Food for thought

Hunger to me means “where’s the nearest Chipotle?” Beyond that, it doesn’t matter where the food came from, or who got it there, as long as it ends up in my stomach. I waited in a parking lot with over 30 employees of various food banks around Seattle, wondering what they saw in food that I didn’t. We were waiting to begin a van tour, organized by Solid Ground’s Food Resources staff, of local organizations committed to alleviating hunger in the community.

I mistook this as a straightforward endeavor. People need to eat, and they can’t afford grocery stores, so let’s give them the food they need to survive. As the tour progressed, I realized that ability to pay is only a secondary and contributing issue to access. Food is fickle: It spoils, it has bad crop years, it needs nutrition expertise for a balanced diet. The economy of food relies on brilliant crop combinations, precise warehousing, and efficient distribution. In the nonprofit food world, innovative logistics are the difference between a family eating dinner or going without.

The tour took us through every gear of the well-oiled food machine, each organization fully aware of the specific role they play in bringing sustenance to people most in need of it. Although each organization wrestles with obstacles unique to their role, they all attempt to answer the fundamental question of how to allocate their limited resources to feed the most people.

Seattle Tilth Farm Works

Around lunchtime, the now bumpy roads brought us to the birthplace of food – the farm. The 39 acres of Seattle Tilth Farm Works swept us into a peaceful quiet. A few men and women in straw hats pulled wheelbarrows of crops across the shifting landscape. I felt close to my food’s roots.

A farmer pulls his wheelbarrow across Seattle Tilth Farm Works

A farmer pulls his wheelbarrow across Seattle Tilth Farm Works

Seattle Tilth has made it their mission to involve the community in farming by providing education classes, not just on farming techniques, but also on the marketing and business aspects of successful farms. After completing their education, farmers receive subsidized land based on their income, enabling people of all incomes to participate. As farmers gain proficiency with their crops, they are encouraged to scale up their land to eventually generate a livable profit. The community sharing framework helps minimize the overhead infrastructure cost that often prevents beginning farmers from getting started.

There is ingenuity behind a successful crop. One woman plants the Three Sister combination: corn fed by fixed nitrogen from the beans, protected from weeds by the squash. The farm has a similar partnership with local food banks, providing them with fresh produce, and in return, using their stale leftovers as live feed for the pigs!

Northwest Harvest

Storing and distributing foods is perhaps the most undervalued component of the food industry. We walked into the squeaky clean Northwest Harvest distribution and warehouse center. The open rooms and slanted floors are all designed to facilitate transporting mass quantities of food. As the tour guide said, the goal of the distribution center is essentially to “fill up, empty out” – referring to the millions of pounds of food they store and then distribute to more than 370 food banks every year.

The spotless work tables at Northwest Harvest

The spotless work tables at Northwest Harvest

Northwest Harvest is deliberate in how they organize their space. Huge, automatic doors open and close in under 90 seconds, maintaining freezing storage temperatures, and saving countless dollars of electricity and spoiled food. Towering shelves of various food products are organized in an XYZ grid to find and methodically transport items. Northwest Harvest’s relentless devotion to efficiency gives them the financial capacity to provide for so many food banks.

Emergency Feeding Program

Small-scale distribution centers can also provide an effective model. The Emergency Feeding Program does not try to operate on the same magnitude as Northwest Harvest but instead focuses their efforts. Every year, they provide 430,000 emergency meals outside of foodbank distribution hours. They provide bags of basic food supplies meant to last families one to two days. Although they neither work with the quantity Northwest Harvest does, nor offer the selection that food banks do, they provide a vital service: They deliver emergency food all over the state, and think critically about the diverse people they provide food for. They have food bags specific to different cultural communities, baby food bags, bags for specific health conditions, and bags that don’t require any refrigeration.

Des Moines and Maple Valley Food Banks

On the first stop of the tour and the last stop for the food, we visited the Des Moines and Maple Valley Food Banks. Both food banks are cognizant of distinguishing between different-sized families, creating systems that regulate how much food you receive based on how large your family is. The Des Moines Food Bank utilizes a conveyor belt process where each shopper is allowed a certain amount of items from each bucket based on their color-coded family size. The Des Moines Food Bank also implements a summer backpack program that serves carefully balanced lunch and snacks for kids at 25 sites.

