Tag Archive | Food System

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.

Shakara Taylor to host OKT food justice event Monday

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Shakara and her daughter shared many important insights at her April presentation.

Diagramming Your Food System
6 to 8 p.m. Monday July 18
Garfield Park Lodge
334 Burton St. SE
Grand Rapids MI 49507

On Monday, OKT’s special guest, Shakara Taylor,  will help us to identify how the industrial food system functions in our neighborhoods and, despite its limitations, figure out ways to build a healthier food portfolio for our families and community. Whether you are a parent, grandparent or live alone and want to discover better ways to stretch your food dollar and improve your diet, this workshop is for you. OKT also welcomes those who work on issues of hunger, under-nutrition and food justice.

A mother, returning generation farmer, educator, activist-scholar and PhD student at Michigan State University, Department of Community Sustainability, Shakara explores decolonial pedagogies in the food justice and food sovereignty movements within the communal praxis of black agrarianism. Her personal journey of loving, healing and decolonizing is intimately wedded with working and learning with the land. She is committed to working with communities and using land-based activism to build food sovereign communities.

How Walmart is Taking Over the Food System

Reposted from Eco-watch

Walmart now captures $1 of every $4 Americans spend on groceries. It’s on track to claim one-third of food sales within five years. Here’s a look at how Walmart has dramatically altered the food system—triggering massive consolidation, driving down prices to farmers and leaving more families struggling to afford healthy food.

MLive uncritically looks at GRCC farmer certification program

This article was originally posted on GRIID.

Last week,  MLive posted a story by reporter Brian McVicar, which promoted a new program by the Grand Rapids Community College that seeks to assist local farmer obtain certification and allow them to sell to larger food distributors.

The article states that GRCC is offeringGood Agricultural Practice (GAP)certification classes to area farmers who want to expand their sales beyond farmers markets. Nowhere in the story does the reporter question the premise of the project, which seems to be shifting food sales from farmers markets to involve food marketers and food brokers. The article does not include voices that would suggest that farmers markets are the best mechanisms for promoting local food.

The only sources cited in the article are the director of work force training at GRCC and someone with the MSU extension, which is one of the partners in this project.

However, the article omits the other partners in this project, which according to GRCC are Sysco, Walsma Lyons and Morse Marketing Connections. The MLive story does mention Sysco, but not as a partner.

Understanding who the partners are in this project makes all the difference in the world. Sysco, Walsma Lyons and Morse Marketing Connections do not grow food, they only distribute and market food products. These entities also have a long history of being food brokers and marketers with an emphasis that is not on the local. For instance, Walsma Lyons states they offer access “to a large global network of preferred suppliers.”

Morse Marketing Connections, “originally worked with Michigan-based agricultural groups and has expanded nationally, now working in multi-sector partnerships across a variety of food-related initiatives, with government agencies, private and public universities and corporations.” Sysco, while it has a Grand Rapids office, is one of the largest food distributors in the US.

What the MLive reporter failed to acknowledge or investigate is that when companies like Sysco get involved in purchasing from local growing’s, particularly small farmers is that they then exert tremendous influence in what those farmers grow. The reason being is that Sysco and other food brokers operate on volume, which means they not only are likely to determine food prices, they sometime can determine what farmers grow, based on “the market.” If a small blueberry farmer begins to sell their product to companies like Sysco they are submitting themselves to an unstable market that is often determined by what Sysco other food distributors can market around the country or around the global. This means that when a crop disaster happens anywhere else in the world it can impact the sales of food grown locally that are now in the global market because of their relationship to companies like Sysco.

This topic was explored briefly in the film Food Inc., but is better explained in Raj Patel’s book Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System.

If the local news media is going to report on local programs that are supposed to “assist” area farmers, then they need to ask important questions about the commercial partners in this project and what it really means for farmers and the public.