Grand Rapids-area food pantries stock local produce

Access of West Michigan food pantries are purchasing community supported agriculture shares from local farmers.

Emma Garcia is the Hunger Response Director for Access of West Michigan, a network of local food pantries scattered throughout Kent County. Garcia and her colleagues have been working to bring awareness about the need to support the local economy and a more sustainable food system through the purchase of locally-grown food by food pantries. This year, Access of West Michigan is providing some grant funding for its pantries to purchase Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from local farmers to stock the shelves of pantries with fresh produce.

This is a unique model in West Michigan. Garcia says, “Charitable food providers do not always make the connection between food production and the food assistance world. Our hope is to advocate in support of the local food system and to help our partners understand the bigger picture. By endorsing CSA usage by our pantries, we hope to build better relationships across the food system, creating a more sustainable and robust food system for all.”

Michigan State University Extension supports the creation of local food systems through educational programs, projects and partnerships, and this move fits right into this system. To date, four area food pantries have purchased CSA shares: The Pantry in southeast Kent County (two CSA shares), the Other Way Ministries pantry in northwest Grand Rapids (three CSA shares), North End Community Outreach Ministries pantry in northeast Grand Rapids (one CSA share provided by a donor) and South End Community Outreach Ministries pantry in southeast Grand Rapids (seven CSA shares for the pantry and two shares for employees).

In addition to purchasing CSA shares, Access of West Michigan pantries are promoting the Double Up Food Bucks Program to their clients and encouraging customers to use their Bridge Card to purchase CSA shares for their families.

Lance Kraai, Director of New City Urban Farm, has sold five CSA shares to a local food pantry. He says, “Our farm exists so that Grand Rapids residents have access to healthy, local produce. We are pleased that some food pantries are prioritizing the purchase of locally grown, healthy foods for their clients.” New City Urban Farm accepts Bridge Cards and participates in the Double Up Food Bucks Program for their CSA share program. New City has sold all of their CSA shares this summer.

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