Michigan Startup Seeks to Showcase Local Producers

Mark Hamstra | 12 Aug 2020

Alita Kelly is creating a retail market focused on products from marginalized farmers and makers in Michigan.

South East Market, based in Grand Rapids, will offer a venue where minorities, women, and others who operate food businesses in Michigan can sell their products to local consumers. Kelly said she hopes that by showcasing the products of these farmers and makers, South East Market will inspire more people to take an interest in how their food is produced.

“One of our biggest goals is to help people get in touch with the true nature of their food,” Kelly said in an interview with SFA News Daily.

She said her experience managing nutrition programs and working with local food access organizations has helped her define the mission of South East Market. Local sourcing and sustainability will also be key areas of focus for the company,

Kelly has been involved in several local community agriculture and food-related businesses, including serving on the board of Urban Roots, which is a local community farm and education center, and on the Grand Rapids Urban Agricultural Committee. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she studied environmental science and sustainable business.

After returning to Grand Rapids, she discovered that several vendors from a local farmers market—many of whom were local people of color—were no longer exhibiting due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly decided to build a platform where these vendors and others could connect with local consumers. She is currently raising funds via a GoFundMe campaign.

Plans call for the market to launch in January as an e-commerce business.

“While this is an urgent need, I don’t want the mission to be compromised because we roll it out too fast,” said Kelly.

South East Market will initially offer items such as meat, eggs, and grains, with produce to follow in the spring and summer. Customers will be able to either build their own orders or they can have an order assembled based on specific health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.

Kelly is currently considering three different locations for the market that have been offered by local sources seeking to help advance South East Market’s mission.

Although she said she wants to source as much product as possible from the Grand Rapids area, Kelly said she will venture as far as Detroit to find vendors who reflect the company’s focus on minority farmers and makers. Minority vendors are underrepresented in the Grand Rapids area, she said.

“Part of the goal of the business is to try to illuminate some of that disparity, and encourage our community to do what it needs to do into order to support the shift to a food system that represents the community it serves,” Kelly said.

She also said she plans to eventually expand the product offerings to include health and beauty care products and other merchandise, such as hair oils, body soaps, and candles.

Related: Alt_ Market Feeds, Empowers Community Through Pop-Up GroceryMobile Kiosk, Cart Maker Eyes Grocery Expansion.

Photo credit: South East Market