Food Equity with Mike

Food Equity with Mike
By Mike Edwardson and Karina Sieber

        While the fields are blanketed in tarps and deep snowdrifts, a small huddle of humans are busy at work dreaming up the next new vision of life here at Plainsong Farm. As we move forward with our transition into donation-focused growing, we have been in dialogue with our partners and staff to determine what will be growing here in just a few months. Plainsong set up meetings in early December with our partners at North Kent Connect, the Grand Rapids Community College Student Food Pantry and the Grand Rapids Community Food Club to outline our plan for donating customized produce to meet the needs and tastes of their members and clients.

Masked person looking through a seed catalog with hand resting on a laptop.

         We learned a lot about culturally relevant foods, distribution logistics, and how to better build equity into each specific community. Some of our instincts that tomatoes, peppers, and fresh greens and lettuces would be popular across the board were indeed true. However, the specifics matter a great deal when working with different communities throughout the Kent County area. For instance, the Community Food Club was excited about creating a hot pepper station that showcased different peppers across the heat scale (mild, medium, hot), while North Kent Connect was more interested in classic Bell Peppers both green and colored.    

         Our partners also educated us on how the seasonality of the local food economy factored into their inventory throughout the year and their need for specific crops at specific times. For example, tomatoes were another crop that was popular across our partners’ members and clients. However, the need for tomatoes depended a lot on the season of the year. Many of our partners receive a high influx of tomato donations during the mid August through September timeframe because that is when tomatoes are peaking in Michigan. Consequently, distributing tomatoes to our partners during that time may not always be helpful. In actuality, it could just put them in a difficult situation of figuring out how to move mountains of tomatoes.

Hands turning the pages of a seed catalog with a laptop in the background.

         Knowing this information helps the farm plan more effectively. For example, we are finding ways to grow tomatoes so we can make them available in the months of October, November and beyond (if we can fine tune some storage and ripening techniques). All these conversations lead us back to the crop planning table to better provide our community with their favorite varieties of tomatoes, greens, and other delish-from-the-dirt items. Once we finalize our customized crop plans, it’s onto the seed and produce supply catalogues to continue the journey of good food to come.

Photo Credits: Aidan Meyer