Happy holidays!



Have you considered giving to OKT? Our Kitchen Table receives most of its funding from grants … and additional funding from generous donors. If you would like to contribute to our work, please send your check to Our Kitchen Table, 334 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49507. OKT is a registered 501c3 nonprofit and your contribution is tax deductible.


OKT Celebrates 2016 Successes

With your support and participation, here’s what OKT accomplished during 2016. We will be releasing our full, formal annual report soon!

greenhouse1Growing food!

OKT grew thousands of organic food starter plants at Blandford Farm. OKT gave away these fruit, vegetable, edible flower and herb plants to households in its residential food gardening program and select school and community gardens.

  • Residential Food Growing. OKT worked with eight households growing food in container and raised bed gardens in their yards, on their decks and patios and even on their window sills. OKT provided containers, composted soil, plants and seeds, basic garden tools and a weekly garden coach visit. In all, OKT residential food growers grew about  2,500 pounds of food.
  • Garden Education. OKT hosted its food growing education series twice. Each series including How to Plan Your Food Garden 1 & 2, Composting, How to Save Seeds and Introduction to Food Justice. Though designed for OKT’s residential food growers, the classes were open to the pubic at no charge. OKT, Baxter Community Center and Urban Roots coordinated growing classes to maximize benefit to community.
  • School Window Gardens. OKT worked with students at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy, where they grew food in windowsill gardens. All food grown was eaten by the students in healthy snacks or brought home to their families.
  • Community and Agency Gardens. OKT provided organic starter food plants to nine community and agency gardens.

Raising Awareness

OKT raised awareness about food justice and policy issues via its ten-part Food Policy for Food Justice series, website, Facebook and at numerous conferences throughout Michigan and at Grand Rapids-based community and university events.

0211161804Healthy Eating Strategies

Cook, Eat and Talk . OKT’s cooking coaches presented one-session, two-session, four-session and eight-session healthy eating series in partnership with various agencies and for its growers and community.

Women of Color Series

OKT brought in recognized community activists from various Michigan organizations to speak on Being a White Ally — Lila Cabbil and Barbara Roos; Uprooting Racism — Shane Bernardo; Herbal Medicine — Lottie Spady; , Food as Medicine — Adela Nieves; and Diagramming Your Food System — Shakara Taylor.

Southeast Area Farmers’ Market

13882561_1253537447998287_2460462587423020698_nIn 2016, OKT decided to hold both its Friday and Saturday markets at MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller St. SE. The park setting brought increased traffic to our market vendors. OKT estimates that 656 patrons visited the market  to generate $8,100 in sales.

  • Vendors: A total of nine vendors sold local, safe produce, cottage foods, crafts and Watkins products. Ninety percent of market vendors were women of color from Grand Rapids southeast neighborhoods.
  • Food Assistance Dollars. The market participated in SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks, Senior Project Fresh, WIC, and a new UCC/OKT program, SEAFM Market Bucks, which provided $1 and $5 coupons good for produce at the market.  One-third of sales were Market Buck purchases.
  • Community Partners.  The market hosted a wide range of community partners who shared their resources with market patrons: Planned Parenthood, The Spoke Folks, Grand Rapids Food Co-op Initiative, Great Start Collaborative,  LINC-Up Soul Food Café, Creative Youth Center, Grand Rapids Fire Department , Voice GR and Healthy Homes.
  • Community Events The Market hosted several fun, family friendly events: Urban Foraging Workshop, Fried Green Tomato Festival, Make Your Own Personal Care Items Workshop, Art at the Market and Greens Cook-off.






Encore blog post featured OKT executive director

Did you ever wonder where Our Kitchen Table got its start? Here’s the story. Reposted from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Encore program blog.


LisaOliverKingPhotoResized_1As a youngster, few things struck Lisa Oliver so profoundly as the moments she would join her family around the kitchen table where she grew up in Missouri, just to talk. “A lot of good, good and difficult and funny and serious conversations happened around this table,” she says, as she runs her hands over the smoky glass top. The table now resides in the kitchen of the home she shares with her husband and daughters on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

Years after serving as a gathering place during her childhood days, the table continued to spawn ideas and it was over wine with a friend years ago that she was challenged to develop a program that might amp up environmental and social justice.

