UMCH is working to expand the Fresh Market pilot

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In April, United Methodist Community House launched The Fresh Market at UMCH in its building at 900 Division Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. Courtesy of Fresh Market at UMCH

United Methodist Community House has just over six months of running its fresh market under its belt and is in the process of expanding its hours and offerings for residents of 49507.

The Grand Rapids-based United Methodist Community House launched in April The fresh market at UMCH in his building at 900 Division Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. The Fresh Market is a pilot program supported by seed funding from Access of West Michigan and other donors, and UMCH is currently working to make it sustainable and sustainable.

Located in the racially diverse 49507 zip code that has been called a food desert, the Fresh Market at UMCH – which is open to all – is designed to provide healthy and affordable food options to residents of Southeast Grand Rapids, including those who suffer from food insecurity. . Founded in 1902, UMCH has a long history of taking a holistic approach to meeting the changing needs of its neighbors in southeast Grand Rapids, which now includes the need for affordable food.

UMCH sources mainly organic seasonal produce and dry produce from Cherry Capital, FarmLink, Groundswell and New City Farm to provide families with healthy options.

The marketplace accepts seven forms of payment including EBT, Snap, MasterCard, Visa, cash and more, allowing customers to use their government assistance to pay for their goods, and also offers sliding scale rates based on household income.

Carla Moore, co-CEO of UMCH alongside Eric Williams, said it’s important to note that families and individuals of all income levels and from all locations are welcome to shop at the market, and that when the people who can pay the full price frequent the store, it helps generate the income necessary for its sustainability, which in turn offers greater impact and better access to families in need.

Moore said the pandemic brought many challenges to the pilot market, which was initially open 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, but had to reduce its opening hours to one day per day. weekdays – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays – due to the inability to find enough staff to run it on the other days.

“This is a pilot program for us, which means there have been a lot of learning opportunities,” Moore said. “It’s been going well in terms of what we’re able to deliver, with the neighbors realizing that we’re really there, that sort of thing, but there were growing pains. This job market is really, really tough right now, so having the right staff and types of staff to really move the way we wanted has been a bit of a challenge, to the point that we are operating with reduced hours.

She said that despite the tough job market, UMCH has made enough noise about the need for more staff and volunteers to be able to hire someone, and she has also been contacted more frequently by potential volunteers. To run the store as efficiently as possible, she said UMCH needed around three to four regular volunteers in the market, as well as paid staff.

The Fresh Market was planning to reopen a few more days a week at the time of publication, but Moore said people should keep checking thefreshmarketatumch.com for the latest updates.

Moore said it was gratifying to be involved with The Fresh Market when she thinks of consumers as a local woman who comes to buy tomatillos which she then incorporates into salsa verde, which she sells in the community in as a parallel activity.

UMCH is also looking forward to launching health education, nutrition and cooking classes later this fall after seeing reactions from some customers to unfamiliar foods they didn’t know how to incorporate into meals, like the eggplants.

“We are in the process of organizing these so that we can start engaging (the residents) in other ways. As well as being a consumer and stepping into that space… (they’ll be able to access) things that are even more meaningful and (we’re going to) help establish and really build and strengthen that sense of community along the corridor. the southern division, “Moore said.” What better way than to bring people together than to eat? “

Moore said that by providing this education, UMCH hopes to disrupt patterns of unhealthy choices, like running to the Burger King just down the road instead of buying and cooking healthy food. She said she believes the Fresh Market is already doing a good job of listening to their customers and engaging them, but there is still work to be done.

“Usually in food justice spaces there really isn’t a voice of people of color, and that’s an outlet for that voice,” she said. “We keep a running list of the items and things they would like to see, and the inventory is really informed by what the consumer wants. But there is going to be an educational learning curve that has to take place, as we are dealing with people’s habits, preferences and how they have been ingrained in their thinking about nutrition and food. …

“We are really focused on how we can help the community adopt good food values. Good food values ​​are broad, right? Yes, it’s about food and the quality of food and access to food, but it’s also about the system by which food is delivered, produced and who can access it. It’s really about understanding our definition of “good” around food and bringing the community with us. “

Moore said she was grateful to others in 49507 for also trying to increase food justice for underserved and vulnerable populations, like Alita Kelly and Khara DeWit, co-founders of South East Market, a store in for-profit that sources from local minorities. and women-owned farms that focus on sustainability and affordability.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic program. It’s a little different model, but it’s very complementary, and we’re pretty far apart, so we impact two different immediate neighborhoods, ”she said. “We really see them as a partner in the fight for justice. “

Moore said the UMCH team is happy with The Fresh Market’s progress and confident in its future.

“The market has really been a learning and growing process, and we just couldn’t be happier or blessed; we just couldn’t feel better about the response we received from our immediate neighbors and the relationships we are able to build, ”she said. “It’s amazing, really, and we’re having a great time.”

More information on United Methodist Community House and its programs can be found at umchhousegr.org.

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