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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September 2014 Groundviews: ‘Sharing in the goodness’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the September 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

When you step through the front gate of Stacy Davison’s Maple Leaf home in North Seattle, you enter a lush gardening wonderland. Ornamentals and flowers commingle happily with edible crops. Trellises tower over raised beds – one bordered festively with partially-buried wine bottles – and many labeled with creative hand-painted signs. Wind your way down the flagstone path to the backyard, and you’ll find more verdant richness, plus treasures such as a bunny hutch, a chicken coop with a “living” roof covered in succulent plants, and a former garage converted into a cozy teaching space: Stacy’s one-room Seattle Urban Farm School.

Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program makes it easy for backyard and P-Patch gardeners like Stacy to donate their extra produce to local food banks and meals programs, getting fresh vegetables onto the tables of families who need them. For about three years now, Stacy has donated 10% of her harvests from her bountiful garden to her neighborhood food bank. Then about two years ago, she says, “I got inspired to teach a class, posted it on my blog, and it sold out.” Initially holding classes in her living room and garden, last winter she transformed her “junky old garage” into her schoolhouse. And keeping in tradition with her commitment to donate 10% of her harvests, she decided to donate 10% of class proceeds to Lettuce Link as well – a natural next step for her.

Setting down roots

When you see her garden, it’s hard to believe that Stacy, a 5th grade teacher by profession, previously “had no idea what a giving garden was.” But when a friend invited her to a fundraising harvest party in the backyard giving garden of former Lettuce Link Farm Coordinator Sue McGann, she says, “I was enthralled with Sue’s garden, and mine was just taking off. And I remember distinctly coming home and being inspired to start a giving garden of my own as a way of giving back. I was excited!” She immediately wrote a blog post announcing it: “I’m going to be a giving gardener!” Then she began to plot out which beds she’d use to grow extra food to donate to her local food bank via Lettuce Link.

Stacy says that as a kid, her family moved around so much that she knew she wanted to have a home, and she literally ‘set down roots’ as soon as she could. She describes her personal journey with gardening: “My dad was a musician; we were on food stamps. As kids, we thought that that was cool money! But later, I understood what that meant: not having money. We ate a lot of cereal for school lunch – and a lot of pancakes for dinner – foods you end up eating when you can’t really afford to buy food. I remember being hungry a lot.” Also, she says, “I work with students who don’t have access to food that I would like them to be eating. So personally it kind of tugs at me.”

Even now, she says, “Donating food can be challenging. When you spend a lot of time growing it, there’s a tendency to want to…” she hesitates a moment, “…not hoard it, but enjoy it. But I’m fortunate to be in this place now, and to have a space where I can grow my own food. This is my passion and love in life.

“My mission is to grow as much food in my yard as possible to provide food for myself – and I want to share the food as my gratitude for what I’m able to enjoy. And it feels good! I always feel so proud of what I’m donating, and being able to contribute in that way. I’m sharing in the goodness that I’m enjoying for myself.”

When she started teaching classes, Stacy says, “I realized my teaching skills plus my passion for gardening came together, and I came alive more than I have in a long time.” In her first year as a giving gardener, “I donated about 10% of the total pounds that I grew. So that’s been my mark: 10% of Farm School proceeds go to Lettuce Link – money and food to people who need it. Setting a goal for myself, it’s sort of like making a direct deposit.

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

From giving gardener to donor

“If you make a commitment and be really clear about what the commitment’s going to be, then it’s easier to stick to, or it becomes a habit. For me, the percentage has been a fun challenge, and I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just what I committed to, and I feel good about it. It’s like a bill. A feel-good bill!”

Making the transition from volunteering to also being a donor “felt really manageable to me. I believe in the organization. Donating monetarily has allowed me to feel like I’m still contributing, even when my harvests aren’t strong or I’m not able to participate as actively because of time. I want to do my part to support it in whatever way I can,” she says.

“My work with Lettuce Link has been a way of making my gardening activity even more proactive and connected with the community than it was before. I’m not just playing in the dirt – even though that’s great and it is my therapy. It’s less a solitary thing, less just about me and what I’m eating, and more about what I’m eating plus what I’m able to share. I feel immense gratitude for what I have and what I’m able to contribute. So that’s been amazing, and it feels good.”

40 years of healthy food & food justice

Food Bank waiting 1993

Customers in line at the Fremont Food Bank, circa 1987; the Food Bank was transferred to FamilyWorks in 1999.