Fast forward to today and Lisa is founder and director of “Our Kitchen Table,” (OKT) a quiet force that empowers urban neighborhoods to improve their health and monitor sometimes life-threatening environments through education, advocacy and community organizing.

“I really wanted to have my children understand the importance of giving back,” she says, acknowledging that her daughters know the power of communicating around the magic table. “It was important that I talk to them and have them understand the value and effect of community.”

Our Kitchen Table didn’t appear on Lisa’s early horizons, but it definitely comprises her Encore life, and reflects a life of service in other areas, all of which helped to build on the concept that drives the success of her non-profit.

She worked in the public health sector well into her 40s, including jobs with the Kent County Health Department, the Michigan Public Health Institute, and Hospice of Michigan. She also did consulting work around public health and it’s during that period that a girlfriend stopped Lisa in her tracks during that table talk and suggested “You should move beyond consulting and do some real community engagement.”

Lisa was more than intrigued and was led by a variety of factors to explore the problems around lead poisoning and how it affected human health and the environment. That concern branched out to explore strategies for mobilizing low-income families, mostly on Grand Rapid’s southeast side and, in 2003, she founded OKT to combat oppression, race and gender bias, and disparities in wealth and power.

Banking on strong social networks, OKT empowers families with the tools to develop homegrown foods even on properties threatened by soils with suspected or actual high lead levels. OKT teaches residents how to grow crops in containers and take full advantage of the Southeast Area Farmer’s Market, which is moving this June through mid-November to Martin Luther King Park at Franklin Street and Fuller Avenue SE.

It’s there that OKT will continue partnering with the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council and the Kent County Health Department to host educational events and participate in the Bridge Card (SNAP), Michigan Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Project Fresh, Kent County Health Department coupons and DoubleUp Food Bucks programs.

Lisa views her participation as a chance to immerse herself in community and make a difference with a program that meets basic human needs and lifts up families with education as a core element.

“We promote growing from a systemic lens and from understanding what is going on in the community,” she says. “And we look at the entire food landscape, everything from grocery stores to wild edibles to pantries to food-buying clubs and co-ops.

“I don’t do charity,” she emphasizes. “I just do what I’m supposed to do. I’m my brother’s keeper, and I try to emphasize that. It’s the best way to use my gifts, to help people express kindness. It’s what we should be to each other.”

GRTV records PSA about OKT programs

grtv_logo_400x400Thank you GRTV for spreading the word about OKT’s programs!Thank you Ms. Toni Scott for being our spokesperson and for all you do as an OKT cooking coach!

The PSA airs on GRTV (Comcast Cable 25) at 8:30 AM and 10 PM daily.


Encore blog features OKT cooking coach, Toni Scott.

Reposted from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Encore blog.

IMG_5290A child of the 60s, Toni Scott grew up eating healthy foods. Her family grew fruits and vegetables in their own garden and her Muskegon neighborhood was home to many fruit trees. “My dad had a garden behind the garage. It was full of every vegetable we needed to eat,” Toni recalls. “I would go out and help my mom pick for dinner. She cooked from scratch for my four brothers, two sisters and me.”

As an adult, Toni’s appetite for healthy foods inspired her to become an accomplished cook. About the only thing that makes Toni happier than cooking for her family is cooking for her neighbors, her church and for anyone who might stop by her house at dinner time. “I just love to feed people,” Toni says.  “I especially like to grill, all year long. I grill turkey, fruit and vegetables–when I don’t eat vegetables, I feel sluggish.”

In 2004, Toni woke up one morning with pain and numbness in her arm. At first she thought she had been simply sleeping in a bad position. But, as the symptoms persisted, she sought medical advice. Her doctor diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As the debilitating disease continued to attack her nervous system, she was forced to quit working. Despite finding herself disabled and on assistance, Toni kept right on eating healthy and feeding people.

To bolster the small amount of food assistance dollars she received, Toni gardened and also learned how to make the rounds at food pantries, a local church and food trucks to supplement her store of nutritious menu ingredients.

In 2013, she participated in a food gardening program with Our Kitchen Table (OKT), a grass-roots, Grand Rapids non-profit that works for food justice and greater access to healthy foods for all. OKT provided Toni with containers, composted soil, organic starter food plants and a garden coach to ensure her success. In addition, Toni attended OKT’s free gardening classes. She was amazed at the amounts of fresh produce she harvested from the OKT container garden in her own back yard.

As Toni’s garden coach and OKT executive director, Lisa Oliver-King, got to know Toni better, she realized what a treasure Toni was. Within a year, Toni was cooking up her own healthy recipes for OKT events and was soon hired as the organization’s first cooking coach.

“Toni Scott has helped OKT create the role and responsibilities of the cooking coach. She has been an essential piece of the food growing experience for OKT participants,” Oliver-King says. “Known as Ms. Toni, she has connected with individual and group participants in a soulful way that lends itself to laughter, exploration and full experience of good, nurturing food. She is our treasure — and our secret weapon for exemplifying what being food secure can be like, despite having limited resources.”

Toni continues to lead OKT’s Cook, Eat & Talk events, some for the general public and others for local agencies and public schools. During the growing season, she creates recipes using produce growing in OKT food growers’ gardens and selling at the OKT-managed Southeast Area Farmers’ Market. Off season, she bases her recipes on foods that OKT makes available through a collective purchase group offering bulk whole foods via EBT card.

As Toni demonstrates each recipe, she engages her audience in friendly conversation; she creates a comfort level that encourages them to share their own family recipes as well as their frustrations with having limited access to healthy foods in their neighborhoods. Thus, the conversation also leads to a discussion of food and environmental justice.

“I have a passion for helping people understand that the media would have us think it costs a lot to eat healthy, as a ploy to get us to eat boxed food.  At the Cook Eat & Talk, I can dismiss that myth and people see how quick and easy cooking from scratch can be — plus it tastes good and is self-rewarding,” Toni says. “If you cook from scratch, it stretches your money and your longevity.”

Author of this blog, Stelle Slootmaker, has been a writer and communications professional for more than 24 years. In addition to serving as Our Kitchen Table’s communication manager, she works with a variety of business, healthcare and nonprofit clients.

– See more at:

Alert from LINC UP

Grand Rapids Vapor Intrusion Project COMMUNITY MEETING : TOMORROW @ LINCUP

If you follow any of the local news outlets, chances are you have heard the phrase “Grand Rapids Vapor Intrusion Project” recently.  To summarize, because of some recent environmental testing, it was decided that the residents/businesses located at 401 Hall St. SE, 1168 Madison SE and 1170 Madison SE were to evacuate the premises due to unsafe vapor levels. We would like to notify the community that while some news sources referred to the Southtown Square Apartments (413 Hall St SE) as the source of the vapor leakage, the actual source was a former dry cleaning business that was located in that spot but closed in 1995.

Before LINC UP built the Southtown Apartments, LINC UP Offices and LINC Gallery, they constructed a vapor shield to make sure the buildings would be safe to visit and work in, and so the vapors would not come through the ground and into the buildings.  We want to assure our community that the Southtown Square Apartments (413 Hall St SE), LINC UP Offices and the Soul Food Cafe (1167 Madison SE), the Gallery (341 Hall St SE) and all other offices within those buildings are safe, and unaffected by this recent situation.  Regular testing is performed on these properties, and none have shown signs of vapor leakage.

However, we feel this is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed with the community.  We are asking community members to join us tomorrow, at 341 Hall St SE @ 6pm, at a community meeting to learn more about the situation at hand, what other areas could possibly be affected and ask questions about the safety and well-being of our neighborhood.  See the link below for further details:

EPA, DEQ to hold meeting on SE Grand Rapids vapor levels

Anyone with questions should call EPA On-scene Coordinator Betsy Nightingale at 734-770-8402 or email her at .

