Over the past year, a volunteer formation team has been working hard to establish a new Kent County Food Policy Council. The Council will create one clear voice to inform local policy impacting food production, consumption, and access. This voice will influence policy makers and raise public awareness about the local food system’s impact on the area’s environmental, social, and economic health.
“Looking around at the rest of Michigan, there are eight food councils … and more than 200 across the US. Grand Rapids had one in the not too distant past, but it is now defunct,” says Emma Garcia, co-executive director of Access West Michigan and a member of the formation team. “Things were happening in the local food system policy space but there was not one unified voice looking to understand and span food system sectors.”
In addition to Garcia, the team includes volunteers from the Kent County Health Department, Kent County Essential Needs Task Force, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, Fulton Street Farmers’ Market, and local nonprofits and educational institutions.
“I’m really excited to see us grow into the same space that other cities in Michigan are in,” Garcia says. “Grand Rapids is behind.”
As guiding principles, the formation team includes championing good food, as defined by the Michigan Good Food Charter: Good food is healthy, green (sustainably produced), fair (does not exploit labor), and affordable. Additional principles promote a thriving economy, biodiversity, protecting natural resources, and connecting sectors across the food system. The team hopes that these principles will guide decision-makers on topics like farmland preservation, handling food waste, developing new business opportunities, and creating food justice.
“Recently, we’ve done focus groups and a community survey as we wanted resident input on what the top priorities should be,” Garcia says. “We fit a lot of topics into the focus areas. We are asking residents, ‘What are the top priorities to you?’”
In addition to gathering community input, the formation team is seeking funding and inviting 15 members for the actual appointed council, two each from agriculture, business, education, government, health, and non-profit sectors, and three ad hoc/at large members. The Kent County Essential Needs Task Force director, currently Wende Randall, will also sit on the council. The team is looking for council members that exemplify diversity and inclusion and have experience in the area of food insecurity.
“In our community, people struggle to understand food as a catalyst for community vibrancy,” Garcia concludes. “From my perspective, food is the starting point and the answer.”
Pop-up farm stand increases access to Good Food
As the Kent County Food Policy Council paves the way for better food access, area residents may see more projects like The Field Goods’ pop-up farm stand pop up.
“Our goal is to experiment with ways to grow the local food economy, and make good, healthy, local food more accessible around Grand Rapids,” says Jenna Weiler, who runs the business in partnership with Annaliese Brown. “To test the idea out this summer we have launched a pop-up farm stand at The Sovengard on Sundays.”
The Field Goods pop-up farm stand will be in the farm-to-table restaurant’s beer garden from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday in August. Weiler notes that it is often difficult for farmers to spend time selling at multiple farmers markets, especially as they never know if they will sell enough produce to make the time spent worthwhile. The Field Goods invites farmers to drop off vegetables, fruits, and flowers and the Fields Goods’ staff handles the sales.
“Farmers then receive a significantly higher percentage for their goods than they do in a traditional grocery,” Weiler says. “We also want to make local food more available to Grand Rapids, so on Sundays, when there is no (farmers) market open, our farm stand can fill that gap.”
Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Brandy Arnold and The Field Goods