post (Dewey and Werner). This followed the partisan passing of the House of Representatives version of the Farm Bill, which had no support of the Democratic Party, primarily because of its “strict work requirements on able-bodied adults” seeking SNAP participation (Dewey and Werner). According to the Congressional Calendar, both the House and the Senate are currently in August recess, however, with the September 30 deadline approaching, the work on the Farm Bill is not over (“Days”).

According to Politico, the Senate voted to conference the Farm Bill on July 31 (Rodriguez). This is because, now that both parts of Congress have passed their versions of the Farm Bill, the House and the Senate have to come together to conference their bills and will end up with one bill that will pass both houses by the September 30 deadline. Senator Mitch McConnell is hopeful that conferees from the House and the Senate will produce a report after Labor Day, according to Politico (Rodriguez). According to the article, the changes to work requirements and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will likely be the biggest cause for debate, both between the two parties and between the House and the Senate (Rodriguez).

Some are speculating why the focus of the Nutrition Programs has even been on work requirements. According to The Hill, the work requirements have been a large part of the bipartisan debate in the House and the Senate, however, the proposed changes would only affect a “relatively small percentage of SNAP recipients” (Glickman et al). The writers suggest that the actual conversation should be about diet, citing research done at Tufts University that presents that SNAP recipients have a lower quality diet than income-eligible non-participants (Glickman et al). The editorial argues that amending funding that goes to SNAP-ed, a program that aims to educate SNAP recipients on nutrition, will “make SNAP even more effective for those it serves—and a better use of the public’s money” (Glickman et al).

According to SNAP-Ed Connection, Michigan’s Implementing Agencies of SNAP-Ed are Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Nutrition Network – Michigan Fitness Foundation (“State”). According to the writers at The Hill, there has never been a more important time for the debate about Nutrition to refocus, however, it is unlikely that the debate will change this late in the year (Glickman et al).


Works Cited

“Days in Session of the U.S. Congress.” Congress.Gov, Library of Congress, United States

Copyright Office,

Dewey, Caitlin, and Erica Werner. “Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Sweeping Farm Bill,

Setting up Fight with House.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 June 2018,

Glickman, Dan, et al. “Focusing on Nutrition Is Paramount to Getting a Sound, Bipartisan

Farm Bill Out.” The Hill, Capitol Hill Publishing Corporation, 10 Aug. 2018,

Rodriguez, Sabrina. “Senate Finally Votes to Conference Farm Bill.” Politico, POLITICO, 1

Aug. 2018,

“State SNAP-Ed Contacts: Michigan.” SNAP-Ed Connection, United States Department of

Agriculture, 6 Aug. 2018,

Negotiations for white space: Quest to enact robust human rights ordinance in Grand Rapids

Reposted from The Rapidian. By Lyonel Lagrone, 7/17/18 11:40am, Place Matters.

Grand Rapids

To gain true equality in Grand Rapids a new municipal vision of belonging must be imagined. A belonging that allows black and brown bodies to speak into the formation and reconfiguration of policies that actually protect them from illegal discrimination.

The fungible nature of basic citizen rights afforded to minorities in Grand Rapids has been the impetus for the racial tension for quite some time now. Discrimination is clearly a national problem and not unique to Grand Rapids. Nevertheless, one of the most profound enclosures of black and brown access to economic opportunity, housing and public accommodation in the United States is in the City of Grand Rapids.

For over a year now, I have been involved in individual and collective conversations about the state of race relations in the City of Grand Rapids. It has become abundantly clear to me that, in the words of Andrew Hacker, we essentially reside in two cities that share the same name and boundaries, “One black, one white, [and those cities are] separate, hostile and unequal.” What was birthed out of those conversations is a draft of a new Human Rights Ordinance for the City of Grand Rapids. The newly proposed Human Rights Ordinance represents a culmination of voices. Some on record, but most who spoke and advised in confidence for fear of retaliation.

As I met with people, while simultaneously drafting the ordinance, I found myself immersed in a series of conversations that essentially could be reasonably interpreted as negotiation for black and brown citizenship rights in a predominately white city. The negotiations were quite dynamic.

