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.”

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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

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.

Community Report 2012: ‘Breaking the cycle of generational poverty’

Solid Ground's Community Report 2012

Solid Ground’s Community Report 2012

Hot off the press! Solid Ground’s report to our community on our 2012 work and accomplishments is now available. “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty” reports on recent impacts we’ve made in our community. But it also highlights the long-term positive change our programs can have in the lives of the people who access our services, and the ripple effect this has on their children’s lives.

As Solid Ground approaches our 40th anniversary, we remain focused and committed to our mission to end poverty in our community, and to help our society become one without racism and other oppressions.

Our engagement in this work is only possible through the support of passionate and committed employees, donors, volunteers, and government and nonprofit partners. With this continued support, we look forward to working ever more purposefully to help families and individuals overcome the challenges of living in poverty and progress to a place of thriving.

Feel free to share “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty” with others who may be interested in our work. If you’re not already on our mailing list and would like a hard copy of the report mailed to you, please email your mailing address to publications@solid-ground.org.

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.

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