Tag Archive | Downtown Market

“Support Local Food” discussion did not address Downtown Market concerns

On Monday Sept. 14, Urban Roots hosted a panel discussion at the Wealthy Theatre titled “Support Local Food: A conversation on access, growing, and the local food economy.” An organizer of the event contacted Our Kitchen Table to ask if we would like to represented on the panel for the event, which was to continue the conversation started by Urban Roots‘ Levi Gardner in his recent opinion piece, a critique of the Downtown Market’s failure to address food insecurity in the neighborhood where it is located. We were excited to at long last be part of such a public conversation.

Since the Market was in its planning stages, OKT has raised concerns about it to planners, city commissioners and our own constituents via our website and food justice classes. Initially, OKT raised concerns that such a market project, using substantial public monies, should only proceed with input from food insecure neighbors and have a goal of improving food security in the neighborhood, which offers income challenged residents here nearly no access to affordable, healthy foods (other than through charities). After the Downtown Market Farmers’ Market opened, OKT again raised concerns that it did not provide a welcoming atmosphere for income challenged people and most of its product was far too expensive.

During last Monday’s event, the panelists did deliver an animated discussion about the challenges of building an equitable food system; the high costs and small returns experienced by small local farmers; and the need for an alternative to the failing industrial food system as well as a heart touching testimony shared by a long-term Heartside resident.  However, OKT had hoped to challenge the Downtown Market with these questions:

  • Millions of public dollars were used to build the Downtown Market. Hundreds of thousands more are maintaining it. Because the market is publicly funded, should it not serve the public, specifically the people living closest to it, seeing as income-challenged neighbors living nearby have very little access to affordable, healthy foods?
  • Many people living near the market have limited or no access to a good working kitchen. Since the market’s kitchen facilities were built using public funds, is there not a moral imperative to give people with income challenges — living in its neighborhood –access through community kitchen programs where they could prepare healthy foods?
  • The Downtown Market farmers’ market participates in government food assistance programs. Why is not more effort made to create an environment more welcoming to people with income challenges and people of color? For examples, the sign advertising the Double Up Food Bucks program also warns against loitering and soliciting. What kind of message does this send? Most of the foods are high end gourmet items. What does this product selection tell people with income challenges?
  • Vendors have shared that fees at the Downtown Farmers Market are prohibitive and force them to charge higher prices. Why can’t this publicly funded market subsidize or waive fees for small-farm vendors selling local fruits and vegetables as this would increase food access for neighborhood people with income challenges?

Let’s get back together and get some answers to these questions. Together, we can make the Downtown Market a place Grand Rapids can really be proud of. Not only because foodies from across the country make it their destination, but also because it is helping to bring food security to its income challenged neighbors whose health is currently being ravaged by nutrient-poor diets.

OKT on panel discussion following tonight’s screening of “GMO OMG”

Foodie Film Series: GMO OMG
Grand Rapids Downtown Market
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM Grand Rapids, MI

The Downtown Market invited OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King to sit on a panel discussing the film, GMO OMG. Others on the panel include Rachelle Bostwick,Earth Keeper Farm;Dr. David Dornbos,Professor of Biology at Calvin College; Hannah Fernando,GVSU Sustainable Food System Major and local agripreneur activist;Emily Helmus, Bloom Ferments and Oscar Moreno, Serafina’s Bar & Grill.

According to the film’s promotional materials, GMO OMG’s “director and concerned father Jeremy Seifert is in search of answers. How do GMOs affect our children, the health of our planet, and our freedom of choice? And perhaps the ultimate question, which Seifert tests himself: is it even possible to reject the food system currently in place, or have we lost something we can’t gain back? These and other questions take Seifert on a journey from his family’s table to Haiti, Paris, Norway, and the lobby of agra-giant Monsanto, from which he is unceremoniously ejected. Along the way we gain insight into a question that is of growing concern to citizens the world over: what’s on your plate?” 

You can see the trailer here.

OKT agreed to join the panel because getting the message out that eliminating GMOs from our diet is one way we can ensure better health and fairer food. You can read more about our stance on GMOs in our GMOs & Food Justice handout. .

While OKT applauds the Downtown Market for embarking on a series that gets the word out about GMOs and other controversial food topics, it is hoped that the market will also take steps to not only become more accessible and inviting to income challenged residents living in its neighborhood–as these same neighbors have little or no access to healthy, affordable foods–but also invite these same neighbors to take part in deciding the future course of the market.

Downtown Market farmers’ market a well-heeled oasis in the food desert

Downtown Market Sign

Downtown Market Farmers’ Market signage. Is this a mixed message?

By Stelle Slootmaker, OKT Communications Officer

For the past three weeks, I have stopped at the Downtown Market farmers’ market to pick up my very generous CSA share from Green Wagon Farm.

On each occasion, I have been discouraged to note that much of the other food sold here is of the gourmet variety with very high prices. For example, goat cheese for $1 an ounce (that’s $16 a pound); 2 mini donut bites for $2; artisan bread, $6 a loaf; or organic blue eggs, $6 a dozen.

The shoppers that I’ve seen patronizing the market seem to be the type who can afford these prices. A large gathering of homeless and income challenged folks seem corralled in the park just a block away. But it may as well be miles.

That said, I have been able to find more reasonably priced items from Green Wagon, Visser Brothers, Creswick Farm and a few others–free range eggs for $3.00 and strawberries for $3.75 a quart. But would a person or family with income challenges feel comfortable shopping here? I doubt it.

In my opinion, this market is one more successful example of why we need an alternative to the existing food and agriculture system.

This market is thriving, as is big agribusiness and the food industry as a whole. But I doubt that it does much to provide “food desert” families access to healthy foods. A local blog, Food Deserted, asked the question, “Will this market serve the desert? Or, will it be an oasis that is too expensive for the poor?”

At my first glance, I am afraid the answer is the latter.