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

 

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