Tag Archive | COVID-19

PODCAST: Can COVID help us close gaps in Michigan’s food supply chain?

Reposted from Second Wave Michigan


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on food insecurity and food systems. According to an estimate by Northwestern University, the pandemic more than doubled food insecurity in America, affecting nearly a quarter of all U.S. households last year. Here in Michigan, one and a quarter million people have received expanded emergency food assistance benefits during the pandemic. The pandemic opened many Michiganders’ eyes to food supply chain issues they’d never considered before. And while the darkest days of COVID-prompted food insecurity may be behind us, major gaps in Michigan’s food system remain.

Meghan McDermott, director of programs at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, discusses how we can draw from COVID’s lessons to continue strengthening Michigan’s food system in the long run. Meghan has helped spearhead multiple programs to address food insecurity in Northwest Michigan during the pandemic. We talked about the massive challenges COVID created for Northwest Michigan residents and farmers, and how we all can help to build a stronger, healthier food system in Michigan.

EJ virtual Fireside Chat “COVID-19 One Year Later, Where Are We Now?

To sign up and register for this event use this link.

Have a seat by the fire and join the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition for its third Fireside Chat “COVID-19 One Year Later, Where Are We Now?”. This discussion is imperative for us to have as we determine the short and long term impacts of COVID-19. Panelists for this event will be Theresa Landrum, Dr. Natalie Sampson, and Kari Fulton. MEJC’s Fireside Chat will be taking place via Zoom, however it will be broadcasting on Facebook as well. Join in and invite someone to join along around the campfire! 

Having a Blue Christmas?

We here at Our Kitchen Table want to let you know that our hearts are with you during this 2020 holiday season. For some of us, the holidays will still hold opportunity for fun and fellowship with loved ones, though perhaps fewer of them than in years past.

For others of us, grief, loneliness, and financial difficulties may be fueling anxiety and depression.

NAMI-Michigan has created a wonderful free guide to help us cope with life during COVID-19 that you may find helpful these next few weeks. You can download or view it here: The Effects of COVID-19 related Social Isolation on the Mental Health of Racialized Communities.

The guide shares, “To preserve mental health, it is essential to maintain a sense of purpose and belonging. It is also important to find inventive ways to connect with others virtually through Facetime, Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp. Do this by maintaining engagement with faith and cultural institutions in a virtual capacity for social support. Additionally, to maintain connectedness with family cook dinner in your respective kitchens and have a remote dinner together while taking turns telling your favorite family story and reminiscing about past events.

Engage in Dr. Sue Varma’s 4 Ms of Mental Health: movement (exercising), meaningful engagement (connecting with other people), mastery (being creative), and mindfulness (deep breathing and being aware). Practicing this formula can bring peace of mind during stressful times. Lastly, make plans and remain hopeful because learning to cope with pandemic stress in a healthy way not only makes you stronger, but makes our community stronger.

Browse the NAMI-Michigan website for even more mental health resources.

OKT joined WMSBF online round-table about food systems during COVID-19

lisaWest Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) hosted an online round-table discussing how local organizations and community leaders can promote health,wellness and sustainability through their local food systems during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

On the event page, WMSBF stated, “The coronavirus pandemic and its containment strategies are highlighting the importance of food systems to personal health and community resiliency. Food security and nutrition have become increasingly visible concerns as restaurant closures, grocery shortages and emergency food distributions came to represent the pandemic’s economic and social impacts. It is quickly becoming one of the key measures of resilience for Michigan communities and their workers.”
The panel discussion sought to address how can local organizations support their workers and communities through investments in food systems; how can local residents can better support themselves and the community through their purchases and practices; and how neighborhoods can become more resilient and connected through individual and neighborhood investments in food production. Panelists included Kate Lieto, Experience Grand Rapids; Lisa Oliver-King, Our Kitchen Table; and Garrett Ziegler, Michigan State University community food systems educator.

The webinar was one of WMSBF’s series exploring sustainability and sustainable business in context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for information on the series.

Here are the talking points which guided OKT’s contribution to the discussion.

What are some of your initial takeaways about how the pandemic could inform food system policies and practices moving forward?

  • The current industrial food system is neither sustainable nor resilient. For the most part, growing practices harm the environment (soil, air, and water) and foods are distributed to create profit, with the result that income challenged people, most often people of color, find it difficult or impossible to access nutrient rich foods.
  • Our African American and Native populations have high incidence of nutrition related issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, behavioral health impacts etc.
  • Small changes are made being made on local levels, but we have a long way to go, especially as the affluent are those most benefitting from the healthy “foody” movement.

How can local organizations support their workers and communities through investments in food systems?

  • While I may not feel I have the expertise to advise business how to invest in a better food system, I can relate that the underlying factor contributing to inequities in the food system and the healthcare system is racism, both the cultural impacts of institutional racism as well and the personal impacts of day-to-day experience of racism, which causes chronic stress. The stress of racism has been proven to increase morbidity and is especially borne out by our maternal-infant mortality rates.

