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!

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:

Building Community Luncheon was ‘bleeping awesome!’

On Friday April 10, Solid Ground had our most profitable Building Community Luncheon ever: We grossed $290,000 – as much revenue as last year, but with 500 fewer people in the room – and our net income was MUCH higher! We think it’s because people really resonated with our theme, If you want to end poverty, work for JUSTICE!, highlighted here in the Luncheon video:

Justice is, of course, both political and personal. As our President & CEO, Gordon McHenry, Jr. told the assembled:

Today, we are here because we are concerned about justice. I remember being concerned about justice as a young boy. It was in the mid-’60s when I was 6 or 7 years old, walking with my family in the small, segregated town of Terrell, Texas, where my mother was born and raised. It was an uneventful stroll until my parents stepped into the street, because there were some white people coming toward us. Even then blacks in the south yielded the sidewalk to whites.

“A few months ago, I was reminded that some troubling aspects of our society haven’t changed in 50 years. It was after Ferguson, and this time I was walking in the streets of Capitol Hill as part of a small but loud protest march. When we approached the East Precinct, our Seattle police surrounded us with a show of force far vastly outnumbering the protesters.

“Mistrust, Anger, Fear, Misunderstanding, and Conflict. We can all recall such powerful feelings. They are the feelings and experiences that come when you realize you are trapped by injustice. Sadly, it’s a near universal experience for people of color in our country.

“And YET there is the transformational experience of being part of powerful actions and mass movements for justice. The thrill of chanting and believing that our very presence will make a difference.

“What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!

“Whether you marched for an end to the Iraq wars, rallied to demand
$15 Now, joined hands around an old growth tree, OR packed council chambers with angry residents in wheelchairs (something Solid Ground did in the early 80s to help secure the future of ACCESS transportation), most of us have had that experience. You know that feeling of coming together as MORE than a group of people, but as a FORCE for right, a FORCE for justice.”

Kathya Alexander, the Seattle Storyteller, who worked with us on 40th Anniversary activities last year, contributed and performed a riveting story about the civil rights movement. You can read some of her stories on her Seattle Storyteller website.

Grammy Award winning "Thrift Shop" vocalist Wanz singing "I Will"

Wanz wows attendees at Solid Ground’s Building Community Luncheon

And when keynote speaker Jessica Williams of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had to cancel due to ill health, local Grammy Award-winning singer and Solid Ground supporter Wanz stepped in at the last minute as our surprise guest star. As Gordon mentioned in introducing him, “Talk about making lemonade out of lemons: ‘This is bleeping awesome!’ ” (a reference to Wanz’ signature riff on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hit track, Thrift Shop).

Wanz’ inspirational song I Will was a great addition to the program, focusing on the importance of community, especially in troubling times. We encourage you to follow Wanz on social media:

If you were at the event: Thank you for making it such a special occasion! If you missed out but would like to make a gift to make the event even more successful, please go to our online donation page. Thanks!!

PREMIER SPONSORS:

The Boeing Company | DCG ONE | HomeStreet Bank | Microsoft | Safeco Insurance

COMMUNITY BUILDER SPONSORS:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation | Marguerite Casey Foundation | Real Change | REI | Seattle Children’s | Sprague Israel Giles, Inc. | Washington Dental Service Foundation | Whole Foods Market

Hunger Action (every)Day

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Members of the 43rd Congressional District brought legislative hunger and food issues to the state capitol on March 9, 2015

This post by Anna Lourie of Solid Ground’s Cooking Matters program originally appeared on the Cooking Matters Blog.

March is National Nutrition Month! So, what does that mean exactly? To us at Cooking Matters, it means a chance to focus on ourselves and our nutrition – perhaps by paying a little extra attention to our food choices, making sure to get outside with some physical activity, or being intentional about enjoying some of the MyPlate groups that we don’t always fit in. (We’re looking at you, fruits and vegetables!)

However, as we spend the month reflecting on nutrition, it’s important to also consider one of the huge barriers to leading a nutritious lifestyle: food insecurity. The Children’s Alliance estimates that approximately 305,000 Washington state children live in food insecure households. (Food insecurity is a term used to describe households financially stretched to the point where they cannot be certain that all of their members have a consistent, reliable source of food.) Households particularly affected by food insecurity are those headed by single mothers or fathers, African-American or Hispanic households, and households with incomes below the official poverty line.

