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Community hero helps families grow their own food

As we recognize Black History Month, we also want to honor those who make Black history every day, like one local hero who believes healthy food is a human right.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As we recognize Black History Month, we acknowledge that it’s not just about looking to the past. It’s also about highlighting those who make Black history every single day. That includes this next community hero who believes healthy food is a human right.

Founder and executive director of Our Kitchen Table, Lisa Oliver-King, believes, “We all deserve to have nutritious and healthy food regardless of our socioeconomic background.”

She started the nonprofit in 2003 with a mission to address food injustice.

“I have a kitchen table that came from my parents and so all of my good, bad, funny, family, any kind of conversations you can think of happen at that table, and so that’s how we came up with the name,” said Oliver-King.

Oliver-King’s table became Our Kitchen Table, helping dozens of Grand Rapids families grow gardens with weekly visits from a food garden coach.

The founder tells me the organization would typically see “between 20, 30’ish families that are working with us throughout the year,” but that, “When COVID hit, our numbers went up to probably about 125 where folks wanted to know how do you grow your own food.”

Our Kitchen Table stays busy year round, sponsoring the Southeast Farmers Market where multiple forms of government assistance payments are accepted.

The group also helps to create gardens at local schools.

“We are primarily working with Martin Luther King Leadership Academy at this point. We also work with those school families that are interested in growing their own food,” said Oliver-King.

“In the summer, we set up programming where folks are able to not only show that they’re growing food but they also will harvest food from their gardens and do some sort of cooking demonstration.”

We got a look at one of those demonstrations through a video shared by Taylor Smith, who cooked fried rice.

Oliver-King said Smith, “grew bok choy, which was something new for them.”

During that summertime programming, Our Kitchen Table partners with Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Michigan to follow those demonstrations with tips on ways to make your meal even healthier, the next time.

“You’re the master of your own destiny when you grow your own food,” said Oliver-King.

Those behind Our Kitchen Table strongly believe that a lack of access to healthy food is one of the root causes of health inequities we see in people of color, adding that children who don’t have healthy diets have less academic success and hence fewer opportunities for a happy, healthy, and financially secure adulthood.

You can find more about the resources provided by visiting the Our Kitchen Table website.

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