Street Talk: The food chain


“Thank you for shopping at Meijer.”

Every greeter at every Meijer store leaves you with that parting gift upon exiting.

Maybe they should add something else: “And hungry people everywhere thank you, too.”

Meijer has a longstanding commitment to help fight hunger in the Midwest. The hallmark of its hunger relief effort is the Simply Give program, which has helped neighborhood food pantries keep their shelves stocked since November 2008.

This signature program — held three times a year — generated nearly $6 million in 2014 for food pantries throughout the Midwest, bringing the program’s overall donation total to nearly $14 million since it began.

The retailer’s most recent campaign, which ended in January, was the most successful holiday campaign in the program’s history, resulting in more than $1.8 million for hungry families.

“It’s inspiring to see friends and neighbors come together to take care of hungry neighbors throughout the communities we serve,” Co-Chairman Hank Meijer said. “We cannot thank our customers, team members and food pantry partners enough for rising to the challenge to Simply Give.”

The Grand Rapids-based retailer began the program as a way to help food pantries throughout the Midwest achieve their missions of feeding hungry families. It runs three times a year when pantries need it the most: spring, fall and during the holiday season.

In the campaigns, each of 213 Meijer stores across the Midwest joins with a local food pantry. Customers are encouraged to purchase $10 Meijer Food Pantry Donation Cards that are then converted into Meijer food-only gift cards and given to the area food pantry selected by the store.

Customers donated more than $733,000 to the 2014 holiday campaign and, coupled with a donation from Meijer, the campaign total reached more than $1.8 million in donations to food pantries.

And those meals stay local, said Janet Emerson, executive vice president of retail operations for Meijer.

“We know how important it is to our customers that their generous donations remain in their communities,” Emerson said. “That’s why each of our stores partners with a local food pantry during the Simply Give campaigns. Hunger is a problem that continues to increase in all of our communities, and the … program gives everyone a chance to work toward ensuring no one has to live without food.”

Food first

One of the nation’s foremost experts on local food sourcing will be having lunch in West Michigan.

Judy Wicks is the founder of the local food movement along the East coast. She is the owner of longstanding business White Dog Café and the co-founder of the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

She’ll be having lunch at Grand Rapids restaurant Bistro Bella Vita from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 13, as part of Local First’s INsight Series. Tickets are $15-$25 and available at

“Judy built her business on love for her community in Philadelphia,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First. “She is an incredible leader in the local movement, and this is a great opportunity to learn from her."

Wicks will share her personal journey about building her business, the White Dog Café, about the transition into using locally sourced food there and how she built connections between farms and businesses where they didn’t exist. She will speak to building not only sustainable businesses, but sustainable systems of businesses that share similar values and are deeply rooted in community.

Food for thought

A new program at Grand Valley State University will provide an opportunity for students and community members to engage in interdisciplinary learning about sustainable food systems.

The 15-credit Sustainable Food Systems Certificate launched this winter in response to growing interest from students and the community to learn about local food systems and sustainable agriculture practices.

“You can see this increasing interest in new restaurants that serve locally grown produce, the construction of the Grand Rapids Downtown Market and the popularity of farmers markets,” said Kelly Parker, director of environmental studies and professor of philosophy at GVSU.

Parker said the program was also created because of a need for a hands-on way to learn about sustainable food systems in an academic setting. He hopes the certificate appeals to the area food community, such as community gardeners, local farmers and food enthusiasts.

The program includes courses such as plant biotechnology, international food and culture, the science of soil, and sociology and food. Many projects and classes will take place at the Grand Valley Sustainable Agriculture Project, a farming space in Allendale that includes gardens, hoophouses and a community supported agriculture share program.

The growth of the environmental studies minor and a “green movement” on campus also encouraged Parker and Jim Penn, associate professor of geography, to create the certificate.

“How food is produced both locally and globally is an important topic to students and the community,” said Penn.

No anchovies, please

A family-run pizzeria on the southeast side of town is getting some love from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Brick Road Pizza Co., 1017 Wealthy St. SE, recently landed in the No. 5 spot of PETA’s Top 10 Vegan Pizzas list — just in time for National Pizza Pie Day Feb. 9.

Brick Road’s Loaded Potato Pizza earned the honors. It’s topped with baked potato, tempeh bacon bits, scallions, vegan cheddar and dairy-free sour cream.

“Brick Road Pizza's Loaded Potato Pizza is brimming with savory flavor and is free of the cruelty that comes with meat and dairy cheese, and that earns it three cheers from us,” said Tracy Reiman, PETA executive vice president. "With so many tasty vegan options widely available, PETA is calling on caring people everywhere to kick dairy products to the curb in favor of a scrumptious slice of vegan pizza.”

Taking top honors in PETA's roundup is the Red Beans and Rice Pizza created by New Orleans’ Mid City Pizza.

Going to the dogs

Chow Hound Pet Supplies has pledged $20,000 in the form of a matching donation toward the construction of the new Grand Ravines Dog Park in Jenison. The locally owned pet supplies retailer is accepting donations at all eight Chow Hound locations.

“We’ll match donations we receive dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $20,000,” said Chow Hound co-founder Tyson Keane. “We’re excited to help the Ottawa County Parks Department in developing this park; it’s going to be a great source of recreation and entertainment for dogs and dog owners in West Michigan.”

When completed, the Grand Ravines Dog Park will be one of the largest and best-equipped dog parks in West Michigan. The project is part of a larger county park being developed on Fillmore Drive just south of GVSU’s Allendale campus. The dog park will feature a fenced 21-acre off-leash area with grass and trails, and separate areas for large and small dogs.

The money raised by Chow Hound will fund paving for trails, benches, picnic tables, pet waste stations, shade trees and shelters. Construction is slated to begin this spring and be completed by fall 2015.

Tyson and Greg Keane opened the first Chow Hound Pet Supplies in Grand Rapids in 1989, and with the recent opening of their newest store in Jenison now operate eight locations in Grand Rapids, Holland, Grand Haven and Jenison.

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