For more than 40 years, Solid Ground and its predecessor, the Fremont Public Association, have been feeding a hungry community and promoting food justice.

In 1974, our Fremont Food Bank was one of the first in Seattle’s north end. But it takes more than distributing food to fully address hunger.

So we started working with food banks, educators, chefs and businesses to help families develop skills to improve their food security and build lifelong healthy eating habits.

Solid Ground's Food Resources transports produce to local food banks throughout Seattle.

Solid Ground’s Food Resources transports produce to local food banks throughout Seattle.

In 1979, we partnered with the City of Seattle to create Food Resources, which developed into the backbone of the Seattle food bank system, providing administrative and technical support and transportation.

In the late 1980s we organized Lettuce Link to support P-Patch community gardeners and other backyard gardeners to grow produce for local food banks, and to provide seeds and vegetable starts for families who patronized food banks, supporting them in growing their own food – but the need for fresh produce was far greater.

Solid Ground now operates farms in the South Park neighborhood and at the Rainier Vista housing community.

Solid Ground now operates farms in the South Park neighborhood and at the Rainier Vista housing community.

So in the mid-1990s we partnered with community groups and spearheaded the Marra Farm Coalition to steward one of two remaining original farmland sites in Seattle at Marra Farm. There, hundreds of volunteers a year tend our Giving Garden to grow organic produce for people with limited access to nutritious produce, and we engage people in organic gardening, food justice and environmental stewardship. The Giving Garden produces about 25,000 pounds of fresh organic produce each year. In 2011, we opened a second urban growing operation adjacent to the Rainier Vista housing development, Seattle Community Farm, which provides education and inspiration while engaging the local community in growing fresh produce to support food security in Southeast Seattle.

Cooking Matters builds community through hands-on nutrition education.

Cooking Matters builds community through hands-on nutrition education.

During the mid-1990s we also launched a partnership with the national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength to bring Operation Frontline (now Cooking Matters) classes into our community. These six-week courses are presented at community-based partner organizations throughout Western Washington. They utilize volunteer chefs and nutritionists to support healthy cooking skills, nutrition education and food budgeting. Share Our Strength was also our partner in turning the Fremont Food Bank into the region’s first Super Pantry, which married emergency food and a full array of family support services. The Super Pantry eventually spun off as a stand-alone nonprofit, FamilyWorks.

In 2005, our nutrition education and skill-building efforts expanded into local schools through the Apple Corps, which uses national service teams to address the root causes of hunger and other health inequities in low-income communities.

Apple Corps Market Night at a local elementary school.

Apple Corps Market Night at a local elementary school.

The Giving Garden at Marra is our outdoor classroom. Students from Concord International Elementary School and other partner organizations learn about environmental issues in their community as they also learn to garden and prepare nutritious food. Our work in schools and with other community organizations is an important aspect of a growing movement towards a sustainable food system that is equitable for all.

We believe that ending hunger and creating equitable access to healthy food starts with breaking bread together. It draws on the experience and expertise of many organizations, community groups and individuals. And over 40 years, the education and access supported by Solid Ground helps empower people to achieve food justice.

For more information about this work and how you or your group can get involved, contact Gerald Wright, Hunger & Food Resources Director.

Cooking matters vol 2013

 

June 2014 Groundviews: Growing healthy partnerships

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the June 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

If you visit Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood on any given day from March to October, you’re likely to find a beehive of activity — often involving groups of students from Concord International School (pre-K through 5th grade), located just a few blocks away. Via collaboration with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link and Apple Corps programs and Concord teachers, students learn about nutrition, the environment, and sustainable gardening and food systems. 

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At the center of the buzzing, you might find Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link Education Coordinator, who describes her job as “the meeting ground of two different education programs.” There’s gardening education through Lettuce Link, combined with nutrition education through Apple Corps. In the fall and winter, she partners with an Apple Corps AmeriCorps member to teach weekly indoor nutrition-education lessons at Concord. Then during the growing season, classes move outdoors for hands-on gardening at Marra Farm, where kids get to “Adopt-a-Plot” that they plant, nurture and harvest themselves. Best of all, they get to bring the veggies home for their families to enjoy.

Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager, says it’s “a collective approach. We’re working together to achieve common goals around food justice, access and education. Almost everything that we do comes back to that.”

