“Healthy food is a human right”
Emily Scarlett, anchor of 13 On Your Side featured OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King on air today. Watch the video here.
BY LEAH PENNIMAN 6 MIN READ
At Soul Fire Farm, a BIPOC-centered community farm, farmers learn regenerative methods such as heavy mulching and intercropping.
Chief Zogli looked weary as he scratched a notch in his doorpost to record the weather. “Still no rain,” he says with resignation. The chickens pecked lazily in the dust and the goats foraged for the last of the dropped grains beneath the emptying corn crib. In this rural community outside of Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, the farmers depend on rainfall as their only source of agricultural water. Zogli explains that the rainy season has been arriving later each year and ending sooner—and the thirsty crops struggle to mature.
From the African continent to the Americas and across the Caribbean, communities of color are on the front lines of and disproportionately harmed by climate change. Record heat waves have caused injury and death among Latinx farmworkers and devastating hurricanes have become regular annual visitors in the Caribbean islands and coastal areas of the U.S.
Meanwhile, several Alaskan Native communities struggle to hunt and fish in their traditional ways because rising temperatures are ravaging the wildlife. And sub-Saharan Africa, where Ghana is located, is among the regions projected to experience the harshest impacts of climate change. “If you’re not affected by climate change today, that itself is a privilege,” climate activist Andrea Manning says.
But the same communities on the frontlines of climate impact are also on the frontlines of climate solutions. A new generation of Black farmers is using heritage farming practices to undo some of the damage brought on by decades of intense tillage by early European settlers. Their practices drove around 50% of the original organic matter from the soil into the sky as carbon dioxide. Agriculture continues to have a profound impact on the climate, contributing 23% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Now Black farmers are finding ways to capture that carbon from the air and trap it in the soil. They are employing strategies included in Paul Hawkin’s Drawdown, a guide to the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.
One practice, silvopasture, is an indigenous system that integrates nut and fruit trees, forage, and grasses to feed grazing livestock. Another, regenerative agriculture, a methodology first described by agricultural scientist and inventor Dr. George Washington Carver, involves minimal soil disturbance, the use of cover crops, and crop rotation. Both systems harness plants to capture greenhouse gases. “No other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming as the capturing of carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis,” Hawkin says.
Here are examples of how farmers are putting these practices to work.
After working in an auto parts store during high school, Leonard Diggs swore, “I will never have another job working inside.” True to his word, Diggs went on to manage sustainable farms in northern California for over 30 years.
Diggs is developing a 418-acre incubator farm at Pie Ranch, where beginning farmers will establish their own regenerative enterprises. In collaboration with the Amah Mutsun tribal band and nearby farmers, he is creating a landscape-level ecosystem plan that integrates forest, riparian corridor, native grasslands, perennial and annual crops. The management practices that emit carbon, such as some annual crops, will be balanced out with perennial areas that sequester carbon, achieving carbon neutrality overall.
“We need to realize that working landscapes provide not just products but also ecosystem services like carbon sinks, water recharge, and evolutionary potential,” Diggs explains. He envisions a food system where farmers derive 30% to 40% of their income from the value of ecosystem services and do not have to “mine” the soil to make a living. He is working with researchers to establish baseline data for the amount of carbon in the soil, and the composition of bacterial and fungal communities. The goal is for the farm to capture more carbon than it releases over time.
Unlike many incubator farms that emphasize annual crops and allow farmers to stay for just a few years, Diggs is working with a longer horizon. “We need to plant orchards and perennials, get them established over 10 years, and hand new farmers a working landscape. Instead of making them leave as soon as their businesses get established, we will move the incubator to a new area, and the farmers can stay.”
“We need agriculture that does not lose our carbon, and does not deplete our people,” Diggs concluded.
Not everyone in the Black farming community is as excited about fiber as Keisha Cameron. Given the prominent role of the cotton industry in the enslavement of African Americans, many farmers eschew cultivation of textiles. “We are largely absent from the industry on every scale,” she explains. “Yet these agrarian artways and lifeways are part of our heritage.”
At High Hog Farm, Cameron and her family raise heritage breeds of sheep, goats, rabbits, horses, chickens, and worms in an integrated silvopasture system and sells fiber and meat. One of her favorite varieties is American Chinchillas, rabbits which consume a wider diversity of forage than goats and fertilize the pasture with their manure.