On Monday, Cooking Matters joined concerned citizens, employees of Solid Ground, food bank clients and directors, service providers, urban agriculturalists, nutritionists and members of anti-poverty and hunger organizations from all over the state to speak to legislators in Olympia on behalf of hungry families in Washington. This powerful event, called Hunger Action Day, is organized by the Anti Hunger & Nutrition Coalition and occurs during the legislative session to place emphasis on hunger issues.

cooking matters

2015 Hunger Action Day participants rallying on the Legislative Building steps in Olympia

The event began with an information session in the basement of the Capitol building where we discussed our priorities and shared some staggering statistics about hunger in Washington state. We were shocked to learn that Washington ranks 43rd out of 50 states in connecting low-income students to nutritious school breakfasts. In addition, of the 11,000 legal immigrant families in Washington who rely on State Food Assistance, these families receive only 75 cents to the dollar of food stamp benefits others receive. Are you fired up yet? We sure were.

After this information session, we broke into smaller groups to meet with our respective legislators and discuss how to better serve the one in seven Washingtonians who are food insecure. We met with legislators from the 43rd Congressional District, the district where some of our coordinators reside and Solid Ground is located. We didn’t know if we would be able to speak with our elected officials since there were House votes scheduled for most of the day, but we were actually able to speak to two Representatives and two Legislative Assistants about our agenda for this year!

It was so amazing to be able to talk about the daily experiences that we have with our participants here at Cooking Matters, and to hear that our elected officials share our passion for ending hunger in Washington. This is why Cooking Matters is so important in the larger context of food justice in our state. To learn more about these issues, please visit the Anti Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s list of 2015 legislative priorities website.

Food Justice: What does it mean to learn it, grow it, live it?

PrintFor some, Chefs Night Out has been a longstanding tradition of food, fun and fundraising. Local food and wine enthusiasts gather for a cocktail hour, auction, and a much anticipated dinner prepared tableside by one of 10 locally celebrated chefs featured at the event. This year the celebration continues on November 16 at the beautiful Seattle Design Center in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

In addition to having the opportunity to savor a gourmet four-course meal with fine wine pairings, attendees partaking in these festivities also get to do so while contributing to a cause that challenges the root causes of hunger. All proceeds from the event go toward Solid Ground’s work to achieve food justice through the Hunger & Food Resources department and its subsidiary programs. But this year is a little different; the focus is not only on food justice, it’s also on the development of food justice as a living mantra for the local community. A mantra built on the tenets of learning it, growing it, and living it.

LEARN IT
The Apple Corps program, a team of National Service members dedicated to nutrition education, works within local schools to combine standard subjects like math, science, literacy and art with cooking, wellness and physical activity. Gerald Wright, Hunger & Food Resources Director at Solid Ground, firmly believes that nutritional knowledge is power:

Apple Corps 2008The whole idea around nutrition education is that if we can really train children from an early age in all aspects of healthy eating, in understanding the value and benefit of eating balanced, nutritional meals, if we can help children at that young age really start to fall in love with healthy foods – taste it, experience it, and see that it’s good – that enables them to start making healthier choices. That is supportive of food justice.”

GROW IT
Developing an urban farm in a rapidly sprawling city like Seattle can be difficult. But the Lettuce Link program, which has been gardening and giving since 1988, is still going strong. By cooperatively operating two lively farms with their adjacent communities and collaborating with over 64 P-Patch community gardens and 18 other giving gardens, Lettuce Link manages to donate an average of 50,000 pounds of produce per year to those who need it! Marra Farm’s ¾-acre Giving Garden utilizes the dwindling farming space in Seattle and encourages folks in the South Park neighborhood to invest in growing organic food and the environment around them. Seattle Community Farm‘s repurposed sliver of land in the Rainier Vista housing community is also open to local residents and volunteers, with produce going to the Rainier Valley Food Bank and neighborhood residents with lower incomes.

Lettuce Link 1988“Lettuce Link is all about being a community place where people can not only come and learn about growing food, but they can actually experience it,” Gerald says.

The program aims to offer experiential knowledge and hands-on learning as a means of informing and encouraging the local community to grow its own food. The objective is to offer people the tools needed to ensure that price and availability don’t become the barrier to choosing fresh and healthy options. By showing people that you can grow your own food with a little bit of space and some water, that’s putting control over access and quality back into the hands of the folks who need it most. With all of the opportunities that Lettuce Link offers to stay connected to the food we eat by learning how to grow it, this element is a critical cornerstone of food justice.

LIVE IT

Eating is necessary to sustain life. Cooking, however, is not – and not everyone has equal access to the knowledge or skills to cook the vegetables they’ve been told are good for them.

Cooking Matters 1994 (by John Bolivar)

Photo by John Bolivar

Maybe people have a concept of what constitutes healthy eating. Someone goes to the doctor and their doctor tells them to go on a low-sodium diet. But they may not know how to cook foods within their new diet. We want people to be in a position of power over their eating. Knowing vegetables are healthy is different from knowing how to cook them,” offers Gerald.