Engaging families
Since 1998, Solid Ground’s involvement as one of several stewarding organizations at Marra Farm has greatly increased access to healthy nutritious food in South Park, and one of the most effective conduits for this has been Concord students themselves. When Solid Ground launched the Apple Corps program in 2007 to do nutrition and fitness education in schools and nonprofits, Concord became a natural partner.

In addition to classroom lessons, there are afterschool events designed  not only to engage families, but also to encourage self-determination where healthy food choices are concerned. Annual “Market Night” celebrations are one such event, combining health and nutrition information and activities with cultural sharing presentations, and an open-air market where each kid is empowered to choose from and “purchase” a variety of fresh produce.

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At Concord’s recent Market Night, Amelia introduced us to Joanne – a 4th grader and very enthusiastic budding gardener – who has brought her family to the Farm on several occasions. Joanne tells us, “I like Marra Farm because they garden, and also they let other kids do it.” Her favorite veggie to grow is “peas. They’re actually a little hard; you have to use sticks so they can climb, and you need to water them and weed them every single time.”

Joanne definitely thinks it’s better to grow your own food rather than buy it in a grocery store because, “It’s more nutritious, because you’re proud of yourself, and you think it’s very good!” She says someday, “I’m going to go and make my own garden in the back of my house.” For now, she and her parents are happy to live so close to Marra Farm.

Another way families get involved is through student-led Community Kitchens, known at Concord as “4th Grade Cooks.” Amelia says, “The logic behind 4th Grade Cooks is that the best way to learn something is to teach it – and kids should be the nutrition teachers for their families. Kids are a great ‘carrot’ to get their whole family involved, and then it becomes a night where kids are in the lead in cooking healthy food – the end result being a fun, positive space where everybody eats a healthy, free dinner. And what family doesn’t want to come cook with their cute kid?”

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Honoring community strengths
In South Park, 30% of residents speak Spanish, and Latino students make up the largest ethnic group (over 61%) at Concord. As an international school, the dual-language immersion program strives for all students to become bilingual/biliterate in English and Spanish. While Amelia is fluent in Spanish, she says she hopes that Solid Ground’s work in South Park will become “more community based and build leadership amongst folks from the neighborhoods where we’re working. As a white educator not from the community, this feels especially important to me.”

One way Amelia connects the community to gardening and nutrition education efforts is to invite parents and teachers to guest-teach classes in their areas of expertise. Recently, one student’s mom gave his class a tour of the Marra Farm Chicken Co-op that she helped to create. “To encourage families to share some of their knowledge is a really powerful way of switching out those roles of who has knowledge, and who’s the giver of knowledge, and who’s the receiver of knowledge.”

But she adds, “I think the most important kernels of my work at Marra Farm are getting kids to bond with nature and healthy eating – and doing so in a way that acknowledges how agriculture and farming have been felt really disproportionately by different communities. Particularly in the Latino community, there’s been a lot of suffering through agriculture. There is also a huge amount of knowledge and pride. I hope the program continues to grow in a way that acknowledges people’s different experiences, while leading with the really beautiful and important things that happen when people love on their environment, feed their bodies well, and treat animals with respect.”

Amelia says, “Part of what makes nutrition education and the Marra Farm Giving Garden such a natural fit is that nutrition is all about, ‘Eat your fruits and veggies!’ And the Giving Garden makes it possible in a community that would otherwise struggle to access produce. Where do you get fresh vegetables? Marra Farm! Actually being able to say, ‘This is important and this is how you can get it’ is really powerful.”

Community gathering space completed at Seattle Community Farm

November 21 was a frosty morning, when work crews from Shirey Handyman Service began the two-day construction project of the last piece of the Seattle Community Farm’s infrastructure. VIA Architecture’s Community Design Studio assisted Solid Ground in the design and permitting of the new shelter that fulfills the original plan for the Seattle Community Farm. Two years in the making, the completion of the overhead structures “will greatly enhance the work at the Farm,” says Scott Behmer, Seattle Community Farm Coordinator.

Now into the third growing season, the Seattle Community Farm, a project of Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, has had to cope with the ever-changing Pacific Northwest weather. Sunny summer days would wilt vegetables being washed, while the seemingly endless rain would put a damper on outdoor activities being held without a shelter. With the comfort the new overhead structures provide, Lettuce link expects to expand classes at the Farm – such as hosting additional Cooking Matters cooking and nutrition courses – and other events and activities that engage the Rainier Vista neighborhood. To Farmer Scott, “The purpose of the final infrastructure piece – to bring people together and act as a community gathering place – has finally been realized.”