The family is also working to establish tree guilds, a system where fruit trees are surrounded by a variety of fiber crops such as indigo, cotton, and flax. Their goal is a “closed loop” where all the fertility the farm needs is created in place. They pack a lot of enterprises into a small space. “We have 5 acres,” she says playfully. “Just enough to be dangerous.”
In his book, the Carbon Farming Solution, Eric Toensmeier writes that silvopasture traps 42 tons of carbon per acre every year. This is because pasture stores carbon in the above and below ground biomass of grasses, shrubs, and trees. Also, animals that are raised on pasture have healthier digestive systems than those raised in confinement, and emit lower amounts of methane.
In addition to healing the climate, silvopasture is a joyful practice. “I get to play with sheep and bunnies. What could be better?” Cameron poses.
When Germaine Jenkins first moved to Charleston, she relied on SNAP and food pantries to feed her children. “I did not like that we couldn’t choose what we wanted to eat, and there were few healthy options. I was sick of standing in line and decided to grow my own stuff.”
Jenkins learned how to cultivate her own food through a master gardening course, a certificate program at Growing Power, and online videos. She promptly started growing food in her yard and teaching her food-insecure clients to do the same through her work at the Lowcountry Food Bank. In 2014, Jenkins won an innovation competition and earned seed money to create a community farm.
Today, Fresh Future Farm grows on 0.8 acres in the Chicora neighborhood and runs a full-service grocery store right on site. “We are living under food apartheid,” explains Jenkins. “So all of the food is distributed right here in the neighborhood on a sliding scale pay system.”
Jenkins relies on what she calls “ancestral muscle memory” to guide her regenerative farming practices. Fresh Future Farm integrates perennial crops such as banana, oregano, satsuma, and loquat together with annuals like collards and peanuts. The farm produces copious amounts of compost on site using waste products like crab shell, and they apply cardboard and wood chips in a thick layer of mulch. “We repurpose everything — old Christmas trees as trellises and branches as breathable cloche for frost-sensitive crops.” Jenkins explains. They even have grapes growing up the fence of the chicken yard so that the “chickens fertilize their own shade.”
Jenkins’ farming methods have been so successful at increasing the organic matter in the soil that they no longer need irrigation. They are also less vulnerable to flooding. “Two winters ago, we had 4 feet of snow. Our soil absorbed all of it,” Jenkins says.
Toensmeier writes that for every 1% increase in soil organic matter, we sequester 8.5 tons per acre of atmospheric carbon. If all of us were to farm like Jenkins, Diggs, and Cameron, we could put 322 billion tons of carbon back in the soil where it belongs. That’s half of the carbon we need to capture to stabilize the climate.
As Larisa Jacobson, co-director of Soul Fire Farm explains, “Our duty as earthkeepers is to call the exiled carbon back into the land and to bring the soil life home.”
|LEAH PENNIMAN is a farmer, educator, soil steward, and food justice activist. She is the co-director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, and the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.|
Earlier this year, the Kent County Food Policy Council launched to strengthen and grow the food system in Kent County. As we build momentum, discuss, and prioritize issues, we are gathering information and engaging with our community through a project called Everybody Eats: Highlighting Food Experiences in Kent County. Through this project, we are inviting our community to share their experiences with our food system and highlight the good food work that is already happening here.
Below is an interview with Lisa Oliver-King, Director of Our Kitchen Table (OKT), a grass-roots, nonprofit organization serving greater Grand Rapids. OKT promotes social justice and empowers our neighbors to improve their health and environment through information, community organizing and advocacy. Lisa was a formation team member of the Kent County Food Policy Council. Thank you, Lisa, for your good food work and sharing your thoughts with us!
Tell me about your relationship with food.
Lisa: My relationship with food has been built over time. As a child, my mother would prepare different meals for my siblings and I so that we could eat what we really wanted to eat, sometimes she would make each of us a different meal. During the holidays, my family would be up until 3 or 4 in the morning making everything from scratch. My family always really bonded over food. We also had hard times. At one point, the gas in our house was shut off for a week so we had ham in many different forms. Although we got tired of ham, we still ate.
My family was always involved in every process of food: picking some of our own produce, going to get meat from a butcher, helping with preparation, cooking, and cleaning up before and after meals. These experiences gave me an appreciation for food.
A big part of my relationship with food is connection. We use food in my family to release tension in difficult conversations. If there is something that my husband or my kids and I need to discuss, we will come to the kitchen table and set out blueberries or other snacks and use that as a buffer or comfort in our conversations.
