Skip to content

Food Start-ups, , food insecurity and food justice in Grand Rapids 3rd Ward

January 26, 2023

Earlier in the week, MLive reported a story about a project in the Southeast part of Grand Rapids, involving SpringGR and Amplify GR, focusing on what is being called an “Incubator kitchen.”

The story shares that there are a few “food entrepreneurs” who will now be able to use the kitchen space at Kazoo Station to prepare food that they will will sell for their budding food businesses. It’s a nice story, with commentary from the small business owners on how such a space will help them expand their businesses.

Now, I don’t begrudge people who want to start their own businesses, as my family had a business that lasted for three generations. But after reading the MLive article and thinking about the fact that the neighborhood that this “Incubator kitchen” is located in, I wanted to think about this issue through a food justice lens.

There are large parts of the urban core of Grand Rapids that are often referred to as food deserts. However, food deserts is a misrepresentation of what actually exists. More and more people are realizing that when we talk about neighborhoods that are short on functional grocery stores, community gardens and space dedicated to making sure that people have easy access to healthy, local food, we need to understand that these realities are based on policies and decisions that are often driven by capitalism. The term that more and more people are using to describe this dynamic is Food Apartheid. 

Food apartheid is a system of segregation that divides those with access to an abundance of nutritious food and those who have been denied that access due to systemic injustices, such as the shift from local grocery stores to chain stores, families that do not make a living wage, structural racism, etc. 

The new “Incubator kitchen” is located in a part of Grand Rapids that is experiencing food apartheid, and while the “incubator kitchen” will benefit a few people who have food businesses, it will not address the community’s food insecurity.

A spokesperson for Amplify GR was quoted in the MLive article, stating that the “Incubator kitchen” came out of community conversations that were being had as part of the Amplify GR effort to re-develop the Boston Square neighborhood. Now, GRIID has written a great deal about the Doug & Maria DeVos-created organization, Amplify GR, which you can read at this link. One of the themes were have addressed since AmplifyGR was created in 2017, is the fact that the DeVos family promotes the notion of entrepreneurs, which can benefit some people, but it does not address the massive wealth gap that exists in Grand Rapids, nor the longstanding impact that structural poverty has been imposed on communities like Boston Square Neighborhood. 

A question I would ask about this process that need to the decision to create the “Incubator kitchen” would be, “were there other options presented about address food insecurity in that neighborhood, like the idea of a community kitchen.” A community kitchen is fundamentally different that an Incubator kitchen, since a community kitchen is more of a cooperative model designed to address food insecurity, food apartheid and build community. The function of a community kitchen is to have a collective space that is owned by the community, where people can cook meals together, send food home with families, share recipes, and provide skill sharing like how to preserve and prepare food. 

Imagine what it would mean to have a community kitchen that took this approach, how often it would be utilized and how many people who have greater access to healthy & nutritious food on a daily basis. In addition, to food sharing and community building, it could provide an opportunity for people to have deeper conversations about the existing food system, a system that does not benefit most people. Here is a link to content that I created over the years when doing Food Justice workshops.

The mLive article says that people who have food businesses can rent the kitchen space for $20 an hour for their food businesses. I have to believe that the space will sit empty for good parts any given week, so why not allow the community to use the space – rent free – as a community kitchen, which could benefit the while community instead of just a handful of business owners? 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: