Heart of West Michigan United Way shares post about OKT Program for Growth

Reposted from Heart of West Michigan United Way Success Stories


OKT wins Community Spirit Award

123_1On October 10, women from Our Kitchen Table attended LINC Up’s Community Spirit Awards luncheon and evening program. During the luncheon, LINC announced OKT as winner of the 2019 Community Spirit Award for Health and Wellness. We are truly honored and humbled by this recognition.

LINC’s website says this about the award:
Neighborhoods are complex environments that are facing a series of complex issues. LINC Up understands that it takes many individuals and organizations with various approaches to achieve sustainable change. Each year, LINC celebrates and highlights the work of individuals and organizations influencing and effecting change in our communities. We believe in recognizing organizations with innovative ideas, those committed to advocacy work, youth making a difference in the community, and all of those working for neighborhoods that matter.

OKT receives $25,000 Amway Grant

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Amway has approved a $25,000 grant for Our Kitchen Table’s Program for Growth at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy. The funds will support programming that involves kindergarten and eighth-grade students and their parents and caregivers  in food growing and healthy eating education that addresses and helps prevent lead poisoning. The 49507 zip code is one of Michigan’s lead-poisoning hot-spots. Parents and caregivers involved in the Program for Growth meet regularly over the summer.

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.