Food is so much more than something that we eat…we use it on our skin, we can drink it: it has a greater purpose than solely being consumed. And as I get older, I appreciate the earth more, I appreciate farmers more, I appreciate the importance of food subsidies more.
In what way does your organization engage in the local food system?
Lisa: Our Kitchen Table works with people who do not have a good relationship with food. We have to think about why that is and if there is anything that we can do to change that. We look at the whole entity: how food smells, the preparation, harvesting, growing, and cooking food. We try to walk people through every aspect of their relationship with food.
We work to figure out what experience we can create. One of the ways that we do that is by providing people with a food garden coach and working with them to get past the initial obstacles in their relationship with food — whatever they may be. We help people work with the resources that they have. We ask: what do you have in your household? Is there an obstacle with electricity or gas? If there is, that’s okay because there are so many other options. I have worked with people who use their coffee makers to boil chicken. People who grill due to lack of access to electricity or gas. We work with the resources that they have and come up with creative solutions to educate people on how they can prepare food regardless of limitations. There is no one way, there is no right way.
I have always thought about food as it relates to power. I have the power of selecting what I want to eat, which items I want to purchase, and how I prepare my food. I get to choose what goes into my body. Ultimately, we teach others about food power.
If you were to design a food system rooted in equity, justice and sovereignty, where would you focus your attention and why?
Lisa: I would focus my attention on ensuring that food is available in public spaces and that it is available to all. And looking at the issue of equity when it comes to availability. We need to come together and make sure that food is available for all; but also, some spaces may need more support. In those public spaces, we want things to be set up in a puzzle perspective: with charitable organizations, retail, areas where you can just go, and pick produce for free.
We have to ask: how do we create a diversification in the food space that meets the needs of the community at large? And with the promise of no stigma and no judgment. That when you access food, you make sure that others are accessing it without barriers as well. That would be my dream.
Interview by: Nicole Kukla
Thank you West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum for highlighting OKT’s work
with the following article that was posted on your website!
Lisa Oliver-King is the Executive Director with Our Kitchen Table (OKT), a nonprofit organization that focuses on food and environmental justice, which go hand-in-hand with sustainability. Lisa said, “As minerals, soil, seeds, foods, water, and even air became to be viewed as resources to be traded for profit by those in power, those without power increasingly are harmed by the results—and often exploited for labor. In a world where clean air, healthy soil, healthy food, and clean water are seen as human rights, sustainability will follow”.
Our Kitchen Table makes its impact by engaging in dialogue and planting seeds of activism that go beyond planting a garden or growing a tomato. She mentioned that OKT’s work is like an analogy that the late Wangari Matthai spoke to—that we are one snail with a drop of water on our back making our way to help extinguish the fire. Lisa further notes that “True sustainability looks like people of the world enjoying food sovereignty, clean water, and peace as the result of living in a global culture that values the earth, health, and economic equality”.
Lisa is proud to celebrate OKT’s Food Policy for Food Justice series and their ability to teach neighbors to grow their own food, share the message of food justice, and maintain a walkable neighborhood farmer’s market for ten years, which increases the access to healthy, local produce. She is also proud that she and the Our Kitchen Table team are helping to change the focus from food charity to addressing root causes of hunger and food insecurity and that by working alongside constituents, they have become not only teachers but colleagues and students.
Systemic and institutional racism and funding structures have been barriers and challenges while working in the sustainability and environmental justice field, especially as a POC-led organization. Lisa mentioned that gaining trust has been challenging at times, but that building relationships is key to working collectively. Although there are many barriers to this work, Lisa believes that now is the time to build awareness that there has never been food justice in the United States, and to acknowledge that healthy food and clean water are basic human rights. She looks forward to the end of the disempowerment of People of Color and invites any sustainability professionals to share a meal with the OKT team to have an authentic conversation about how food justice intersects with racism, women’s rights, animal rights, workers’ rights, clean air and water, academic equity, and public health.
The World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization dealing with hunger and food security, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize today, with its executive director David Beasley warning that the combination of conflict, climate crisis and COVID-19 could push 270 million people to the brink of starvation. In his acceptance speech, Beasley said, “Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse, 270 million people are marching toward starvation. Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Just before our live broadcast today, the World Food Programme received the Nobel Peace Prize in an online ceremony, due to COVID-19 restrictions, for what the Nobel Committee described as “its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,” unquote.