Michigan Radio’s “The Next Idea” features Lisa Oliver-King

Listen to the interview (scroll down to the bottom of page)

Essay: For more access to healthy food, new gardens just aren’t enough  Posted 10-28-2015 by Michigan Radio The Next Idea

School gardens seem like a great idea. Teachers get to reinforce key concepts in science and math, students get hands-on experiences with healthy food, and everyone gets to eat homegrown snacks at the end of a few months. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

In fact, most school gardens fail. They might look good at first. But without constant attention from parents, students, and community members, the plants wither, the weeds sprout, and the garden goes from an optimistic symbol of health to an ugly eyesore right in front of the school.

It requires a lot of relationship-building to have a lasting impact on a community’s eating habits and access to healthy food, which makes hunger difficult to solve on a more systemic level, says Lisa Oliver King.

It’s the sad truth that just planting a school garden doesn’t really help communities deal with larger systemic issues.

I live in Grand Rapids where income-challenged people do not have access to healthy foods within walking distance. For those who have disabilities, or lack access to a car, junk food and fast food may be the only options.

They may not even realize it, but these foods are making them sick. The members of my Grand Rapids community — mothers, fathers, elders and, yes, even youth — struggle every day to maintain their health and their very lives.

In order to tackle these big problems, we need to think bigger than just planting gardens. We need to change cultural priorities.

So what’s the Next Idea?

For this Next Idea, I can tell you what is working in my community. But I also want to hear from you. How could your town or city work towards changing our food culture here in Michigan?

In 2003, I founded a grassroots organization called Our Kitchen Table (OKT), which works with women of color to address issues of food access and nutrition. We use a hands-on model that emphasizes community engagement and transformation, not just charity or short-term education.

We call this the “See Do” approach. Our strategy is to get people working with us at the neighborhood level. We don’t simply give people gardens and walk away. Our gardeners see their garden coaches planting and maintaining their gardens—and dowork alongside them. When we see a lesson and then do it ourselves, we are more likely to incorporate it into our lives than when we just read about it, hear it, or view it on a PowerPoint.

We use this hands-on model in all four of our program areas:

  • Growing food. OKT began empowering income-challenged families and individuals by sharing everything they need to grow their own food: OKT-grown organic starter food plants, containers and composted soil, garden tools, garden coaches and garden education.
  • Teaching food preparation. OKT started to host free “Cook Eat & Talk” events so neighbors can learn easy ways to cook and preserve in-season produce from their gardens or farmers’ market.
  • Providing affordable, healthy food for sale in food insecure neighborhoods.OKT began managing the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market, a walkable market that welcomes food assistance dollars.
  •  Advocating for policy change. OKT seeks to impact local, regional and national policies in order to further the goals of food justice through education and action.

To implement this strategy, we work alongside our vulnerable neighbors so they can “see” that they can “do” it. We recruit team members who live in the neighborhoods and have personally experienced the results of not having access to healthy food.

It is working in Grand Rapids. Over the past six years, we have seen how “doing” changes lives.

There are mothers enthusiastically preparing healthy foods for their children, and elders becoming regular customers at our farmers’ market. Women of color are improving their health. We have grown a small core collective of community members who have become enthusiastic advocates for better access to healthy food in their neighborhoods.

But here’s where it gets complicated. Unlike other Next Ideas, which could be adapted by other towns and cities or even scaled up to be statewide, the “See Do” approach depends on being an intimate part of a neighborhood.

To return to the example of the school garden, we realized that the difference between a failed, ugly mess of rotting plants and a beautiful, inviting, healthy-food opportunity wasn’t just resources. It was relationships.

For example, did you know that school facilities personnel tend to hate school gardens? They’re the ones who end up having to clean up the land and the mess when students and teachers move on to the next assignment.

In order for us to make real change in the way young people view healthy food, Our Kitchen Table has had to engage community members at every level and get their buy-in. That type of approach — getting our neighbors to really see the impact of food disparities and join in the process to solve it — can’t just be easily transported from one local context to another.

So we know that overcoming food access disparity can’t be solved by just planting gardens. And that means the question becomes: How do we plant deep-rooted relationships? What ideas would allow your local communities to grow and thrive?

Lisa Oliver King is the founder of Our Kitchen Table in Grand Rapids.