Q&A: Alita Kelly

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"It all starts with knowing better, then doing better."

South East Market is more than a market—it's a mission.

The new Grand Rapids store goes beyond the usual grocery store, fighting for a better world. They're starting with food justice, working to reduce disparities for underserved populations, especially in the highly diverse 49507 ZIP code.

Co-founders Alita Kelly and Khara DeWit share a passion for equity and want to work with the community to use South East Market as a tool for change. With the help of intern and grocery associate Angela DeHaan, they're also focused on sustainability—connecting with local growers, logging all food waste, and composting most of it.

We talked with Kelly about what South East Market is all about.

How did South East Market come about? What's your main goal?

The idea came about from my lived experience with food apartheid in Grand Rapids. I had bigger, better dreams for our city and how we respond to the chronic and well-documented experience many have here, living without adequate access to food and other resources. The goal is to empower our neighbors by increasing access to healthy food.

At the same time, we are increasing access to local brands and food from local farms led by people that look like them. There are some major inequities in food when it comes to who has the resources to grow food or operate a food business.

By creating an intentional community at South East Market, we hope to show people it's OK to be unapologetic about the just future we want to see, and most importantly, we can make it happen through grassroots organizing. Our market is only possible through all of the people who donated money, put in sweat equity or advocated for us in tangible ways. We're honored to do this work WITH our community.

Tell us about the Pay It Forward campaign.

Pay It Forward is a fund any person or entity can donate to. We use those dollars to sell all of our high-quality, local meat at cost to the customer. We also use these dollars to reduce the cost of produce from local, Black organic farms. Everyone that shops at the store benefits from this program if they purchase these products. There are typically humiliating processes to go through to benefit from food programs. Since everyone benefits from this, we encourage people who are able to pour back into PIF to do so when able.

What kind of products does the market offer?

We have a little bit of everything! Local produce, baked goods, meat, dairy, etc. Some of my market favorites are blue new potatoes, lacinato kale, Zingerman's goat cheese spread, and Rakowski eggs. Sounds like a quiche combination I should make!

What are your hopes for the future?

We've got some fun projects in the works now that we can't wait to share with everyone but my hope for our community is to realize how powerful we are when we unite around principles of justice and equity. Food is one way to do it, but it all starts with knowing better, then doing better. One step at a time is all it takes.

Written by Josh Veal, Contributing Writer for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Apr/May 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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