The World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization dealing with hunger and food security. It’s now warning the combination of conflict, climate crisis and COVID-19 could push 270 million people to the brink of starvation.
The executive director, the former South Carolina Governor David Beasley, accepted this year’s Nobel Peace Prize award on behalf of the organization from its headquarters in Rome.
DAVID BEASLEY: On behalf of the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, our board, our sister agencies, our incredible partners and donors, and on behalf of 19,000 peacemakers at the World Food Programme, including those who came before us and especially those who died in the line of duty and their families who carry on, and on behalf of the 100 million people we serve, to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, thank you for this great honor.
Also, thank you for acknowledging our work of using food to combat hunger, to mitigate against destabilization of nations, to prevent mass migration, to end conflict and to create stability and peace. We believe food is the pathway to peace.
I wish today that I could speak of how, working together, we could end hunger for all the 690 million people who go to bed hungry every night, but today we have a crisis at hand. This Nobel Peace Prize is more than a thank you; it is a call to action. Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse, 270 million people are marching toward starvation. Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID. And if that’s not bad enough, out of that 270 million, 30 million depend on us 100% for their survival. How will humanity respond?
What tears me up inside is this. This coming year, millions and millions and millions of my equals, my neighbors, your neighbors, are marching to the brink of starvation. We stand at what may be the most ironic moment in modern history. On the one hand, after a century of massive strides in eliminating extreme poverty, today those 200 million of our neighbors are on the brink of starvation. That’s more than the entire population of Western Europe. On the other hand, there is $400 trillion of wealth in our world today. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic, in just 90 days, an additional [$2.7] trillion of wealth was created. And we only need $5 billion to save 30 million lives from famine. What am I missing here?
A lot of my friends and leaders around the world have said to me, “You’ve got the greatest job in the world, saving the lives of millions of people.” Well, here’s what I tell them: I don’t go to bed at night thinking about the children we saved; I go to bed weeping over the children we could not save. And when we don’t have enough money nor the access we need, we have to decide which children eat and which children do not eat, which children live, which children die. How would you like that job? Please, don’t ask us to choose who lives and who dies.
In the spirit of Alfred Nobel, as inscribed on this medal, “peace and brotherhood,” let’s feed them all. Food is the pathway to peace.
AMY GOODMAN: “Food is the pathway to peace.” That’s World Food Programme executive director David Beasley accepting this year’s Nobel Peace Prize award on behalf of the organization from its headquarters in Rome, on today, International Human Rights Day.
When we come back, we look at the hunger crisis with Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists. We’ll also ask him about President-elect Biden’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which could play a key role in feeding millions of Americans facing food insecurity during the pandemic. And then we’ll look at the crisis in Ethiopia. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday,” performed by the University of California Riverside Chamber Singers, arranged for chorus by Gene Glickman. Lifelong activist and music professor, Gene passed away last weekend at the age of 86.The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.
|As awareness of racism’s role in infant mortality grows,|
Michigan takes action
|Reposted from SecondWave Media|
|This article is part of State of Health, a series about how Michigan communities are rising to address health challenges. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.|
For Black infants, racism’s impacts begin at birth – and may be deadly.
In 2018 in Michigan, more than three times as many Black babies died before their first birthday as white babies. Black mothers fare even worse, with maternal mortality rates that are 4.5 times higher than non-Hispanic white women. An underlying factor in Black infant mortality is low birth weight (LBW). When LBW babies survive, they face a host of medical problems that often have lifelong consequences.
“When we take a long view, maternal and infant mortality across the U.S. has been declining but it is still an issue when the U.S. is compared to other wealthy nations. We are not doing as well,” says Amber Bellazaire, policy analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) and author of its report, “Thriving babies start with strong moms: Right Start 2020.” “… When we drill down further, we see those disparities in racial outcomes.”
“Racism is oftentimes an underlying value of the disparities seen,” adds Dawn Shanafelt, director of Maternal and Infant Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “We have systems of care that have been built in this society, which is plagued with structural, systemic racism. The system for medical care continues to perpetuate these. It’s been evident in the experiences that have been published by families receiving maternal care. The bias is very clear.”
However, the link between racism and health impacts for Black babies is becoming increasingly better understood and acknowledged – and practitioners across Michigan are coming together to address it.