This is where the Cooking Matters program comes into play. With generous in-kind donations from Charlie’s Produce and Whole Foods Market, Cooking Matters students (from kindergartners to seniors) attend hands-on cooking lessons and receive take-home groceries to continue cooking healthy recipes at home. Participants also receive food and nutrition expertise from community volunteer chefs, nutritionists and class assistants. Because “it’s not enough just to know what is nutritious and how to grow it, but also how to cook it,” Gerald says.

We’re turning the page on a community exercising the right to know, grow and eat healthy and culturally relevant foods. And while shopping, weeding or cooking can seem like laborious tasks, they empower individuals to make healthy and sustainable choices that feed their bodies and their communities.

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“Junk” vs. “real” food vs. farmers markets: What’s practical?

There’s a large misconception about how severely limited access is to healthy, nutritious food for many people living on low incomes. In his article “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?,” Mark Bittman compares costs between fast food and “real food” found at grocery stores to be prepared at home. However, the article doesn’t take into account that even food purchased at the supermarket isn’t necessarily “real food.”

Thinking of the kind of groceries that a person living on a low income might buy, the following among others may come to mind: meat containing pink slime, mass-produced eggs, pesticide-laden vegetables, and also, processed foods galore with plenty of additives and preservatives that have a much longer shelf life than fresh produce. (And which, for someone working multiple jobs with dependents who might not have time to take weekly shopping trips, can be miracles as they are often easy-to-prepare, long-lasting foods.)

Grocery shopping

Compare the ingredients of a typical sesame seed bun on a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese and an inexpensive package of Sara Lee sesame seed buns found at a typical supermarket chain. The ingredients are practically identical. Little do we know where the meat comes from (or what, truly, goes into their “beef” patties), how the cow is raised and butchered, and how the meat is then treated and packaged for McDonald’s (pink slime). But the same goes for the largest meat retailer in the United States.

Before the truth about what pink slime is (lean, finely textured beef trimmings) and why it is pink (it’s treated with ammonia hydroxide) came out, large supermarket chains had been selling products with this meat filler in their stores. It was only after the story broke that a couple of them immediately pulled it from their shelves. Others said they would remove the product “as quickly as possible.” For someone who doesn’t always have a stable income, waiting is not an option.

What does one do when they seek a healthier lifestyle by not just buying “real food” from a supermarket but by eating truly all natural and organic produce, grass-fed meat, whole foods grains and dairy? Certainly farmers markets would be a great place to start. They provide access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables by cutting out the middleman also known as retailers. Buying directly from the farmer should reduce costs, right? Nope. According to a recent study, farmers market prices for produce were higher on average than your local grocery store.

squash, tomatoes, vegetables in bowl

On occasion, I admit to spending more on seasonal, organic produce at any given farmers market in Seattle when the exact same quality is available for less at the local natural foods store (PCC in my experience). However, this personal encounter seems to be unique to Seattle – one of the most expensive cost-of-living cities in the U.S. When I’ve visited markets in Portland, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Utah and Chicago, Illinois, I noticed the prices were much more reasonable. So without delving into the exact reason why our produce is so much more expensive than some other metropolitan areas, take a moment to really think about whether you, as an individual or supporting a family, can access organic, sustainable and affordable produce with your own personal budget, regardless of where you are in the world.

Those with higher incomes quite possibly live in more upscale neighborhoods in which local, natural markets and farmers markets are within walking or a few miles biking or driving distance. Since the housing prices in Seattle have made it difficult for middle class to find affordable housing – looking to those living on middle-to-low incomes or at poverty level – we can’t expect high-end organic markets to be available in neighborhoods where residents cannot afford their products. Expensive farmers markets won’t help much, even for those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a program that has received recent cuts and is constantly threatened with more.

At a recent Community Alliance for Global Justice meeting, in which concerned folks from all over Seattle came to talk about racism, classism and sexism in the global food system, one woman spoke about the Safeway in Rainier Beach, a neighborhood in South Seattle. “You all talk about there being no access to grocery stores in ‘food deserts,’ but even the Safeway close to me…their produce is horrible,” she explained. “I went into a Safeway in Ballard a few months ago, and it was like night and day.” Ballard: a popular, up-and-coming and expensive neighborhood in Northwest Seattle.

Some local farms, P-Patches and guerrilla gardeners in the greater Seattle area are working hard to ensure healthy, organic and culturally appropriate foods are available to the community. Some are listed here. Through Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, the Seattle Community Farm and our Giving Garden at Marra Farm are two other examples of efforts to create access to fresh organic produce. But a couple hundred acres in a metro area of 3.5 million people is only one small part of working for food justice. Real, systemic change in our food system is in order – not just talking about “real” versus “junk” food.

It was 40 years ago…

Come meet founders, myths and urban legends at:

VOICES of COMMUNITY, Thursday May 8, 7-9pm
The Fremont Abbey Arts Center (4272 Fremont Ave N)

Hear from the horse’s mouth, or at least from the dog on Waiting for the Interurban, about  40+ years of innovation, partnership, hell-raising and action to end poverty.