Internal and External Negotiations

First there were, what I call, the internal negotiations. These were conversations with people and groups that have expressed profound suffering in our city at the hands of illegal discrimination. I’ve heard stories of people losing jobs, being denied promotions, facing illegal evictions, not being allowed to enter places of public accommodations, or made to feel incredibly unwelcome, because of their race or national origin. Most internal negotiations for support of the ordinance resulted in quiet, confidential consultation and an expressed reluctance to show up to any community meeting on the ordinance or go on public record as supporting the ordinance because of fear of retaliation. The major retaliatory fears of this group: loss of employment, as well as social and political capital.

Then there were, what I call, the external negotiations. These are individuals and groups of people, mostly white, who sympathize with a stronger anti-discrimination ordinance but question the practicality of such an effort. Major criticism from this group is the fact that we have federal and state anti-discrimination protections. It’s important to note that these federal and state protections were in effect when Forbes Magazine listed Grand Rapids as one of the worst cities in the United States for Black folks to prosper.

Citizenship Rights

The main question to be asked here is: Are we ready as a city to take Human/Civil Rights as seriously as we take criminal justice?

We have achieved true equality when we swiftly respond to employment discrimination as swiftly as we would respond to theft of property. When we respond to black and brown bodies being held to a higher standard in our places of public accommodation (i.e. black/ brown cover charge v. not for white) as we would an unsafe or impaired driver on our roads. Discrimination, just as criminal acts have devastating effects in the lives of the injured party. Yet we see one as optional. If a group of citizens in an apartment complex called the police and reported massive car break-ins one evening, would the police respond and investigate? Or would they hire an outside consultant to examine the validity of the collective complaint? We all know the answer, the citizens would lodge their complaints and the investigation would commence. Why is that?

The historical mindset of the citizen in Grand Rapids has been cultivated inside the processes of displacement for black and brown bodies. As a result, it is extremely difficult and in most cases impossible for minorities to be considered an equal partner in affirmatively furthering their own civil and human rights, but relegated to the position of student. Never the teacher of their experience, always the student. A student whose sole place in their hometown is to go to work and carry the burden of discrimination and be reprimanded for how they process their experiences with discrimination.

By virtue of this inverse relationship, the connectivity is lost between the municipality and the daily reality of black and brown citizens in our city. Therefore, any attempt at majority rationality will be shallow at best and irrelevant at worst.

To gain true equality in Grand Rapids a new municipal vision of belonging must be imagined. A belonging that allows black and brown bodies to speak into the formation and reconfiguration of policies that actually protect them from illegal discrimination. Policies that are not disrupted in an attempt to maintain the racist aesthetic status quo.

One of the most riveting testimonies I heard during the “internal negotiations” was from a group of black men and women that so eloquently stated that the, “City has a disdain for our sense of Journey.”  In this conversation, the “City” meant the spirit of the municipality as a whole. Unfortunately, this narrative is very common in the Black community. The sense of journey refers to the career aspirations and the quest for what Dr. Randall Jelks terms, “Middle class respectability.” As a result, professionals of color seek opportunities in other towns across the country where their expertise is respected regardless of race or national origin. It is important to note that for every professional of color that leaves Grand Rapids to fulfill their sense of journey and gain that respectability, that is another black/brown person that contributes to the narrative of Grand Rapids being an unwelcome town for people of color.

But I believe there is hope for the future. We can change the trajectory of the separate and unequal narrative. We have an opportunity here to double down on illegal discrimination in Grand Rapids. The proposed Human Rights Ordinance for the City of Grand Rapids will require thorough investigations of complaints of discrimination and seek to make people whole who have been victimized by it.