Building on that, how can local residents better support themselves and the community through their purchases and practices?

  • Supporting local, clean food via CSA membership, farmers’ markets, and grocery purchases.
  • Sad to say, the current system thrives on selling profitable junk and fast foods. Policy change and regulations in advertising (especially to children) are needed.

LISA How can neighborhoods become more resilient and connected through individual and neighborhood investments in food production?

  • Growing food.
  • Food mapping.
  • Advocate for policy change.
  • Food “literacy”
  • Healthier foods served at school
  • Recognition of wisdom within the community, especially elders

What efforts are you seeing that support a change in these disparities? 

I don’t know that we are seeing much effort. We need:

  • Paid sick days
  • Living wages ($20 an hour?)
  • High quality healthcare for all
  • Appreciation and fair compensation for our immigrant farm workers

What are some of your initial takeaways about how the pandemic could inform food system policies and practices moving forward?

  • COVID-19 has borne out the inequities in our food systems.
  • People of color are contracting and dying from the disease at much higher rates. The underlying conditions predisposing them to his are all results of a food system that denies them nutrient-rich foods.

GRAAHI & Cherry Health hosting special COVID-19 Facebook Live event 5 p.m. today

Join Grand Rapids African American Health Institute’s Micah Foster and Cherry Health’s Tasha Blackmon today, Wednesday, April 22, at 5 p.m. for a special Facebook Live discussion about COVID-19’s impact on our community and the resources available at Cherry Health.


The event, which will be live streamed on both GRAAHI and Cherry Health’s Facebook pages, will focus on COVID-19 screening and testing available at Cherry Health as well as tips for practicing good social distancing and use of PPEs. Foster and Blackmon will also be answering viewer questions via the comments during the informative session.

Governor Whitmer Creates the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities

“This virus is holding a mirror up to our society and reminding us
of the deep inequities in this country.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer

downloadOn April 9, Governor Gretchen Whitmer created the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. The task force, chaired by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, will consist of leaders across state government and health care professionals from communities most impacted by the spread of coronavirus. The task force will hold it’s first meeting this week. 

As of today, over 40% of COVID-19 deaths in Michigan are African Americans, but only 14% of Michiganders are African Americans. The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities will provide the governor with recommendations on how to address this disparity as we work to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state. 

“This virus is holding a mirror up to our society and reminding us of the deep inequities in this country,” said Governor Whitmer. “From basic lack of access to health care, transportation, and protections in the workplace, these inequities hit people of color and vulnerable communities the hardest. This task force will help us start addressing these disparities right now as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.” 


“We know that generations of racial disparities and inequality has a detrimental impact on the lives of people across the state,” Lt. Governor Gilchrist said. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown this inequity to be particularly true, especially in the Black community, where the health of our friends and family has been disproportionately impacted. That’s why we are taking immediate action to assemble some of the greatest minds to tackle this racial injustice now and in the future.” 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Whitmer has signed a number of executive orders aimed at protecting people in vulnerable communities. These include orders to temporarily ban evictions and tax foreclosures, expand unemployment benefits, and restore running water for families. 

During her first year as governor, Governor Whitmer took several steps aimed at lifting Michigan families out of poverty. She announced the Michigan Poverty Task Force within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), which will provide her with recommendations on how to get more families on a path to success. She has been working with providers and universities to establish implicit bias training in their curriculum so that as people of color seek health care, they’ll be treated with equal dignity and respect, which will yield better outcomes. And in October, she raised asset test limits to make it easier for families to access food assistance and assist them in paying for necessities like rent, utilities, and warm clothes. 

“It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for us to address these problems” Governor Whitmer continued. “It shouldn’t take a crisis for us to expand unemployment benefits, ensure protections for workers who are sick, or expand access to quality, affordable health care. We’re going to come out of this, but we must also learn some hard lessons about the deep problems in our economy that we need real, meaningful solutions on. As we recover from the impact of COVID-19, my administration will continue to focus on long-term solutions for every family in Michigan.” 

This media release was originally broadcasted April 9, 2020

Program for Growth continues via phone


Spring 2019

When Governor Whitmer closed the schools, OKT’s Program for Growth at Grand Rapids Public Schools MLK Jr. Leadership Academy kept on keeping on.

With help from her tech-savvy daughters, our executive director Lisa Oliver-King set up conference calling with program participants. Not only has the group been able to keep on learning, they have also been a great support to one another during this time of crisis.

123_1The Program for Growth involves parents and caregivers of students attending the school in food growing and healthy eating education.Through OKT’s each one-teach one philosophy, leadership of the program has come up from within. Five program participants have trained to be garden and cooking coaches for the program.