Thanks to Fremont Brewing Company for creating a special 40th Anniversary Ale that will be on sale!

Sgt. Pepper cover with FPA faces

 

Fall Fest at Marra Farm Sept. 21

Lettuce Link invites you to come celebrate the harvest, South Park style, at the 12th Annual Marra Farm Fall Fest!

Saturday, September 21, 12–3pm
Marra Farm: 9026 4th Ave S, 98108

  • farm-fresh food
  • apple cider pressing
  • live music
  • children’s activities
  • farm tours
Free and family friendly!

We’ll appreciate the amazing work of Farmer Sue McGann, who is retiring after 10 years at Marra Farm, and we’ll welcome new Marra Farm Coordinator Farmer Kyong Soh!

Volunteers needed: assist with kids’ activities; prep, grill, and serve food; wash dishes; help with setup and cleanup, etc. Contact Amelia: amelias@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6731 for details or to sign up.

We hope to see you there!

Fall Fest 2013 Postcard-1Fall Fest 2013 Postcard-2

Please join us for “A Place at the Table”

interior-logoFifty million Americans – one in four children – don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”A Place at the Table” tells the powerful stories of three such Americans, who maintain their dignity even as they struggle just to eat. In a riveting journey that will change forever how you think about the hungry, “A Place at the Table” shows how the issue could be solved forever, once the American public decides – as they have in the past – that ending hunger is in the best interests of us all.

The film will be shown at Seattle First Baptist Church (1111 Harvard Ave, Seattle, WA 98122) on Saturday August 17 and Sunday the 25th followed by discussion, advocacy and a call to action. 

Both showings begin at 4pm. Doors open at 3:30pm. All are welcome to this free event. Registration is requested at: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/410619.

Narrated by Jeff Bridges, the film brings to the fore the serious economic, social and cultural consequences that hunger poses for all of us. In citing the successful “War on Poverty” of the 1970s, filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush drive home the point that as a society, we simply need to exert the political will to solve the problem of poverty – and its resultant hunger.

The screenings and discussions are co-hosted by the Social Action teams of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue and Seattle First Baptist Church. Discussion will focus on local and national advocacy strategies for legislation to alleviate hunger, elevated to the spotlight recently with the approval of the Farm Bill without Food Stamp Aid by the U.S. House of Representatives.

  •  On August 17, Rev. Paul Benz, Director of Legislative Affairs with Faith Action Network, will lead the discussion.
  • The August 25th program will feature Ms. Christina Wong, Public Policy Manager with Northwest Harvest and Co-Chair for the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition.

 

Celebrating Marra Farm & Farmer Sue McGann

Sue McGann has grown more food for hungry people than possibly anyone else in our community. Ever.

As head farmer at the Giving Garden at ‪#‎MarraFarm‬, a major part of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, she has led thousands of community volunteers to raise 10-12 tons of produce a season, distributed through food banks, schools and the South Park community adjacent to Marra Farm.

Starbucks volunteers produced this lovely video:

Sue is retiring at the end of the season, taking with her a superhuman green thumb and a life of passion for food and justice.

Amazing things grow in gardens, including important community leaders. Thank you, Sue, for flourishing in ours.

Here are some more thoughts on Sue’s work and retirement from the Lettuce Link blog. Visit our website for more information about Lettuce Link and the Marra Farm Giving Garden.

Lettuce Link transition

Editor’s note: Michelle Bates-Benetua, Lettuce Link Program Manager, announced that she will be moving on from Lettuce Link. Here are her words: 

Bee on kale flowersRecently, on one of those delicious sunny May days, I watched a bee nestling into an overwintered kale flower and thought about Lettuce Link. This July will mark my ninth year as the program manager, and it truly has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have held.

At my core, I am deeply connected and committed to our program and goals and have loved working with so many wonderful people with such high integrity and passion for social justice!
When I first started, there were two of us on staff. We were both technically part time and only stopped running in the dead of winter when we collapsed and returned to our families worn out and exhausted.

Michelle (center) with her duaghter (r) and staff member Amelia Swinton (l)

Michelle (center) with her daughter (r) and staff member Amelia Swinton (l) at the Seattle Community Farm adjacent to Rainier Vista

Now there are seven of us. We have a new urban farm and have more than doubled the number of giving gardens we work with, classes we teach and volunteers we coordinate. We are intentional in our approach and we have a vibrant community of fantastic volunteers that we connect with in many ways throughout the year. We are still busy during the growing season, but we now have much more in reserve for the other parts of our lives.

The interest in food justice and urban agriculture has grown tremendously during my tenure, and the energy continues to build! I’m excited to see what the future holds for Lettuce Link.

