GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids native Alita Kelly saw a market need on the south side of the city and formed a pickup and delivery food service that will mainly source from Black and Indigenous farmers, as well as women producers.
The South East Market is still in its development stage, but Kelly plans to launch it in a couple months to members who have donated, and then to the general public in January 2021.
The 30-year-old became more conscious of food and nutrition when she had her daughter. Kelly studied dietetics in college, and recently graduated from the University of Michigan in environmental science and sustainable business.
“With everything happening as far as COVID-19 and the national conversations we’re having about race, I’m an entrepreneur by heart and my passion is solving issues through business,” Kelly said. “I saw all of the possibilities for a food business here that supports our entire community, not just the southeast side (of Grand Rapids).”
Access to healthy food is harder to come by on the southeast side of town, Kelly said, and she is working to bridge that gap with her delivery service. The South East Market’s mission is aligned very similarly with the goals of the Southtown Market, a weekly market that will launch Aug. 15, as MiBiz previously reported. Both concepts are geared toward providing the community with fresh produce that is largely currently unavailable in the area.
Black Lives Matter protests that have been happening in Grand Rapids this summer and around the world — sparked by the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers — have put a renewed focus on supporting Black businesses.
“We keep hearing this dialogue of ‘vote with your dollars,’ and ‘where are you going to spend your money?’ and this really brings the two together,” Kelly said.
Aside from the protests and national discussions occurring about race relations, most people are doing more grocery shopping and their own cooking because of shutdown orders related to the coronavirus. While Kelly acknowledges grocery delivery services like Shipt are available, the money going to those national providers will not be funneled directly back into the community the way it would by buying from a local farm.
The South East Market will operate as a grocery service with options for pickup or delivery once or twice a week, Kelly said. The plan is to have people go on the market’s website to choose what they want in their food order. Everything sold through the market will be “highly vetted” for how sustainably it is produced, Kelly said.
“There is going to be an educational piece on the website around how to shop — that’s another need we have,” Kelly said.
Kelly is working to add options to the website that will cater to people’s health goals and will include recipe cards and necessary ingredients to make healthy meals.
Sourcing products from Black, Indigenous and women farmers and food suppliers is one of the “greatest barriers,” Kelly explained, noting the lack of farmers in that demographic locally. Despite this, Kelly said she has been able to use social media to connect to the farmers she wants to support both locally and on a statewide level.
“In order to serve West Michigan with a diverse group of vendors, it’s going to require us to drive some, and while we’re trying to keep it as local as possible, local to us as far as food goes will mean being produced in Michigan,” she said.
Kelly is currently working to secure a space for The South East Market to operate. She also is working to be able to accept both Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments from patrons.
Kelly formerly served as the board vice president for Urban Roots, sat on the Urban Agriculture committee for the city of Grand Rapids, and helped launch the 2020 season of the Southeast Area Farmers Market in Grand Rapids.
“As a Black woman and someone who worked in the food system here and tries to uphold high standards of sustainability in everything they do, people in the community look to me for what they should eat and where they should buy their food from,” Kelly said. “I’ve been talking to my community and they want to invest in this work.”
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