Right now, the City’s department of Diversity and Inclusion has been tasked with writing a counter proposal (this is common in policy development). Now as we await the City’s response and counter proposal, I am asking everyone who truly cares about fairness and equality to send an email to your commissioner and the Mayor expressing your support for the passage of a Human Rights ordinance with real investigations and remedies. The contact information for your commissioners and the mayor is as follows:


Rosalynn Bliss

Ward 1

Jon O’Connor

Kurt Reppart

Ward 2

Ruth Kelly

Joe Jones

Ward 3

Senita Lenear

Comparing the Farm Bills’ Effects on Nutrition and Farmers Markets: House vs. Senate


GetStoredImageby Grace Michienzi,
OKT policy & communications intern

On May 18, The U.S. House of Representatives voted and failed to pass their version of the Farm Bill with a 198 to 213 vote, according to CNBC. House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested that he plans to reintroduce the bill after making negotiations on the Immigration debate in Congress, but it is unclear when the bill would be voted on again, according to the article.

According to NPR, one of the reasons that the bill failed was because of drastic changes to some of the programs that the bill supports. One of the most drastic changes is to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a program that feeds over 40 million people in need. The changes would alter the criteria for eligible adults, mandating that any adult that receives funding must work or attend a job-training program for at least 20 hours per week or risk losing their eligibility. According to the USDA website, the SNAP rules already involve a work requirement. Adults aged 18 to 50 are limited to three months with three years of SNAP benefits unless they work or participate in a job-training program. However, the failed House version of the Farm Bill mandates that no able-bodied adult within this age range and without dependents would be able to receive benefits without meeting the work requirements, which amounts to about 7 million people, pushing those in between jobs or those who are unemployed out of the SNAP program.

Additionally, other nutritional support programs are at risk of losing funding if a new Farm Bill is not passed by the end of September. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, the 2014 Farm Law will expire at the end of September and if nothing replaces it, the law will revert back to “permanent law” from 1938 legislation. If this happens, extra programs that the law funds will be cut, including programs such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Program, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The Food Insecurity Nutrition Program is what currently funds half of the Double Up Food Bucks Program in Michigan, which allows SNAP recipients to “double” the amount of fruits and vegetables they buy at participating farmers markets and grocery stores. If a Farm Bill is not passed by September 30, these programs will all expire.

On the other hand, the Senate is focused on a much more bipartisan and less controversial bill that will likely be easier to pass by the September 30 deadline, according to Agri-Pulse. Although the official bill has not been released to the public yet, it is said to be much more moderate in its crafting. According to the article, Senate leaders including Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow have reached a deal that will be acted upon by the board panel by Wednesday. The current draft does not include any new eligibility exemptions regarding work hours like the House Bill does. In fact, most of the changes are minor and the bill is considered to be very similar to the 2014 bill, according to Ag-Web.

The Senate bill was crafted this way to get more votes in order to pass the bill by the September 30 deadline, which means that programs like Double Up Food Bucks may not lose their funding. According to an interview with KTIC Radio, Republican Senator Deb Fischer said that it does not make sense to bring up contentious debate about the Nutrition programs when they need to get the Farm Bill passed soon. According to the article, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate may appear to be working together to get this bipartisan legislation passed, but it remains unclear whether President Trump will sign or pass the legislation when and if it makes it to his office.




Booker, Brakkton, and Dan Charles. “Republican Farm Bill Calls On Many SNAP

Recipients To Work Or Go To School.” National Public Radio, NPR, 12 Apr. 2018. Accessed 5 June 2018.

Brasher, Philip, and Spencer Chase. “Senate Ag leaders reach deal on farm bill.” Agri-Pulse,

Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc., 7 June 2018. Accessed 7 June 2018.

Doeschot, Bryce. “(Video) Senate Agriculture Committee Leaders Announce Farm Bill

Consideration.” KTIC Radio, Nebraska Rural Radio Association, 7 June 2018. Accessed 7 June 2018.

Feldman, Ben. “What does the House Farm Bill ‘No’ Vote Mean for Farmers Market?.” Farmers

Market Coalition. Accessed 6 June 2018.

Herath, John. “Date Set for Senate Farm Bill Markup.” Ag-Web, Farm Journal Media, 7 June

  1. Accessed 8 June 2018.

Prumak, Jacob. “House fails to pass farm bill amid Republican rebellion over immigration.”

CNBC, CNBC LLC, 18 May 2018. Accessed 6 June 2018.

“Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” United States Department of Agriculture

Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 26 Feb. 2018. Accessed 8 June 2018.