Or, perhaps more accurately, I’m excited to see what Lettuce Link will bring to our common and collective futures. Everyone has a right to high-quality food, health and well-being. How will Lettuce Link play a role in supporting and advocating for these rights?

Which brings me back to the bee. It lingered on that one flower just long enough and then knew it was time to fly on to the next. I have given considerably to and received significantly from my time with Lettuce Link. But now it is time for me to move on, allowing a fresh perspective and new energy to infuse Lettuce Link.

I will step aside in early August and hope to see many of you before then. If not, you may see me around Seattle. I plan to stay connected to food gardens and the people who love them.

The job posting is on the Solid Ground website. Please share it widely.

~ Michelle

We’re also hiring an AmeriCorps member; please share that posting as well! The AmeriCorps position closes June 3.

Urgent: call your Senators about the Farm Bill

Clean radishes

Clean radishes

Here’s a breaking news update on the Senate Farm Bill and the latest message (from the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition) to deliver to our Senators. Please pick up a phone to call Senators Cantwell and Murray.

Please share this information with your networks:

Farm Bill Process
The Senate began their debate of amendments to the Farm Bill yesterday morning. Unfortunately, they missed their biggest and best opportunity to help hungry families and seniors by rejecting the Gillibrand amendment that would have eliminated the $4.1 billion cut to SNAP. Senator Murray co-sponsored the amendment and Senator Cantwell voted for the amendment. But in the end, the amendment failed to get 50 votes on the Senate floor, ultimately defeated by a vote of 26 yeas to 70 nays.

If there’s a bright side to this, the Senate also defeated a number of even more damaging amendments proposed by Senator Roberts that would have tried to instill many of the cuts proposed in the House Bill, including an amendment that would have greatly restricted Categorical Eligibility and eliminated Heat and Eat entirely.

Additionally, Senator Brown has introduced an amendment that will be debated on the floor that would add $10 million to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program as well as add funds to other programs that help farmers markets and increase access to nutritious, locally sourced produce. This is an effort that we support since the Senior FMNP helps low-income seniors have access to the fresh produce that they need to stay healthy in body and mind, but $10 million will be a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the cut to SNAP — our first-line defense against hunger.

Even if this amendment is added to the bill, the Senate will be voting on a final package as soon as tonight, or possibly tomorrow morning, that will cut SNAP by over $4 billion — a cut that will take $90 per month out of the SNAP benefits for 232,000 households in Washington.

Tell Senators: Support the Brown Amendment but Vote NO on the Final Farm Bill
Call Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray now and ask them to support the Brown amendment. Let them know that we support adding funding to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, because if the cuts to SNAP proposed in this Farm Bill take effect, then we need to make sure that seniors have all the assistance they can get to have access to nutritious food that they can’t otherwise afford on a fixed income.

We need this amendment to get the final Farm Bill package in the best shape in can be should it pass the rest of the Senate, but in the end, we still need our Senators to vote NO to the final Farm Bill package, because the proposed cuts to SNAP are unconscionable. No Farm Bill this year is better than living with the consequences of a Farm Bill that slashes SNAP and as a result, increases poverty for hungry families with children and seniors. The Senate can always go back to the drawing board and save their yes vote for a Farm Bill that does not make unconscionable cuts to SNAP.

Senator Murray: 1.866.481.9186
Senator Cantwell: 1.202.224.3441

•    Vote YES on the Brown amendment to increase funding for Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
•    Even if that amendment passes, vote NO on the final Farm Bill because of the unconscionable cut to SNAP — our first line of defense against hunger.

Fully fund Washington State’s smart response to childhood hunger

A young child makes a peanut butter and Jelly sandwichState Food Assistance (SFA) is a food stamp look-alike program founded by the Washington State legislature and Governor Gary Locke in 1997 to provide continued food assistance to legal, documented immigrants when Congress terminated their eligibility for food stamps. The program has been a tremendous success but is at dire risk.

We need your help TODAY to preserve this important program!

Call the legislative hotline at 1.800.562.6000 or email your reps and senator to ask for full funding for the State Food Assistance Program!

Background
Since 1997, Congress has restored federal food stamps for several categories of immigrants (like refugees and asylees). There are three main groups receiving State Food Assistance in Washington:

  • Immigrants with green cards who are in their first five years of residence in the US.
  • “People Living Under Color of the Law,” a variety of immigration status that allows people to continue to live in the US.
  • Citizens of countries with Compacts of Free Association with the US (Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands) who may live and work in the US but are ineligible for most assistance.

More than 10,000 households received SFA in November 2012. Unfortunately, legislators have repeatedly tried to slash SFA benefits that help thousands of children growing up in immigrant families.