The “weathering” effect of racism
As a Black mother and grandmother, Grand Rapids resident Yvonne Woodard has experienced firsthand the way racial disparities have affected her children and grandchildren’s health. Her first baby weighed five pounds, seven ounces. Her fifth and last weighed four pounds, eight ounces.
“They all came to term. My first was overdue,” she says. “They just kept getting smaller.”
Yvonne Woodard holds a family photo.Woodard’s first grandson weighed one pound, eight ounces. Now nine years old, he has just learned how to say “mama.” Woodard’s granddaughters weighed three and four pounds.
“It’s not a good feeling,” she says. “A doctor had told me, ‘It’s because you are African-American and it’s in your family.’ I thought, ‘I am going to be sick because of my race and background?’ It doesn’t make sense that it’s hereditary.”
Woodard’s experience reflects the results of “weathering.” As retold in Bellazaire’s report, University of Michigan professor and researcher Arline Geronimus found that exposure to chronic stress — like the stresses of facing racial discrimination day after day – leads to early health deterioration.
“Continual attempts to cope with cumulative stress — not just one negative experience but a combination over the life course — leads to a high allostatic load or ‘wear and tear’ on the body,” Bellazaire wrote in the MLPP report. “This wear and tear leads to racial health disparities across a range of medical conditions, including disadvantages in pregnancy and childbirth.”
As a woman who has deeply researched her own medical conditions, Woodard agrees. “Stress contributes a lot,” she says. “Your nervous system actually has a memory.”
Geronimus’ research found that in the U.S., non-Hispanic Black women have the highest incidence of weathering. While Black women moving to the U.S. more recently have outcomes similar to white women, those who have lived here all of their lives fare the worst, no matter how much money they have or how advanced their education.
“There are many factors that interact and inform pregnancy-related outcomes. Racial disparity and bias is one,” Bellazaire says. “This is borne out in evidence, not just in what people feel, anecdotes, or opinions. Consistent research suggests that when we hold things the same, education, socioeconomic status, and healthy behaviors, we continue to see these disparities by race.”
When health care systems operate with racial biases, whether they are recognized or not, that stress can be intensified. Practitioners may assume that Black women have Medicaid insurance coverage, are single mothers, lack education, or are using illegal drugs. According to a 2019 American Progress report, the intersectionality of racism and sexism often results in women of color experiencing bias and discrimination in health care settings, leaving them to feel invisible or unheard when they ask their medical providers for help or try to communicate their symptoms.
“When I had the last baby, I moved from New York to Virginia. I told the new doctor what’s going to happen … and of course he didn’t believe me,” Woodard says. “I was female and Black. He didn’t believe that I know my own body.”
“If you do not have access to respectful and responsive care, your health is going to be affected,” Bellazaire adds. “It’s as simple as if you feel unsupported or unheard, you may be less likely to receive care. We know that not receiving consistent prenatal care certainly affects Michigan’s outcomes. We want to make sure we are encouraging respectful, responsive care for all Michigan women if we care to improve outcomes.”
Respect and response
Although the statistics on racial disparities in infant health are disheartening, awareness of the issue is growing and Michigan is taking steps to address it. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed expansion of Michigan’s Healthy Moms Healthy Babies program shines a spotlight on racial maternal-infant health disparities and establishes a plan to decrease them. The plan states, “As a part of comprehensive health care for women we will ask a woman what she wants, ensure she can get it in one visit, and provide coverage for it.”
Dawn Shanafelt.In developing the plan, MDHHS staff met with residents across the state in town hall-style meetings to learn about their experiences, needs, and suggestions.
“I think we are transforming the way we are doing things,” Shanafelt says. “We made it clear that we don’t just want the state to come by and do its thing. We want open communication. We had our team of epidemiologists be a part of meetings so we could share data with communities and really show that we are invested in a partnership.”
First and foremost, Healthy Moms Healthy Babies expands health care coverage for low-income new moms to a full year after giving birth. The plan has established nine Regional Perinatal Quality Collaboratives (RPQCs) comprised of health care professionals, community partners, families, faith-based organizations, Great Start Collaboratives, home visiting agencies, and others who will focus on improving birth outcomes through quality improvement projects tailored to the strengths and challenges of each region.
Moving the first postpartum health care visit to within three weeks of birth and adding a comprehensive visit within 12 weeks will better support new mothers with postpartum depression and anxiety, breastfeeding challenges, or substance use disorders. Training in implicit bias will teach health care providers to better listen to women of color. Proven effective, home visiting programs will support women and babies in achieving better health while sharing information that will help them and their partners recognize developmental milestones, gain parenting skills, and access resources for housing, food security, or family planning.
