The South East Market is not only an important new addition to the area in regards to food access, it is also founded on a philosophy that will uplift the moral integrity of both business and community. As the mission states, the market aims to “increase access to healthy and culturally appropriate food for our community through a sustainable and equitable lens.” Alita Kelly, the founder, understands the contiguous connection between our bodies and the Earth and that the health of one depends on the other. Having grown up in the area herself, she also understands that there are voices missing. Alita recently graduated from the University of Michigan in Environmental Science and Sustainable Business. Her past work with local food access organizations and managing nutritional programs has led her to the ambitious pursuit of empowering equitable and sustainable food systems. The value of our health is priceless, which is why the market aims to support the community at large, not exclusively the southeast area. However, the marginalized neighborhoods on the southeast side of Grand Rapids have long endured a lack of healthy food options, which is why the market is particularly committed to bridging that gap for the residents.

The land we live on today, and the land that the market will stand on, is not our own. It is important to understand the history of this land, which once belonged to the peoples of the First Nation. Indigenous philosophy declares that land cannot be owned, it is viewed as our mother and it is our responsibility to care for it, like a relationship. According to their teachings, respect, responsibility, and reciprocity are essential components of maintaining a healthy relationship with both people and nature. These components are also embedded in the foundation of the market.

Sustainability is crucial for a healthy future, but equity is essential as well. Equity starts with respecting and understanding the community’s values and desires, and then aiding in the effort to reach those desires while preserving their dignity. Out of respect for the community’s needs the South East Market makes healthy and affordable produce accessible for families; out of respect for the land the market is sourcing that produce conscientiously. By making these promises, the market also has a responsibility to uphold its values and ensure that concerns for equity are addressed.

The responsibilities we hold correspond with the gifts we are given; as humans, we have the gift of stewardship, knowledge, gratitude, etc. Applying these gifts and more, the market is fulfilling its responsibility to the health of the land and community. It is solving issues through business and community outreach by listening to the community members firsthand. After all, the produce cannot be culturally appropriate without familiarity with the culture. Similarly, the produce is not necessarily ensuring equity if it is not being sourced from a diversity of farmers. The market recognizes this as well and intends to source as much product as possible from Black, Indigenous, people of color and women farmers in the Michigan area. In an effort to keep the food prices affordable for our community members, however, additional food will be supplemented by local farms and larger distribution companies.

In order for the relationship to be successful it must be symbiotic, which in this case means that if the community wants to see the local businesses thrive and continue into the future, the community must also do its part and support the business. By both parties fulfilling their responsibilities it becomes mutually beneficial, also referred to as a reciprocal relationship. With the continual support of the community it becomes even easier for the South East Market to provide more options and meet more needs. The market will soon be able to accept payments from both Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With shown interest, there are also hopes to start community workshops to educate the public on various topics concerning health and well-being. The market recognizes the value of a sparked interest, hopefully its farmer-to-consumer connection will inspire the community to learn more about the ways in which their food is produced.

While in its infancy, the market will conduct business virtually. The customers can visit the website and choose which items they would like in their food order. Everything sold through the business will be highly reviewed for its level of sustainable production. The market is working to also offer options that are designed to improve health conditions, such as diabetes, or help work toward personal health goals by organizing a pre-arranged basket of ingredients and recipe cards to prepare the healthy meals. To further aid with accessibility, customers may choose to pick up their produce or have it delivered if they reside within the 49507 zip code.  

The market is an investment in the community to uplift the voices and make it a happier and healthier environment, but it also needs your support and small investments to do so effectively. Please visit the market’s website for more information. If you support community health and empowerment please consider donating to the South East Market’s GoFundMe page.