Efforts began in late 2010 to eliminate the program completely. The 2011 and 2012 budgets cut the benefits in half, reducing the average benefit per household from $159.05 to just $78.23. This benefit level is just one-third of the resources needed to be “food secure,” according to the US Department of Agriculture.

A coalition of anti-hunger advocates and allies is asking the Legislature to fully fund SFA. The Children’s Alliance, the Faith Action Network, the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition, OneAmerica, Northwest Harvest, the Washington Food Coalition and others strongly encourage the 2013 Legislature to restore State Food Assistance benefits to 100% of the food stamp benefits received by more than 1 million Washingtonians. The cost of maintaining SFA benefits at 50% in the next biennium is estimated to be $21 million; the cost of restoring benefits to 100% is an additional $21 million. Proposed changes made in the food stamp program at the federal level by Congress could reduce the cost to the state.

Solid Ground has joined 60 community organizations in supporting the SFA. A letter to the legislature signed by all of the organizations states:

For more than 15 years, Washington has strategically leveraged national resources to make sure that food stamps reach families in need. …

But now our food security network isn’t working like it should. During the recession, Washington legislators slashed State Food Assistance benefits for thousands of children growing up in immigrant families, nearly all of whom are children of color. At a time when an estimated one in four Washington children live in food insecure households, the cut to State Food Assistance deepens racial and economic inequality. …

(H)unger is a roadblock to opportunity. Hungry children can’t learn. The ties between hunger, poor health and learning are well understood. If we continue to send children to school without the fuel they need for academic success, we continue to let the opportunity gap swallow up our future.

As the legislative Special Session gets underway in Olympia today, our representatives and senators need to hear that we support the full funding for the State Food Assistance program. Please call the legislative hotline today at 1.800.562.6000 to leave a message, or email your legislators.

Join us for Hunger Action Day in Olympia on February 22!

Your voice is needed to end hunger in Washington!Hunger Action Day logo

Join Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center for the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition‘s HUNGER ACTION DAY at the Washington State Capitol, Friday, February 22!

This Lobby Day allows the Coalition and supporters to highlight current issues affecting families facing hunger and bring forward priorities to reduce food insecurity in Washington State. Through the collective voice of a coalition, legislators hear the struggles of Washington State residents, food banks, farmers and service providers and are asked to make policy decisions that will end hunger in our communities.

Over the years, this coalition has successfully brought hunger advocates to Olympia to promote strategic policy and state appropriations that maximize federal nutrition programs, reinforce our community-based emergency food assistance system, and link local farmers with the needs of the hungry.

The Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s priorities this year are:

  1. Restore full benefits for families on the State Food Assistance Program.
  2. An increase to WSDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  3. Restore WSDA’s Farm to School and Small Farms programs.
  4. Create a balanced and sustainable state budget that includes new sources of revenue.

Let your legislators hear your voice and encourage them to support a food secure Washington. Visit the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s website to register.

Individuals who are not able to come to Olympia can participate in the Coalition’s online Lobby Day. Click here to join an online petition. This petition asks lawmakers to ensure that Washington families don’t go hungry in these tough times.

If you have any questions about Hunger Action Day 2013, please contact Elsa Ferguson at elsaf@withinreachwa.org.

Seattle Community Farm: A harvest slideshow

Seattle Community Farm Panorama

Seattle Community Farm panorama (all photos by John Bolivar, jbphotography.com)

On one of the first cool, drizzly fall days following this year’s record-breaking dry Seattle summer, local photographer John Bolivar visited our Lettuce Link program’s Seattle Community Farm at Rainier Vista to help us document 2012’s lush harvest. Although Farm Coordinator Scott Behmer claimed the harvest was beginning to wane, we still witnessed as Scott, Lettuce Link VISTA Amanda Lee and a community volunteer gathered and washed scores of pounds of beets, squash, heirloom tomatoes, radishes and greens.

This is the Seattle Community Farm’s second growing season, and according to the Lettuce Link Blog, more than 7,000 pounds of produce had been harvested and donated to the Rainier Valley Food Bank as of early October 2012 (more than twice last year’s harvest, when the Farm was still getting established). Enjoy this slideshow of the bounty!

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Senate passes Farm Bill: So now what?

(Editor’s note: This post comes from Amelia Swinton of Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center. Amelia has been working with the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group to lobby for policy changes to help make our food systems more sustainable and better able to meet the nutritional and health needs of all Americans.)

Solid Ground’s Seattle Community Farm, one of the local projects previously funded through the Farm Bill

After weeks of debate, the United States Senate has passed a Farm Bill – or “Food & Farm Bill,” as many believe it should be called. Conceived over 80 years ago as a New Deal program to aid struggling farmers and feed hungry Americans, the Farm Bill has since evolved into our nation’s most influential piece of food and farming legislation. It sets and enforces the rules on what we eat, how much it costs, and under what conditions it is grown. The Senate’s Bill, which passed yesterday, boasts $23 billion in deficit reduction as it blueprints our food system over the next five years. Let’s take a closer look.

