2021 40 Under 40 award recipient: Alita Kelly

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Alita Kelly. Courtesy 616 Media

Alita Kelly, 31

Co-founder

South East Market

Alita Kelly saw a need for greater access to fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate and locally grown food in her neighborhood of 49507, and she went all-in to meet it.

Kelly co-founded the socially conscious, food justice-focused South East Market with Khara DeWit in 2020 and opened the store to the public in January. South East Market sources its products primarily from Black, brown, indigenous, local or women-led farms and businesses, particularly those that respect environmental sustainability, and store employees help educate customers on how to use and cook with unfamiliar ingredients not typically found in the under-resourced neighborhood.

Residents of 49507 tend to have higher instances of stress- and dietary-related conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and this is something Kelly hopes South East Market can help alleviate. She also aims to start a cooking demonstration kitchen and a gardening pilot program to increase food sovereignty on the southeast side.

“As women of color, (DeWit and I) had a lot of statistics against us, but we’ve made a way and we are doing it with essentially no debt and ownership of the full equity of our business,” Kelly said. “We’ve mobilized thousands of pounds of local food from an area that has not had the types of food we carry for decades.”

Kelly also serves the community as vice chair of the city of Grand Rapids’ Urban Agriculture Committee, president of the Boston Square Business Association and co-facilitator/co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition-West Michigan chapter.

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