Published in Food/Agribusiness
South East Market co-founders Alita Kelly (left) and Khara DeWit. Courtesy photo. South East Market co-founders Alita Kelly (left) and Khara DeWit. Courtesy photo. COURTESY PHOTO

South East Market, WMEAC receive federal grant to build equitable community agriculture program

BY Thursday, November 11, 2021 04:31pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Grand Rapids-based South East Market LLC have received a nearly $127,000 federal grant to help fund a program addressing food insecurity. 

The organizations will use the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to build their “Freedom Farm Collective: Reducing Food Insecurity through Community Engagement” program. The initiative was among 21 projects across the country — and the only one in Michigan — to receive a USDA Urban Agriculture Innovation and Production grant. 

“Social, environmental, and food justice don’t operate in a vacuum,” South East Market co-founder Alita Kelly said in a statement. “It’s essential that we download the wisdom and wishes of people in our neighborhoods and empower those most affected by climate change, food apartheid and systemic racism while exploring innovative ways to bring people together to address these issues.”

WMEAC and South East Market will use the grant funding to develop a business plan outlining the feasibility of a cooperative, sustainable, urban agriculture operation. The organizations will also use the funding to engage with residents in the 49507 ZIP code, develop a curriculum to support community education at the Freedom Farm Collective, and identify barriers and recommend local policy changes regarding local agriculture.

The South East Market grocery store — co-founded by Kelly and Khara DeWit — opened in January 2021 on Grand Rapids’ south side and sources from farms owned by Black, Indiginous, People of Color (BIPOC) and women. Kelly began Freedom School programming for local children last fall to teach them about urban agriculture, mindfulness and intersectional justice work. The Freedom School’s focus is also to address the way BIPOC individuals have been disconnected from their land, history, culture, food and ancestral diets.

Kelly started Freedom School from her house and backyard. It has since moved to the Martin Luther King Jr. Park where organizers built a community garden with raised beds. About 40 students are currently enrolled in Freedom School, which also includes work at the Baxter Community Center greenhouse, Kelly said.

“This grant will give us the opportunity to hear from local and national leaders who are engaged in intersectional equity issues and practices,” Kelly said. “It will also provide a vehicle to take our frustrations with oppressive systems and turn them into healthy solutions. These solutions involve the conjoining of food access, education, environmental justice and land reparations.”

The federal planning grant will allow South East Market to work in collaboration with WMEAC to explore ways to give more access to farmers of color to operate in urban settings, and the partnership between the organization will help expand the capacity and curriculum for Freedom School. 

Partnering with South East Market will enable WMEAC to broaden its scope of advocacy to acknowledge how food access, urban agriculture and equitable land have an integral place in local environmentalism, officials said.

“With the disruptions to food access caused in recent years by events like the polar vortex of 2018, supply chain fractures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasingly unpredictable weather due to climate change, projects like Freedom Farm are more important than ever when looking at resilience and local control with regard to food systems,” WMEAC Executive Director Bill Wood said in a statement.

The University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability are also partnering on the project and are taking it on as a master’s level research project, Kelly said. The West Michigan Chapter for the National Young Farmers Coalition will also assist with making recommendations to the urban agriculture committee for land reparations and to ease access for people of color to farm in urban areas, Kelly said.

“We want to empower liberated spaces for BIPOC individuals to be connected to the land and their food,” Kelly said. “Since less than 2 percent of the farmers in the U.S. are farmers of color, part of this work is addressing that and giving people the opportunity to see they can be farmers and it is a viable career option for them.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to mention South East Market co-founder Khara DeWit.

Read 2057 times Last modified on Monday, 15 November 2021 14:14