South East Market is a force of radical change in Grand Rapids during this tumultuous year. The new grocery store is located in the South East neighborhood of Grand Rapids, a historically underserved area where 1 in 8 people experience food insecurity. The market combats food insecurity in their community while sourcing primarily from farms and food businesses owned by BIPOC, female or non-binary folks. The co-founders Alita Kelly and Khara DeWit are both women of color, mothers and community members who seek to improve food access for their neighbors.
The market has local produce, meat, mushrooms, baked goods and bulk foods, while also offering affordable basics. To increase the affordability of all of their products, they subsidize the cost of some of the pricier local products, like organic grass-fed meat. Funds for these subsidies come from their “pay it forward” program, which you can donate to on their home page.
They provide weekly produce boxes similar to a CSA box. In addition to ordering a box for themselves, folks can also opt for a “Soul-to-Soul” option that purchases a produce bundle subscription for a community member in need. So far, these bundles have served 19 community members with weekly boxes, including mothers and pregnant folks at De la Flor Midwifery and now some members of Adams Park Apts, which is public housing for older and adults with disabilities.
“There’s no limit on how many people we can reach with this, but how generous is our community going to be?” Kelly says.
Until the South East Market was established, this neighborhood had only convenience stores and stores with low-quality products and limited options. This is a result of food apartheid, which is the intentional, systemic creation of food insecurity in Black and Brown communities.
Kelly and DeWit chose a grocery store as their method of serving the community because it “is saturated with nonprofits that don’t really provide the dignity of choice that our neighbors deserve. Food is a need everyday, so having a food giveaway is not conducive to the way people interact with food everyday.”
Systemic racism has impacted farmers as well – there are only two Black-owned farms in the West MI region (Groundswell Farms and Agape Organic Farm) because of historic land loss due to racist lending structures in agriculture. Kelly says their sourcing practices are strategic and intentional; when people inquire about sourcing, “it is an exercise to share with people the land loss and inequity in the world of agriculture, specifically in MI.”
Education is core to food justice work, and the South East Market has done this by bringing people together. In collaboration with the NAACP, The City of GR, and Resilient Roots Wellness, they’ve established a Freedom School to provide healing based youth educational programming that focuses on mindfulness, health and social justice. This highlights’ South East Market’s focus on “beloved community,” coined by Martin Luther King Jr. They bring people together from different backgrounds, races and socioeconomic stata to work towards a common goal that serves all of us. This community engagement brings the donor and the receiver together to share the same space, unlike most models in which they are separate. As Kelly says, “not one group can be free until we’re all free. You may think you’re free, but at the root of it, you’re not.”
While Grand Rapids is a largely white, religiously dominated area, Kelly says the market is encouraging “the conversations we need to have on a community level about these dynamics, and how we foster a more inclusive community.” South East Market has received an outpouring of community support, from neighbors, all types of community members, and churches as well. They still need your support to continue this work!
How to support this movement:
- Pay It Forward – donations go towards reducing the cost of vegetables from local Black farms and all local meat.
- Purchase a Soul-to-Soul subscription, or purchase a subscription for someone else by noting “gift” in the comments.
- Support one of their farm suppliers, the Black woman owned Agape Organic Farms as she adapts her current infrastructure
- Come shop and help build the beloved community!
Payge Lindow was the West Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference.
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