Bulk buying at the Southeast Area Farmers' Market provides benefits for low-income families

Individuals and families in Grand Rapids can take advantage of this innovative group purchasing program that offers significant savings on bulk foods.

As a new summer intern with Michigan State University Extension, I had the opportunity to meet with Lisa Oliver-King to discuss racial equity in the food system. Lisa is the executive director of Our Kitchen Table, a nonprofit seeking to promote environmental and food justice around the greater Grand Rapids area. One of her goals is to educate the community on the most simple and healthiest ways to eat, hoping they will use this knowledge to feed their families. The methods that Our Kitchen Table uses include vegetable gardening programs and classes and educational workshops to empower low-income people and families – especially breastfeeding mothers. Though she did not find this path until later in her career, Oliver-King spoke of it as if it were her lifelong passion.

A clever idea that stuck with me after the meeting was the concept of bulk buying at the farmers market. Lisa says the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market, managed by Our Kitchen Table, has been helping its customers to collectively purchase bulk whole foods, which is a significant savings. This seemed like such a simple concept with wonderful benefits, and yet I had never thought of it before.

Customers place orders on a monthly basis for bulk whole foods such as dry beans, whole grain flours, nuts and seeds, pasta and rice. They then split the costs between other community members, also allowing free shipping with no additional fees. The market also accepts Bridge Cards/SNAP/EBT when purchasing these foods. Our Kitchen Table is truly showing that they want the best for their community by allowing the chance for citizens to come together to purchase healthy foods. For some, it may be an inconvenience or inaccessible to get to a market weekly for fresh items, and buying in bulk allows them to keep food in storage and eliminate the need to constantly restock. Not only is this helping families, but it is also helping local vendors supply bulk food items because Our Kitchen Table sources from local farmers and food producers whenever possible.

Lisa Oliver-King has shown a selfless care for the wellbeing of local communities by believing they deserve justice in their food system. This justice is not about simply delivering aid to those who need it, it is about teaching the community valuable skills and promoting efforts that will create lifelong healthy eating habits. MSU Extension appreciates Lisa meeting with us to give insight in the efforts to create more racial equality in the Grand Rapids food system. 

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