Connecting small local farmers and food banks – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER

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Food aid organizations and farmers are changing their expectations of ’emergency food’ to provide people with the kinds of food they need most. And Public Health Seattle and King County are helping fund these connections. Through PHSKC’s support of the King County Farmers Share, operated by Harvest Against Hunger, and Growing for Good, operated by the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, 76 local smallholder farmers grow fresh, high quality, culturally relevant produce and sells to 39 local farmers. food aid organization. In addition, 12 South King County food banks are united through Elk Run Farm to provide customers with the freshest produce.

"The Growing for Good Program benefits the farmer, the food bank, and food bank guests. Partnering with food banks like White Center Food Bank has helped our farm business produce and deliver our goods more efficiently. In addition, it's very satisfying to provide the same quality and variety of foods that we offer at the farmers markets to shoppers who may not otherwise be able to access them." – Genie Bradwin of Kirsop Farm said. "Receiving payment early in the season helps our farm business with cash flow when production costs are high, and having the food bank as a buyer ahead of time allows us to plan without spending as much time and energy negotiating sales along the way,” Bradwin added.  

Through the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance’s Growing for Good program, the White Center Food Bank partnered with Kilsop Farms to purchase whole chickens and fresh produce such as green and red Chinese cabbage for the summer of 2022.

“By purchasing from local farmers, we are able to provide quality food,” said Carmen Smith, executive director of the White Center Food Bank. “Just because you come to a food bank doesn’t mean you’re at the bottom of the barrel. Everyone deserves quality food.”

Rainier Beach Action Coalition’s weekly farm stand offers customers fresh produce purchased and delivered from local farmers.

Beatrice Shimirimana, an immigrant from Burundi, brought beautiful red and white Dragon Tongue beans on this day. She got seeds from a Nepalese farmer and will save seeds for next year to send back to her family in Burundi. The contract she has with the coalition has made a good impact on her small family business. “I started farming in 2017 in the U.S. and farming as a business last year, and the contract helps me continue my farming journey believing that I may expand the size of my farm in the future,” Beatrice shared. “I’m learning a lot about farming here in Washington State – farming brings me joy.” Shimirimana said.

For farmer Bill Thorn of Sky Island Farm, this year’s funds came at a great time. No money was coming in, so he had a very late start to the season. However, the contract helped him get through the rough times, and he was able to invest in his farm. “We work with North Helpline Food Bank because they’re consistent [at ordering]. Everyone should have access to good quality healthy food regardless of income level,” Thorn said. “Our motivation is quality food to as many people as possible.”

Krishna Biswa of Namuna Growers started farming in 2012 at the International Rescue Committee's Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila. He now grows on a 1.5-acre plot at Horseneck Farm, located on King County-owned and preserved farmland in Kent, with over a dozen other farmers. On this day, Krishna delivered green onions and chard, which were immediately made available in the Des Moines Area Food Bank produce room, where customers visit daily.

For the past five growing seasons, the coalition has purchased produce from Francis Ndishu and Elizabeth Mugeche of Faith Beyond Farms in Enumclaw. Throughout the summer and fall of 2022, Francis delivered zucchini, green onions, kale, corn, beets, and other produce to South King County food banks, including on this day, to Maple Valley Food Bank.

“Our relationships with local growers are an important way to increase the amount of produce available in food banks and support local growers in King County,” said Program Coordinator, South King County Food Coalition. One Maggie Rickman said: The Coalition has received funding through Harvest Against Hunger to purchase produce for its 12 member food banks. As a result, during the 2022 growing season, three local farmers will have a wide variety of produce including collard greens, amaranth, basil, beets, coriander, dill, green beans, spicy peppers, leek, radicchio, fennel, and corn. It was delivered.

Farmers working on the farm grounds
Offering fresh farm produce is a top priority for the South King County Food Coalition, so much so that they started their own farm in 2015.

"Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables responsive to the preferences of food bank clients,” shared Rickman. “The farm also acts as a connector between the food banks and the food system as a whole by providing education about the local growing season and farming landscape in King County.” Elk Run grows more than 50 different fruits and vegetabes, inreasing yearly. some recent additions include celtuce, gai lan, and yard-long beans, which are grown alongisde longtime client favorites like green onions, tomatillos, cabbage, and broccoli.

Throughout the growing season, the produce grown at Elk Run Farm is delivered to the coalition’s 12-member food banks, often setting up a market stand at the food banks, as seen (above) at Tukwila Pantry this past August.

First published on December 23, 2022

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