by Laura Steiger, Outreach Team
Innovative Farm Fund Recipients Increase Food Access
The Co-op’s 2018 Farm Fund and Next Step grant recipients recently wrapped up a successful year. Thirteen farms and food-focused organizations received grants in 2018, and as we were reading their final reports, we noticed an inspiring pattern.
employed creative solutions to increase food access in underserved communities
In alignment with one of the Co-op’s core strategic goals, the following four projects, in particular, employed creative solutions to increase food access in underserved communities.
Along the way, some much-needed new markets for locally produced goods were created and new relationships were forged between neighbors, farmers, and community groups that can continue to blossom in coming years.
Farm stands have proven to be one effective way to increase food access to under-served communities and to benefit small farms by providing new markets for their fresh seasonal produce. The personal interactions at farm stands also foster new relationships that may result in innovative ideas to address food insecurity and barriers to healthy food access. Food builds community!
Photo courtesy of Birchwood Community Farm Stand
Birchwood Community Farm Stand & City Sprouts
In the Birchwood neighborhood, two projects working in concert increased food access for area residents left without a local grocer since the Albertsons store closed in 2016.
City Sprouts cleared one-quarter of an acre to grow mixed vegetables in the heart of the neighborhood, and The Birchwood Community Farm Stand operated every Saturday throughout the summer and participated monthly in the new Birchwood International Market.
Along the way, this project also increased food access by working with and donating food to the Birchwood Food Desert Fighters; donating leftover farmstand produce to Birchwood Manor, a local housing facility for seniors and people with disabilities; and collaborating with 10 other small-scale local farmers to share advice and work together to create a new market for their goods.
Photo courtesy of Bellingham Community Farm Stand.
Sustainable Connections Food to Bank On
Food to Bank On, which started as a Co-op Farm Fund project, is a beginning farmer training program providing resources and mentorship to support the success of new farms while providing fresh, local food to area food banks.
The program reimbursed participating farmers for $10,000 in donations to food banks and hunger relief agencies and introduced farmers to innovative programs such as the Community Action of Skagit County loan program in which farmers can repay a loan with produce. One Food to Bank On participant purchased a tractor through the loan program and plans to pay back the loan over three years by growing lettuce for Skagit County food banks.
Food To Bank On participants Pollen Folly Farm. Photo courtesy of Diane Padys Photography .
Seed Money, a project of Bellingham Food Bank
Seed Money, a project supported since its inception by the Farm Fund, entered into agreements with five expanding organic farms to provide “seed money” in exchange for growing produce for distribution through Bellingham Food Bank.
In addition to Bellingham Food Bank’s central distribution and two satellite food pantries at Christ the King Church and Alderwood Elementary School, produce was also shared with the migrant farmworker community through a partnership with Sea Mar Community Health Centers and Agape Service Project, and with families at Lummi Nation through Lummi Housing Authority and Lummi Tribal Health Center.
The Seed Money project also fosters long-term relationships between Bellingham Food Bank and Whatcom County farms. Nearly half of the food bank’s largest current contract accounts are with former participants in the Seed Money project.
Sorting fresh produce at Bellingham Food Bank. Photo courtesy of Damian Vines.
Twin Sisters Market
Twin Sisters Market, in the underserved areas of Nugent’s Corner and Kendall, nearly doubled its 2017 sales with a grant nicknamed “Pile it High and Watch it Fly” that paid farmers for excess product brought to its Saturday markets.
As a result, more than $3,000 worth of fresh food was donated to the Foothills Food Bank near Kendall. In addition to the nine farms that directly benefited from the grant funding, market customers benefited from increased product selection, and an additional 14 farms selling as vending members indirectly benefited from the substantially larger market presence and increased overall sales.
Who benefits from the Co-op’s Farm Fund? We all do!
We are excited to see the creativity and initiative that these Farm Fund recipients took to leverage their grant funds and expand their projects beyond the initial proposed goals. No wonder farmers are renowned for their wide-ranging know-how and ingenuity. From fixing busted tractors to creating innovative markets for their products, with the proper resources, farmers can accomplish great things.
The Co-op is excited to see the innovations of the 2019 Farm Fund recipients.
Be a Farm Funder
The need in the farming community is clear, and with more resources the Farm Fund can help. Donating is easy. The next time you shop, let your cashier know that you’d like to round up to support the farm fund or donate online.