(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Two local women are on a quest to help their community one plate at a time.
Since May, Kelsey Hakeem and Jenny Bongiorno have been preparing and selling premade meals to customers at Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Wednesday.
Both women grow and harvest fruits, herbs and vegetables from their gardens and other farms.
“This year, I have several varieties of peas, carrots, beets, fava beans, lettuce, strawberries, edible flowers like borage, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and other tender herbs, zucchini and more,” Bongiorno said.
Hakeem also grows herbs and greens in her garden. She said they also get bulky items such as potatoes from farmers who have larger farms. They use all those items to prepare meals such as soups, plain salads, pasta salads, baked goods, iced tea and lemonade, among other food and beverages. It has resulted in a program they call LUNCH.
“Having worked as a community educator teaching people how to grow food for years, I have found that eating is actually the easiest entry point for people to get inspired about locally grown food,” Bongiorno said. “Not everyone wants or has time for a garden, but a lot of people are interested in eating better and supporting local growers.
“We offer our community a place where they can enjoy the freshest foods possible that can be grown in Michigan. As we move through the season and people experience how delicious seasonal food is, they are way more likely to make positive changes from there.”
LUNCH is a part of the Revive & Thrive Project, a local nonprofit that helps teens with cooking and healthy eating skills while offering meals to individuals who are facing life-threatening illnesses, according to the organization.
“Wendy Borden (founder and executive director of the Revive & Thrive Project) took a big leap of faith on us, like believing in us, allowing us to form our own program under her organization,” Hakeem said.
Under the tutelage of the Revive & Thrive Project, she said LUNCH was created during the perfect circumstances because the Fulton Street Farmers Market is promoting healthy eating by eliminating vendor fees on Wednesdays to encourage vendors and residents to visit the farmers market.
Since the program started in May, Hakeem said their consumer base has been growing weekly.
“(A couple of weeks ago), I think we had 40 to 50 individual sales,” she said.
Monetarily, a portion of their sales goes to the Revive & Thrive Project. There also are information pamphlets and signage on-site so people can learn about the organization with the hope of them becoming a volunteer and/or donating to the organization.
“Kelsey and I have been friends for a long time and have worked together before in the organic farming/nonprofit world,” Bongiorno said. “We really complement and balance each other out when it comes to our strengths and weaknesses. Cooking food and bringing people together around the table has always been a shared deep passion of ours. When we decided to start a business, offering prepared foods paired with doing good in the community, (we) were a perfect fit.