There is much cause to celebrate. The legislation eliminates direct payments to commodity farmers, which have been a blunt tool that overfunds industrial, monocrop agriculture. Instead, there will be greater emphasis on need-based crop insurance, including better support for organic growers. Important to Washington growers is an increase in Specialty Crop Block Grants – industry jargon meaning more money for fruits and veggies. The Senate voted to double fund Community Food Project grants, which levy federal money for community-level food system development and currently support Solid Ground’s Seattle Community Farm.

A new local fruit and vegetable program called the Hunger-Free Community Incentive Grants offers $100 million over five years to increase purchases by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) customers at farmers markets and other healthy food retailers, while another program would introduce a five-state Farm-to-School pilot project. Summarily, the Senate’s smörgåsbord would support rural economies, improve urban eaters’ access to healthy food, and subsidize agriculture more equitably – all amidst a climate of funding cuts.

Volunteer Peter Zimmerman at the Seattle Community Farm

But there is also reason to grieve, as the Senate Bill made significant chops to the SNAP program. It is deeply troubling to see $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP at a time when 46 million Americans are enrolled in this program, which is one of the few federal safety nets that expands and contracts based on need. According to the Community Food Security Coalition, these cuts will reduce benefits to approximately half a million food insecure families by $90 a month. Also disappointing were the underfunding of the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program, and the failure of an amendment that would have required labeling for genetically engineered foods.

In her statement on the Bill, WA Senator Patty Murray said, “This year’s Farm Bill is a victory for Washington State, our farmers, and our economy – and I was proud to support it. It makes important investments in jobs, provides meaningful support for our fruit and vegetable growers, and reforms many programs while continuing the critical safety net for farmers. I do not believe this legislation is perfect, and I am particularly concerned about the reduction in SNAP (food stamps).” Washington Senators Murray and Maria Cantwell have been champions of economically stimulating and socially just Farm Bill reforms, and we encourage constituents to send their thanks.

What’s next? Well, the food fight marches into the House of Representatives, where it must pass before Obama can sign it into law. The House had originally planned to mark-up the Bill next week, but this process has been delayed – and that is cause for concern.

“Whether there is a 2012 Farm Bill or not will largely rest in the hands of the top House Republican leadership,” says the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. No Farm Bill in 2012 means that funding levels from the 2008 Farm Bill will continue, which are far less progressive than those proposed by the Senate yesterday.

America is hungry for a Food & Farm Bill that addresses the real challenges facing its eaters. While the Senate’s bill makes important strides towards a fairer food system, it continues to overfund commodity agriculture at the expense of struggling Americans. As an agency committed to eliminating injustice in all its forms, we must continue to demand a better Bill. Our friends at the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group are developing a legislative agenda for the House session – whenever it happens – and we encourage you to stay tuned to their website or their Facebook page.

In the meantime, you can Dine Out to support local efforts to organize for a healthier Farm Bill! This Monday, June 25 from 4-10pm, the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group invites you to Local 360 in Belltown. A percentage of all checks will go towards this Seattle-based group’s work to educate and advocate for good food.

Support the Let’s Grow Act!

This post originally appeared on the Lettuce Link Blog and was written by AmeriCorps Member Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link / Apple CorpsOutreach & Education Coordinator.

At an Apple Corps "Market Night," a student uses "dollars" to purchase rainbow chard.

At an Apple Corps “Market Night,” a student uses “dollars” to purchase rainbow chard.

Do you like federal food policies that:

  • Create incentives for people to use SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) to purchase fresh, locally-grown fruits and veggies?
  • Encourage connections between preschools and small farms?
  • Offer grants for the creation or expansion of community gardens?
  • Amend laws to allow farmers of color, women, veterans, tribes and first-generation farmers increased access to USDA funds and other subsidies?
  • Provide nutritious food on weekends and holidays for hungry schoolchildren? 

So do we!!!

These fabulous progressive programs are just a few components of the Let’s Grow Act, recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). The Let’s Grow Act recognizes the potential of community-based agriculture to address hunger and decrease obesity, especially among children, the elderly and low-income Americans.

We need your support to help move this Bill forward!

Please join Lettuce Link in fighting hunger and building local food economies by asking Seattle’s Rep. Jim McDermott to co-sponsor the Let’s Grow Act. Send an email or call 206.553.7170.

Here’s a sample letter to get you started:

Urban communities deserve access to healthy and affordable food, which can also expand local economies. I urge you to co-sponsor the Let’s Grow Act! H.R.4351 introduced by Rep. Fudge (D-OH). Everyone should have access to nutritious and affordable food, and I believe that the Let’s Grow Act will improve the lives of people in my community.

