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Food is a Great Equalizer: An Interview with AJ Fossel from the Community Food Club

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The Kent County Food Policy Council interviews AJ Fossel, Director of the Community Food Club, about a food system that centers the dignity of consumers
AJ Fossel, Director of the Community Food Club

AJ Fossel, Director of the Community Food Club

Earlier this year, the Kent County Food Policy Council launched to strengthen and grow the food system in Kent County. As we build momentum, discuss, and prioritize issues, we are gathering information and engaging with our community through a project called Everybody Eats: Highlighting Food Experiences in Kent County.

Through this project, we will invite our community to share their experiences with our food system and highlight the good food work that is already happening here. Here we interview AJ Fossel from the Community Food Club. The Community Food Club is a non-profit, member based grocery store in Grand Rapids.

Tell me about your relationship with food.

AJ: Honestly, food is at the core of who I am. My parents owned restaurants growing up, so my earliest memories are in a food space. I have always naturally gravitated towards food work. I also love to love on people through food: baking, cooking, or anything in that realm. I can’t imagine not working with food: it’s always been part of my narrative. Food is a great equalizer, we all need it.

In what ways does your organization engage in the local food system?

AJ: The Community Food Club is representative of intersectionality in our food system. When we purchase food, we work with vendors. For instance, we support a local food vendor, a small wholesaler that is a one-man show. We also get to connect with these really beautiful urban farms and nonprofits like New City Neighbors, Kids Food Basket Farms, and Heartside Gleaning.

The Community Food Club is a member based grocery store for folks who are food insecure. We work in a currency of points. Our members pay a flat monthly fee to shop with us. It's between $11-15 a month and operates on a sliding scale. For their monthly fee, members will receive over a weeks worth of food. Operating as a grocer is integral to our model, we are set up exactly like a mini market. The members are not our clients, they are our customers. It is all about dignity, choice, autonomy, and access to healthy food.

If you were to design a food system rooted in equity, justice, and sovereignty, where would you focus your attention and why?

AJ: I would focus my attention on the local consumer. There are so many people in our food system and community who have no representation and do not have the ability to eat the way that they want to eat due to circumstances that are outside of their control. I think that for too long, the food system has told people: “You are going to eat this way, put your culture aside and eat like an American.”

We need to start honoring all of the voices around the table and recognizing that there are a lot of gifts in all different socioeconomic classes. Our Food Club Members are amazing people who do amazing things with food. We need to grow the foods that they want to see, we need to stock the food that they want to eat. For me, I think that my heart is always going to be with our consumers. That’s where the food system should pay attention.

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