The Maple Valley Food Bank is a slightly smaller operation that adopts a grocery-style format. Shoppers are allocated a fixed number of points in each nutrition category. The shoppers can browse the food bank at leisure, rather than following a linear route. Differences in food bank setups often result from different space limitations and varying levels of capacity

The Maple Valley grocery style food bank

The Maple Valley grocery-style food bank

Every organization we visited on the tour, although independent in their purpose and methods, universally relies on partnerships and volunteers to help resource their operations. Every organization is alike in their eagerness to expand their services and the earnestness of their goodwill. The various systems come from years of adjustments to figure out how best to feed those who ask. The tour inspired me in just how seriously the organizations confront hunger, each one demonstrating that where food comes from and who delivers it determines how many stomachs it reaches.

 

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Digging deep (at the Danny Woo Garden)

This post was contributed by Lauren Wong and originally appeared on the Apple Corps blog.magill_dannywoo_image-59

Hello! I’m Lauren, one of two Apple Corps members positioned at the Danny Woo Garden in the Chinatown-International District. We provide garden classes to youth in the neighborhood in the hopes that they’ll learn more about where their food comes from, have a positive outdoor experience, and form connections between culture and food. Also incorporated in our program is a healthy cooking component, where we use vegetables harvested from the garden to create delicious salads and snacks.

This spring, I had magill_dannywoo_image-65the pleasure of working with a class of fifteen 5th graders from a local after-school program. Since many of them were already acquainted with the garden – either through a previous garden class or a simple meander through the neighborhood – we were able to delve a little deeper into the heart of the garden and what exactly makes it tick.

We planted microgreen seeds in our own plots and watched them grow, carefully watering and removing weeds each week to gain a sense of the time and effort required to grow our own food. We went on a scavenger hunt to discover the regional origins of different vegetables and dug around in a worm bin looking for critters. We made comfrey compost tea, a great source of nitrogen, and observed it become brown and pungent over time.

We prepared an Asian greens salad, a crunchy bok choy slaw, and a sweet and savory dressing that goes well on everything:

  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T honey
  • 2 T sesame oil

We harvested garden strawberries and compared them to supermarket strawberries, noticing the differences in taste, color, size, and shape. We investigated seed pods on a mature kale plant, sparking a discussion about the importance of seed saving. And to cap off our time together, we even had an “older kids teach younger kids” tour, where my class of 5th graders brought a class of first graders to the garden and showed them what they learned.

All in all, it was a lovely six weeks of sunshine, food, and joy. Want to learn more about what we do? Visit our blog at dannywookids.blogspot.com.

Food justice at Solid Ground

A Concord International School 3rd grader tastes food made from fresh ingredients at Lettuce Link's Giving Garden at Marra Farm.

A Concord International School 3rd grader tastes food made from fresh ingredients at Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm.

The term “food justice” is not only defined as access to healthy food but also as access to land and knowledge about how to grow, prepare and understand the importance of nutritious food. The movement to achieve food justice in South Seattle guides the work of Solid Ground’s
Hunger & Food Resources Department.

Department Director Gerald Wright coined the phrase “Learn it, Grow it, Live it” as a way to describe our approach to fulfilling the tenets of food justice. Solid Ground’s school and community-based programs focus on gardening and nutrition education, providing fresh vegetables to food banks and community programs, grocery shopping on a budget, and cooking skills. Here are some of the specific ways we’re doing this:

  • Kids learn cooking skills and nutrition basics at Concord and Emerson Elementary schools through our Apple Corps program.
  • Low-income families and individuals from across King County attend Cooking Matters classes.
  • Youth in the South Park and Rainier Vista neighborhoods learn to garden through Lettuce Link‘s programs.

Solid Ground’s food programs rely on community members like you to help us achieve food justice as donors, volunteers and connectors. This time of year, there are lots of ways to get involved with our programs promoting food justice. Check out our food and nutrition-related volunteer opportunities, and consider getting your hands in the dirt for food justice this summer!

Work for food justice! Apple Corps is hiring AmeriCorps members

AmeriCorps positions teaching nutrition and education in low-income schools in Seattle.Interested in a year of service? Have a passion for food justice? Apple Corps is hiring AmeriCorps Members for the 2015-16 service year!

