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Root Causes and Long-term Solutions: An Interview with Alaina Dobkowski from Access of West Michigan

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The Kent County Food Policy Council interviews Alaina Dobkowski about Access of West Michigan's 2022 Walk for Good Food and "hunger" in West Michigan

/Access of West Michigan

/Alaina Dobkowski, Access of West Michigan

The Kent County Food Policy Council is walking with Access of West Michigan in their annual Walk for Good Food this year and we are also recipients of the Walk for Good Food grant. We share Access’ commitment to examining our food system and working towards equity and justice for all. Read our interview with Alaina Dobkowski from Access of West Michigan about why it’s called the Walk for Good Food, the challenges we face in West Michigan and how we can work together for change.


Why do you call it the Walk for “Good Food”?

The Access Walk for Good Food, formerly the Access Hunger Walk, has changed its name because  “hunger”  can be hard to define and even harder to solve. While feeding people to address hunger is important, the goal of the Walk has been to fund organizations that are addressing root causes of food insecurity and poverty. The name change (made in 2018) more accurately reflects the mission of the organizations that receive funding from the Walk as we together seek to cultivate a Good Food System, namely, a system in which  healthy  (food that provides nourishment and enables people to thrive), fair (food that no one along the production line was exploited during its creation), affordable (food that all people have access to), and green (food that was produced in a manner that is environmentally sustainable) food are available to all. 

What are West Michigan’s unique challenges in the charitable food system?

In West Michigan we have a lot of nonprofit organizations and a lot of people who are willing to step up and donate to support our local food system. While providing emergency services are important, we can get stuck in providing emergency services. After 40 years of having organizations host food drives, soup kitchens, and provide school meals, we haven't solved hunger. Hunger still exists.

The health disparities between low income and high income populations are still large. Chronic disease is still climbing. We are losing a connection to the basic understanding of food: where it comes from and how it impacts us. In general, we recognize the inequities and injustices taking place in our food system.

We want to shift the narrative away from “we want to address hunger” to we need to look at our food system and invest in long term solutions.” Our mission at Access is to strengthen and develop holistic solutions to poverty by cultivating equitable systems through education and collaboration. Our initiatives are poverty education, congregation connections, and good food systems.

How can community members participate in our local food system beyond the Walk for Good Food?

By investing in local farms, investing in our fresh markets, and investing in organizations who are addressing root causes, not just the symptoms. Another way community members can support our local food system is being conscious about where their food is being purchased from. Supporting local farmers, businesses, and organizations helps our community build a thriving good food system

Why is the Walk for Good Food important to you?

I love the Walk for Good Food because it is a collaborative event that supports the work that Access is doing to continue to invest in long term solutions. This year, 10 organizations are joining Access of West Michigan for the Walk as recipients of funding through the Walk for Good Food Grant. With this funding, the 10 organizations are able to continue to do good food work in Kent County.

At Access, it is important to us that we share our commitment to creating a local good food system for all with the funding recipient organizations. It’s recognizing that no one organization can do it alone. We need partners. Collaboration has always been at the heart of what Access does. We are not just investing in ourselves; we are investing in our partners and the work they do.

Where is the 2022 Walk for Good Food taking place?

This year, the Walk for Good Food is a hybrid event. On Sunday, May 1st from 2-4pm, there will be an in person kick-off event at Briggs Park. The event will include t-shirt pick up, light refreshments, routes for walking, and children’s activities. Click here for a map of the event & walking routes. May 1 - May 11, walkers are encouraged to walk in their neighborhood. In the past two years we’ve found that many loved engaging in the Walk by gathering in their own community or walking on their own. So, we have started a new tradition! You and/or your team do not have to attend the in-person event to participate.

For more information about the walk, you can click here to visit Access of West Michigan’s website. You can click here to join or donate to the Kent County Food Policy Council's walk team.

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