“Really, what Healthy Moms Healthy Babies does is improve systems so we have sustainable change, [with the goal of] zero preventable deaths and zero disparities,” Shanafelt says. “Whether you live in Detroit or Traverse City, we want you to have the best possible chance of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby wherever you deliver.”
While racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality remain a problem, Michigan is actively charting paths towards health equity — with an emphasis on new moms and their babies. But as Woodard emphasizes, the long-term answer will go beyond policy change.
Yvonne Woodard.“Peoples’ hearts have to change,” she says. “… We Black women are no different [from white women]. The parts of our body are in the same place. It’s about domination. One day, people will realize this. One day, it’s going to be so much better.”
Yvonne Woodard photos by Kristina Bird. All other photos courtesy of the subjects.
For some Grand Rapids residents, growing a garden doesn’t just mean a bumper crop of tomatoes and greens at harvest time, it means taking back control of what’s on the dinner table.
Since 2003, Our Kitchen Table has been empowering families in four Grand Rapids neighborhoods – Garfield Park, Southtown, Eastown and Baxter – to grow their own food. The organization formed to address high levels of lead in the area. Homes in the neighborhoods sit on land previously used for farming, with pesticides leaving concentrated levels of lead in the soil. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables has been shown to counteract the effects of lead.
The organization’s mission today includes addressing food insecurity, food justice, nutrition and oral health among women and their families through gardening and services supporting health.
Demand for Our Kitchen Table’s services has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, said executive director Lisa Oliver-King. With families stuck at home and looking for ways to improve their health, Oliver-King said the number of households the organization served over the summer through a container gardening program nearly doubled.
A $34,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation will help Our Kitchen Table expand peer educator training, which will further help the organization keep up with increased demand. Oliver-King said empowering families with knowledge is a step toward food justice for underserved areas.
“The closer you are to your food in its natural state, the more nutritious it is,” she said. “The closer you are to your food, the more control you have over it.”
Through Our Kitchen Table’s Educate to Elevate programming, peer educators help families learn to grow their own nutritious foods and cook with them. They also show healthier ways to cook favorite dishes and introduce new produce to families so they can expand their palates and preferences for healthy foods. Peer educators also help expectant moms understand the relationship the food they eat has on the health of their growing baby. Greens with calcium can help babies’ bones grow strong, for example.
Della Levi started growing veggies and herbs in small pots in 2018, inspired by Our Kitchen Table’s Program for Growth, which partners with local schools to teach children about gardening and where food comes from. Levi’s efforts expanded to raised beds in 2019 and designated garden space in 2020 with more raised beds.
“Growing your own produce is magical,” Levi said. “Not only does food taste better, but it also looks better.”
Her intense interest in growing her own food is rooted in heritage as well. “The other reason why I grow produce is to pay homage to my ancestors and elders. Black farmers were instrumental in the freedom movement for African Americans in America,” Levi explained. “I have pledged to give away produce from my garden every season to show gratitude to the ancestors and elders.”
Oliver-King said stories like Levi’s are the reason Our Kitchen Table exists and she hopes to inspire more women and families passionate about home-grown food so they too can take charge of their own health and that of their families.
“The work that Our Kitchen Table is doing in Grand Rapids is helping transform the relationship families have with their food, which will ripple through generations and lead to better health outcomes,” said Audrey Harvey, executive director and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. “We’re proud to support efforts that are addressing food insecurity, food justice and providing families the education they need to increase their consumption of healthy foods.”
New Neighborhood Testing Site Begins Offering COVID-19 Testing in Grand Rapids
LANSING, MICH. A new Neighborhood Testing Site in Grand Rapids opens today, bringing the total number of community sites offering COVID-19 testing to 21. The Michigan Department of the Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is working with trusted community partners including churches, community colleges and nonprofit organizations to launch the sites.
The site, at Garfield Park Gym, 2111 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, will offer testing Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Neighborhood testing sites have proven to be a valuable resource for communities across the state to ensure free testing is available to all Michiganders,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy of health at MDHHS. “Since these sites were opened at the end of August, more than 16,000 Michiganders have been tested at one of the Neighborhood Testing Sites. Locations were chosen in part to help address racial and ethnic disparities that existed prior to the pandemic and were exacerbated by the virus.”
