This post is part of a series of interviews of recipient agencies for the Access of West Michigan 2021 Walk for Good Food. This year, we have 13 in total, each with their own role in creating a thriving Good Food system in West Michigan. Read below to see why Good Food is important to their work, and check out our website at accessofwestmichigan.org/walk to learn more or to walk with us!
AWM: how would you describe your organization — what is your mission and what work do you do towards that mission?
OKT: A grassroots, nonprofit organization serving the communities of greater Grand Rapids, Our Kitchen Table (OKT) seeks to promote social justice and serve as a vehicle that empowers our neighbors so that they can improve their health and environment, and the health and environment of their children, through information, community organizing and advocacy.
AWM: why is Good Food important to your organization?
OKT: Currently, OKT is doing this work through the lens of Food Justice. OKT’s “Programs for Growth,” addresses lead poisoning through healthy foods by working with Martin Luther King Leadership Academy students, student families, and neighboring households to grow food at the school and at residences, providing organic starter plants and seeds; composted soil; containers and tools; garden education classes; and sessions with a food garden coach; healthy eating workshops and one-on-one consultations with a Registered dietitian; and sharing strategies for preventing lead poisoning through soil testing and diet.
For the past 12 months, OKT’s Educate to Elevate virtual workshops reach women with income challenges, primarily women of color, who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are mothers of a low-birth weight babies and well as moms diagnosed with overweight or obesity who receive SNAP, WIC, or other food assistance. OKT’s guest chefs facilitate a cooking demo and conversation on making easy, healthy, affordable meals for your family, including baby food. A registered dietitian also addresses the foods work for individual participants and their medical issues. Local participants are also given the resources to grow a food garden and receive vouchers good at the Southeast Area Farmers Market and select SNAP retailers. Another goal is to share strategies for stretching the food budget and maximizing SNAP and WIC dollars on healthy food purchases.
OKT manages the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market, a walkable market in a neighborhood with limited access to healthy foods, sells local produce and welcomes and enhances food assistance programs. Dollars that OKT receives from the Walk for Good Food will help OKT provide staff and equipment to facilitate the market during the upcoming 2021 market season
AWM: how does the Good Food Systems goal (of fair, healthy, green, and affordable food) impact the way that your organization sees its mission or does its work?
OKT: OKT supports the principals of the Michigan Good Food Charter both in its work with community and in the educational materials we create.
- Green – We teach our food growers to use sustainable, organic food growing and composting methods; test their soil and the soil in gardens of market vendors to ensure no chemical contamination of foods; vend only safe produce at our market.
- Fair – We work to ensure our market vendors receive fair prices for their produce. All of our staff members earn a living wage. Our food justice education classes address farm worker and food worker rights as well as livestock animal welfare.
- Affordable – Our food growing programs make healthy foods affordable. We help participants develop a “Food Portfolio,” which helps them identify healthy foods available in neighborhood via SNAP benefits, pantries, and gardens. Our market accepts food assistance dollars; has created its own “Market Bucks” coupon program; and signs people up for Double Up Food Bucks. Our Cook, Eat and Talk classes show how healthy food can be prepared as inexpensively as fast and convenience foods.
AWM: Does your organization have a favorite food memory?
OKT: OKT would like to share two favorite food memories. During a cooking demo at a government subsidized housing community, Ms. Toni made collards. A mom and her toddler had never had them before but before the mother could decide if she wanted a taste, the toddler gobbled up the full serving and asked for more. Another took place the opening day of the Southeast Area Farmers Market some years back. A ten-year-old boy waited a half an hour for the market to open so he could buy some plums. Children have a hunger for good food. If we can help them satisfy it while they are young, they will build healthy eating habits for life.