By Daphne Xia, The Seattle Medium
Non-profit farms in Seattle – before, during, and now after pandemic-related food benefits – have been supporting communities in non-monetary ways, including through youth-education programs and by supplying local food banks.
Their support is more important than ever as half a million Washington households lost pandemic-era food benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the end of February.
For example, Black Farmers Collective (BFC) is a non-profit organization that aims to foster a Black-led food system and facilitate food-system education. Organizations or institutions buy produce from them and then distribute the food directly to people for free.
The organization was founded by Ray Williams, a former science teacher who wanted to teach biology and nutrition to communities through gardening. BFC now owns Yes Farm, located at 715 Yesler Way in Seattle, and Small Axe Farm, located in the Sammamish Valley in King County.
Last summer BFC worked with the Seattle Housing Authority, which held four resource festivals for their residents and bought produce from BFC to distribute for free to the residents.
Non-profit farms in Seattle provide food through food banks and other non-profit programs, not farmers markets.
“Even before the pandemic, there was really a greater need for fresh produce than we could support,” said Scott Behmer, farm coordinator of Solid Ground, a non-profit organization that strives to help end poverty and other forms of oppression in communities.
Solid Ground, based in Wallingford, helps communities throughout King County and across Washington and has worked in the emergency food world since 1996. Volunteers help grow fresh produce at Marra Farm in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle.
“We’ve seen that need for a long time and the pandemic definitely exacerbated it,” Behmer said. “But that food insecurity has been a problem for much longer.”
In the state of Washington, the number of people receiving SNAP on a monthly average is high, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.
In 2015 the number of SNAP participants in Washington on a monthly average was 1,070,933, dropping to 929,486 in 2017. Before the pandemic hit the United States, that number was 833,128 in 2019. In 2020, the most recent figures, Washington ranked 11th in the nation, with 870,997 participants.
Organizations like Solid Ground long have been helping by providing produce for free.
Solid Ground has had a long-standing partnership with Providence Regina House food bank in the South Park neighborhood and Sea Mar Community Health clinics. In addition, the organization’s Community Food Education program features cooking classes, youth programs with schools, and farm-based education programs at Marra Farm.
Nurturing Roots, originally based in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood and now in the process of moving due to previous lease expiring, is a non-profit, community-centered urban farm. It also provides youth education programs to help foster a health-conscious mindset.
Sprouts, one of their resources, is a free program for early-childhood education. They invite young people to their farm but also conduct virtual workshops.
“Typically we educate folks on self-sustainability in agriculture–so more of the techniques that provide not necessarily the information, but ways that you can do it at home,” said Nyema Clark, founder of Nurturing Roots.
The organization hosts summer programs for middle to high school students, who are invited to come to the farm for 10 weeks. Students travel to different green-job settings. Last August, Nurturing Roots partnered with Woodland Park to teach students about “Zoo Doo,” a kind of compost made from animal manure mixed with bedding materials.
Clark says that most people don’t see the importance of local food systems and the value in having small local farms, mostly because they don’t know about them and what they offer.
“I think especially folks who are relying on eating cheaper food, most of that isn’t fresh food,” said Hannah Wilson, farm manager at Black Farmers Collective. “And so then they may not have the exposure to how to prepare a healthy meal with the vegetables that we grow at the farm.”
Wilson said they are intentional about partnering with youth programs and designing field trips that center Black and brown students. The organization strives to create space for Black liberation through food sovereignty.
“Because we are also a team of all Black people, we want to work with students who might need to see people like us doing this work and that’s what we want to serve.”