Seattle community leaders have stated their commitment to equitable access to healthy food and a health-centered food system with the Seattle Farm Bill Principles. I believe the Let’s Grow Act builds on these principles and I urge you to show your support by becoming a co-sponsor. Thank you for your time and commitment to representing the voices of Washington’s 7th district.

Not a constituent in Washington’s 7th district? Enter your zipcode to find your Representative. After you call or email, let us know how it went! Leave a comment below or on Lettuce Link’s Facebook page.

Hunger Hits Home documentary raises awareness about hunger in America

Hunger Hits Home/No Kid Hungry image

Hunger Hits Home airs Saturday, 4/14/12 at 8pm/7pm Central

This Saturday, April 14 at
8pm/7 Central, the Food Network will air a documentary about the hunger crisis in America called HUNGER HITS HOME.

The Food Network has teamed up with Share Our Strength in their No Kid Hungry campaign to try to get the message out about food insecurity in America. This hour-long documentary shows the perspectives of politicians, parents and – most importantly – children who do not always know where their next meal is coming from.

The Food Network and Share Our Strength hope and believe that if enough people see this documentary and connect with its cause, then we can inspire action against hunger.

Hunger Action Week 2012: What’s on your plate?

This post was adapted from United Way of King County information about Hunger Action Week, originally posted on the Cooking Matters Seattle blog.

Hunger Action Week 2012: Join the conversation about hungerUnited Way of King County (UWKC) is shining a bright light on hunger, asking everyone to think about their relationship to food: Who has food, who doesn’t, where does your food come from? They’re promoting Hunger Action Week 2012, March 19-24 and encourage us all to sign up to participate! When you do, you’ll learn about ways you can get involved locally and be part of a movement that is helping to assure that everyone in our community can put nourishing food on the table.

How you can help:

What does Hunger Action Week hope to accomplish?
The purpose of Hunger Action Week is to raise awareness around hunger. Most people don’t realize how many people are struggling. For most of us, it’s so easy to forget that many in America don’t know where their next meal will come from – or that many have to choose between having enough food to eat and paying for rent.

The need:
Data from the Adequate Food in King County section of the Communities Count report, released in February 2012:

  • 20% of King County children are food insecure. That means 1 in 5 King County kids are at risk of going hungry.
  • 13% of King County residents – or 249,260 people – are food insecure.
  • 9% of King County households ran out of food in 2010 – up from 6% in 2007.
  • In King County, 49% of Hispanic households with children are food-insecure.
  • 15% of South King County Region residents could not afford balanced meals; 8% went hungry.

And King County food assistance programs show that the need continues to climb:

  • Basic Food (SNAP) caseloads increased by 83% between 2009 and 2011.
  • Seattle food banks have seen a 30% increase in the number of clients coming to them for help. At the same time, they’ve had a 31% decline in donations.
  • WIC enrollment has increased steadily since 2006.

During Hunger Action Week, we want to get people thinking about, talking about, and taking action around hunger – so join the conversation!

The Capitol goes orange for Hunger Action Day

(Contributed by Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center Team)

Orange is the color of hunger awareness. And with 367,000 Washington families struggling to put food on their tables while Washington State budget woes threaten to further slash our safety net, awareness among our state lawmakers is vital. Programs like food stamp benefits for immigrant families, farmers market vouchers for seniors and women with children, school meals funding, and support for local food banks are all in danger.

Amid a sea of orange scarves, over 150 advocates gathered in Olympia on Friday, February 3rd for Hunger Action Day. The message? Protect the programs and infrastructure that ensure people can meet their most basic need: food.

This annual day of advocacy was organized by the Washington State Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition – a statewide coalition of service providers which works to bring the voices of hungry Washington families to the ears of our policymakers to ensure that public policy leads our state’s response to hunger.

L to R: Claire Lane (co-chair, Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition), Jen Estroff (Government Relations Dir., Children’s Alliance) & Trish Twomey, (Solid Ground's Hunger Action Center Dir. & co-chair, Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition). Photo by Joyce Zeigen.

Solid Ground staff from the Hunger Action Center were proud to attend the event and meet with our legislators to explain the importance of these programs to the families we serve. The group also heard from Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, who thanked Hunger Action Center Director Trish Twomey for her years of service. Speaker Chopp spoke of the importance of our safety net and the need for revenue options to protect the services provided to Washington’s most vulnerable residents.

Take action!
Hunger Action Day may be over, but it’s not too late to let your legislators know that you want them to protect our state’s anti-hunger infrastructure. Find your legislators here and tell them you support the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s 2012 Legislative Agenda, which seeks to:

Hunger Action Day, 2/3/12, Olympia, WA
Photo by Julie Washburn, Washington Food Coalition
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