Apple Corps is part of Solid Ground’s effort to address the root causes of obesity, malnutrition and hunger in underserved communities. National Service members work to promote healthy eating and active living for children living in poverty and experiencing oppression.

Our team is guided by the belief that all people deserve to live healthful lives. In this work, Apple Corps Members serve at elementary schools in communities where there is a high proportion of food insecurity, decreased access to healthy foods, and increased risk of childhood obesity. Apple Corps serves to educate school-age children and their families about nutrition, healthy cooking, gardening and behaviors that promote health.

Apple Corps Members collaborate with Solid Ground staff to teach classroom-based nutrition and healthy cooking lessons to Seattle Public Schools students, using evidence-based curricula, via 10- to 12-week educational units in three elementary schools and nearby community organizations.

Apple Corps is a program of the Washington Service Corps. All service positions run September 16, 2015 – August 15, 2016 (contingent on funding). Visit the Washington Service Corps website for information on requirements and how to apply.

Applications are accepted now through June 21, 2015. For questions, please email applecorps@solid-ground.org.

Twilight of the honey bee

Photograph by Steve Tracey

Photograph by Steve Tracey

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” ~E.O. Wilson~

The decline of the honey bee (Apis Mellifera) strikes at the heart of food justice. More importantly, it strikes at the heart of what life on Planet Earth will look like for humans in the foreseeable future. If concerned citizens are to understand poverty and racism, they must look squarely at how they use Earth’s resources. Honey bees are the foundation for much of human agriculture, and their intimate relationship with flowering plants is being put to the test. “Colony collapse disorder” or CCD is a phenomenon which is being credited with the dramatic decline of honey bee populations both in the United States and abroad.

It is impossible to grant human beings absolution as the ultimate cause of this. The use of pesticides, especially those containing neonicotinoids, are a suspected component. But colony collapse isn’t about a single cause; rather it’s a collection of causes that end in an indictment of human civilization. When the hives first affected by CCD were tested, they were found to contain over 120 contaminants, from pesticides to fungicides – chemicals used to maintain the superficiality and integrity of agricultural endeavors. But these are only some of many factors. Pests and diseases like the varroa destructor, American Foulbrood and braula coeca are enough to bring the honey bee population to a deeply worrisome place.

Here’s why this is a huge concern:

Bees pollinate roughly 80% of U.S. agriculture, and are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we consume. The loss of habitat due to farming practices has weakened all insect populations, but more acutely that of the honey bee, and this should be a concern to all consumers of fruits and vegetables.

Noted entomologist Marla Spivak talks about this in her TED lecture, Why bees are disappearing:

Photograph by Steve Tracey

Photograph by Steve Tracey

Now we have the best data on honeybees, so I’ll use them as an example. In the United States, bees in fact have been in decline since World War II. We have half the number of managed hives in the United States now compared to 1945. We’re down to about 2 million hives of bees, we think.

And the reason is, after World War II, we changed our farming practices. We stopped planting cover crops. We stopped planting clover and alfalfa, which are natural fertilizers that fix nitrogen in the soil, and instead we started using synthetic fertilizers. Clover and alfalfa are highly nutritious food plants for bees. And after World War II, we started using herbicides to kill off the weeds in our farms. Many of these weeds are flowering plants that bees require for their survival.”

Activists and progressives who want social justice should also see their passions mirrored in the interconnections in the world’s ecosystems. In the same way that we can trace poverty to its root causes, we can trace the decline of the honey bee. It’s us. Human need is a function of poor resource management. Racial injustice, poverty, war and famine all flow from a deep misunderstanding of our surroundings and how we should relate to them.

Nature is a cooperative experience that can’t possibly happen as isolated incidents or in a vacuum. So part of achieving true justice is looking at insects like bees, beetles or ants as part of a larger scheme of life. It’s seeing that humans are only a part of the wonder of this world. Only greed pollutes this with a desire to control, to use, and to superimpose ourselves onto the world. As we use the bee and it dies, so do we. If not immediately, then existentially, because we’ve failed to see the all-important connections all living things share.

Food justice is also about creating a sustainable culture that respects the relationships of all living organisms. The decline of the honey bee is telling us something about the ultimate price of human encroachment without a full understanding about what that means. An ounce of the natural world is worth all of the tens of billions of tons of metal and concrete that are twisted into our cities.