OKT comments on State’s Lead Poisoning report: Why no mention of higher incidence among children of color?

EFFECTS.jpgOn May 31, Our Kitchen Table attended a hearing at the Kent County Health Department to comment on the  Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board  report, “Roadmap to Eliminating Child Lead Exposure.”  (See OKT’s comments below.)

Governor Rick Snyder established the board through executive order because “because “…there exists a need in state government for a coordinated effort to design a long term strategy for eliminating child lead poisoning in the state of Michigan.” The board consists of medical, environmental, and child education experts, academics, civic leaders, and state department representatives.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recently awarded OKT a $75, 000 Child Lead Exposure Elimination Innovation Grant. Find OKT’s comments on the report below.

The members of the board present were genuinely and passionately concerned about childhood lead poisoning. The CLEEC_Action_Plan they have developed is a great framework for eliminating lead poisoning. It includes recommendations for better testing of home and daycare environments, having all children tested for lead poisoning, testing pregnant women at-risk for lead poisoning, and getting the medical community to be more vigilant about lead poisoning. In short, the plan seeks to eliminate the deep root causes of lead poisoning so children won’t be exposed in the first place.

This good plan faces one huge obstacle: funding. Those in the room last night suggested that to create lead-safe communities state-wide would cost at least $1 billion. In addition, because of potential costs, groups like the Rental Property Owners Association (RPOA) are actively fighting against enhanced requirements for lead testing–and are quick to blame tenants for lead hazards. While Snyder approved funding the creation of the board, he has not championed funding to implement the action plan. And, when fall elections usher in different elected officials, there’s a possibility that the whole board could be scrapped.

Our Kitchen Table Public Comment on Childhood Lead Poisoning

On behalf of Our Kitchen Table and its executive director, Lisa Oliver-King, I thank you for your work on eliminating childhood lead poisoning. As a grass-roots, nonprofit working for environmental justice through the lens of food justice, OKT would like to state that:

  1. While the report discloses that children living in neighborhoods experiencing income-challenges and older housing stock are more likely to experience lead poisoning, it does not relate that children of color are more likely to experience lead poisoning. In fact, African American children are five times more likely to be poisoned by lead than white children— and Latinx children more than twice as likely as white children. Studies conducted the National Institutes of Health right here in Michigan determined that that, in utero, African American babies are more than twice as likely to be lead poisoned. As one of the outcomes of prenatal lead poisoning is premature birth, lead poisoning no doubt contributes to African American infant mortality rates being twice that of white infant mortality rates—right here in Kent County. In addition, the report speaks to higher incarceration rates among those who experienced lead poisoning as children. One could deduce that lead poisoning is also partly responsible for the African Americans having higher rates of incarceration. It’s more than the school to prison pipeline. It’s also a poisoned to prison pipeline. Thus, childhood lead poisoning in Michigan is not just a public health concern but also a justice and civil rights issue. The high rates of lead poisoning among African American children reveal yet another facet of institutional racism.

  2. The report acknowledges soil contamination as contributing to lead poisoning. Through our food gardening work in Grand Rapids 49507, a zip code reporting one of the highest number of lead poisoned children in the state, OKT has discovered that housing stock is not the only contributor to soil contamination. More than a century ago, the area had orchards. Lead was an ingredient in pesticides then used, as well as arsenic. Therefore, sampling soil near built structures is not enough. No doubt, other means of lead contamination have impacted soil in other regions in the state. Housing stock should not be the only cause considered.

  3. The report does mention nutrition and micro-nutrient supplementation as a means to treat lead poisoned children. Studies have shown that certain foods help absorb lead in the body: dark green vegetables and leafy greens, legumes, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dark green vegetables, grapefruit and sweet red pepper. In other words, a healthy, whole foods diet with a huge emphasis on fresh local produce. As the neighborhoods experiencing high childhood lead exposure also experience food apartheid, OKT sees lead poisoning as a food justice issue. If these children — and their mothers — had access to these healthy foods prior to lead exposure, no doubt they would suffer fewer repercussions. The lack of access to healthy foods also bequeaths these same children with a host of other health problems: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and behavior issues that Impact school performance.