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Nourishing healthy kids & communities

Editor’s note: This report was filed by volunteer reporter Tiffiny Jaber.

In the midst of the holiday season, Apple Corps’ message couldn’t be more meaningful: teaching children about healthy eating, exercise and growing  food to perpetuate a positive community. Apple Corps members – national service volunteers placed at area elementary schools – use innovative teaching techniques to get the kids to engage in these topics.

spinach sign 008 Apple Corps teaches students in underserved communities how to eat healthier by showing them where fresh vegetables and fruit come from, and teaching them how to cook in delicious and nutritious ways. They get kids’ hands into the soil, teach them to value the seasons of the year, and empower them to grow food at home. Apple Corps creates hands-on experiences for kids via gardens, cooking in the classroom, and by taking kids to farms to see the land and the farmers who tend it.

I recently had a chance to catch up with three of the Apple Corps nutrition educators who shared some of their experiences with me. Brian Sindel and Lisa Woo divide their time between Sand Point Elementary in Northeast Seattle and Emerson Elementary in Rainier Beach, while Kelly Shilhanek works with Concord International School in South Park.

Spending four days of the week immersed at their assigned schools, Apple Corps members collaborate closely with class teachers. The curriculum is based on the Eat Better, Feel Better program, a school-based effort of Public Health-Seattle & King County that promotes positive change in how kids eat and their activity levels.

MyPlate replaces the food pyramid as a guide for healthy eating

Lessons span a variety of topics over 12 weeks. For example, 5th grade classes focus on healthy eating around the world; 3rd grade covers plant parts; and younger grades integrate food with literacy. Brian said the focus is on a well-balanced diet. “We work from MyPlate, which replaced the USDA’s food pyramid, and we incorporate all five food groups,” he said.

The classrooms that Apple Corps members visit are treated to delicious homemade food. The members set up their mobile kitchen and provide a 45-minute cooking demonstration, which is as involved and interactive as possible for the students. Some of the food can be quite different and new to the children, so it’s not unusual for them to be apprehensive before taking the first bite. Lisa and her classes start off their snack by saying, “Bon appetit! We now may eat.” Then they each take their first “bravery bite” and talk about their likes and dislikes or show their varying approval with a thumbs up.

Veggie Mike Kim w-Andrew Ku 056Last year Brian led a Garden Recess Club for teacher-selected 3rd graders who needed extra engagement. Club sessions focused on different gardening lessons. At the end of the year, Brian put the mini-lessons together into an hour-long final session that the students taught to their classes. Brian was amazed to see these students, who were usually so quiet and disengaged, have the opportunity to be the experts and leaders for the rest of their classrooms.

The elementary schools each have their own vegetable garden onsite. The children also take field trips to various farms. Lisa notes, “All of (children in) the school have an opportunity to engage with farming in some capacity. … Concord students go to the Giving Garden at Marra Farm, a production farm Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link runs to support area food banks.” Emerson Elementary visits the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Kelly is looking forward to spring when three of the six grades she works with have the opportunity to experience basiccarrots garden education at Marra Farm rather than in the classroom.

Both Lisa Woo and Brian Sindel were awarded the title of Conservation Champions last year by the Seattle Public Schools. In addition, their respective schools received $400 to recognize their work. The money went toward greening the schools. Emerson Elementary plans to initiate a composting program with the awarded funds.

Not only are the children benefiting from the Apple Corps program, so are their parents and communities. The entire school community takes part in  the Farmers Market nights Apple Corps organizes for the school families. The events are free, with all of the produce donated by PCC. Concord International Elementary holds a multi-cultural night where families bring prepared food and share an amazing feast. Marra Farm hosts a Community Kitchen where farm volunteers and sometimes students set up a primitive kitchen to prepare freshly harvested organic produce for families and volunteers.

Apple Corps members also rally the community together outside of their classrooms and teaching gardens. Third to 5th grade girls from Concord take part in a bi-yearly 5K run with the internationally-renowned “Girls on the Run” program.

This link to the “Plant Part” Potstickers activity page and recipe gives an idea of how the children are taught about plants with a delicious recipe.

You can support Apple Corps by donating through Solid Ground’s website and designating Apple Corps. If you have any questions about Apple Corps, or to see how you can get involved in this amazing program, please contact Apple Corps Supervisor Samantha Brumfield.

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

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