In spite of the odds there’s hope too:

The good news is that these modern trends can be challenged and people are challenging them, by becoming urban beekeepers. Between its Seattle Community Farm and Marra Farm Giving Garden, Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program maintains a dozen beehives. The irony of these efforts is that urbanized areas may in fact be the bee’s salvation. Urban areas offer a diversity of food and climates that more rural areas are increasingly lacking.

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Join the struggle to save honey bees:

Cities and their surrounding neighborhoods provide an opportunity to balance out what’s being destroyed. There are several Seattle-area groups that deal with all aspects of urban beekeeping. There are ways to get involved because there’s a lot of wasted space locally. Backyards, empty lots and rooftops offer opportunities that go unrealized.

Want to do something about this right now? Here’s how:

12 Days of Health at Emerson Elementary: Challenging ourselves to a healthy holiday season!

This piece by Abby Temple was published on 12/30/14 on Apple Corps, the Blog. As a Nutrition Educator with Solid Ground’s Apple Corps program, Abby supports nutrition and physical activity programs at Emerson Elementary School in South Seattle.

The Emerson Health and Wellness team sat in our monthly meeting, envisioning the cupcake, candy and cookie-filled weeks ahead of us. Holiday celebrations present a dilemma for a nutrition/health educator based in an elementary school – how can we encourage our students to make healthy choices while also recognizing the need for celebrations, for special treats, and for a fun ending to a difficult few months of work?

How can we stray from labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” and instead, focus on moderation and “sometimes” foods? With these goals in mind, our team – composed of myself, my co-educator Ms. Paula, a second grade teacher, our PE teacher and one of our ELL (English Language Learners) teachers – came up with the idea of a “12 Days of Health” promotion for the school. For the 12 days leading up to winter break, our students were given a challenge each day over the morning announcements.

Alivia, an energetic 2nd grader at Emerson, takes the jumping jack challenge!

Alivia, an energetic 2nd grader at Emerson, takes the jumping jack challenge!

The challenges were as follows:

  • Day 1: One special treat for working so hard!
  • Day 2: Two push-ups!
  • Day 3: Three laps around the black top!
  • Day 4: Four glasses of water!
  • Day 5: Five minutes of stretching!
  • Day 6: Six toe-touches!
  • Day 7: Seven colors of food in your day!
  • Day 8: Eight squats!
  • Day 9: Nine high-knees!
  • Day 10: Ten jumping jacks!
  • Day 11: Eleven lunges!
  • Day 12: Twelve minutes of dancing!

For 12 days, Emerson’s morning announcements were dominated by the lovely singing voices of our Emerson staff. We took turns on the announcements each day, singing the challenge to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The kids especially loved hearing their PE teacher singing – it was quite a treat in itself.

I was surprised how many students I actually saw participating in and excited about the challenges. Students stopped me in the hallway to show me their jumping jacks and lunges. I heard water described as “the most delicious drink ever!” On day 12, our health challenge culminated in a 12-minute dance party with our first graders. I may have enjoyed the dancing even more than they did.

Our super healthy Emerson students are on a great track to a healthy and fun winter break! Happy winter break, Emerson!

Merry Mice ornaments benefit Lettuce Link!

When you buy these cute little guys at City People's Garden Store, 100% of the proceeds go to Lettuce Link!

When you buy these cute little guys at City People’s Garden Store, 100% of the proceeds go to Lettuce Link!

At Lettuce Link, we’re so grateful for the support of our wider community. Every year we receive donations of seeds for our farms and seed distributions at food banks, food for events, technical skills and labor for building and repairing structures, and a host of other in-kind donations and financial support. (This year, donations resulted in some great new additions at Marra Farm.)

This December, we’re delighted that City People’s Garden Store has chosen us again as the recipient for 100% of the proceeds from their holiday Merry Mice ornaments, which cost $10.49 each.

Support Lettuce Link and a great local business: Stop by City People’s Garden Store today (located at 2939 E Madison St, between Martin Luther King Way and Lake Washington Blvd, in the Madison Valley neighborhood) to purchase Merry Mice ornaments, and consider shopping there for your garden needs all year long!

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