“We are pleased to collaborate with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Kent County Health Department to bring COVID-19 testing to our Garfield Park neighborhood,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “Providing free health screening to our most vulnerable residents is critical as we all work together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. And this is another example of how we are working with partners to reduce health disparities in our community.”
The new sites join 20 other sites in Albion, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Ecorse, Flint, Graying, Lansing, Niles, Roseville, Saginaw and Wayne. Language translation is being provided at all sites, as well as assistance for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“As we continue to encourage the people of Kent County to get tested, we are grateful to have this additional resource in our community,” said Dr. Adam London, administrative health officer with the Kent County Health Department. “Ensuring access to quality testing is a key part of our strategy to identify cases and limit COVID-19’s ability to spread.”
Testing sites are offering saliva tests, which are less invasive than nasal swabs and may make the testing process more tolerable for some people. Appointments are strongly encouraged and can be made either by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 and selecting “1,” or online. Walk-ins will be taken as space allows, but pre-registration is strongly advised. Online registration is available at Michigan.gov/CoronavirusTest.
Test results can be obtained via phone, email or by logging into the results portal.
Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
Reposted from Rapid Growth Media 9/23/2020
When a farmer’s first full year on the land falls in the midst of a global pandemic, that’s a pretty rough row to hoe. However, BruceMichael Wilson, owner of Groundswell Community Farm in Zeeland, has a rich history to fall back on. For one, he grew up on his family’s 160-acre farm in neighboring Allegan County. For an African American, this was a rarity. During the 20th century, as farmers became more dependent on credit to get started each spring, racist lending policies put Black farmers across the United States off their land. In fact, in 1920, 14% of all U.S. farms were owned by Black farmers. By 2012, that number had fallen to 1.4%. Sad to say, Michigan’s history tells the same story.
Wilson’s father purchased his farm in 1970. To ensure he would be allowed to do so, he kept his race a secret until he signed on the line at closing. Happy on the family farm, Wilson wrote, illustrated and published his first book, “Our Big Farm” at age six.
“My earliest recollection of being on the farm was helping with chores, gardening, and feeding livestock,” Wilson says. “Farming has always been in my DNA so when the opportunity presented itself [at Groundswell], I made it happen.”
Groundswell Community Farm is a vendor at Holland Farmers Market, Farmers Market at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, and Southeast Area Farmers’ Market in Grand Rapids. The farm offers Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and sells to Ottawa County food pantries and Doorganics.
Originally founded by food justice activists Katie Brandt and Tom Cary, Groundswell has a history that lends itself well to Wilson’s next endeavor: Dunyun, an enterprise that will train Black youth to be the farmers of a more equitable future. Named for the nickname his late brother gave him, Dunyun will transform the farm into an educational center where Black children from throughout West Michigan can dig into their African American agricultural heritage as well as into the soil.
“I’m going to promote being excited about being Black,” Wilson says. “Being proud of who you are is the single most important step. I’ve learned to be proud of myself and proud of my people.”
Wilson wants Black youth to grow up knowing about successful Black Americans in agriculture like Daniel Webster Wallace, who was born a slave in 1860, ran away to become a cowboy, and ended up owning his own ranch, where white ranchers stopped by for frequent advice.
BruceMichael Wilson, owner of Groundswell Community Farm in Zeeland“There are a lot of untold stories that young Black kids have never heard They need to picture themselves doing the same kinds of things to feel some worth,” Wilson says. “Learning about our people in general will move them one step further ahead.”
Being a Black farmer in Michigan has not been easy for Wilson. He feels that others in the farming community do not take him seriously. And, when a series of thefts happened on the farm, he chose not to report them for fear of the reaction he might get when law enforcement came out to take a report.
“I might get shot or killed,” he says. “I am afraid I would have a hard time convincing police that I was the farmer if they were to show up after daylight hours.”
The hope is that Dunyun will free future Black farmers from those very real fears.
“If you are designated a Black farm hand or laborer, then you earn more respect than being a Black farmer. That’s where most people feel you belong,” Wilson says. “Our mission to stay in business long enough to get the winning hand and change that narrative.”
When Dunyun starts bringing busloads of African American children to Groundswell Farm from Grand Rapids’ and the Lakeshore’s urban communities, that change will begin. Wilson concludes, “I can tell people that I might be the first Black USDA organic grower in the area, but I don’t have to be the last.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Interim Innovation News Editor
Photos courtesy Groundswell Community Farm