Megan Matti and Emilyann Franklin, The Seattle Medium
With the holidays and the new year ahead, you may be looking for ways to help in a meaningful way. Relieving food insecurity, especially because of the recent inflation and economic recession, is one major area you can contribute.
According to a survey done by the Urban Institute, 21.4% of adults in the United States reported not having reliable access to affordable food within the last 30 days in June 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in October reported that food prices in the Seattle area have risen 11.5% over the last year.
Winter exacerbates the problem because people spend more on heating their homes or warm clothing. For people who don’t have extra money, the expense usually means cutting back on food.
According to the Journal of Nutrition, food insecure people are at a higher risk of poor nutritional status and negative health outcomes. These negative health outcomes can include poorer cognitive development in children. In adults they can worsen depression, weight gain, energy levels, and risk of viruses and infections.
Food insecurity isn’t always obvious.
“It’s not just about ‘not having food’ — people may find themselves skipping meals, reducing the size of their meals or choosing non-preferred foods for financial reasons,” said Marie Spiker, a Ph.D. in human nutrition, and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington. She said food waste and food insecurity require a variety of responses to address the root problem.
City Fruit, Nurturing Roots, For All and Northwest Harvest are examples of local organizations responding to that root problem.
City Fruit was founded in 2008 by a group of volunteers. They harvest fruit trees around Seattle and redistribute quality fruit to food banks or pop-up fruit stands in farmer’s markets and in many Seattle neighborhoods, such as High Point, Ballard and New Holly. They reduce food waste by sending fruit that is damaged or undesirable to meal and culinary programs to be transformed into items such as jam, baked goods and cider.
“Fruit has often been seen as a bonus or luxury when it comes to food security because it can be expensive and doesn’t have the same shelf life as other products do,” said Annie Nguyen, executive director of City Fruit.
The organization works with homeowners who have fruit trees on their land.
“City Fruit focuses on fruit because our city has so many healthy fruit trees, and many older fruit trees produce more fruit than a single household can consume,” Nguyen said.
Community learning opportunities provided by City Fruit include resources for youth to learn about food justice and sustainable agriculture, and workshops where you can learn about caring for trees, with topics such as pest management, pruning and grafting.
“There are lots of ways to help – from harvesting, to preserving and jam-making, to helping us prune, mulch and net fruit trees,” Nguyen said.
To learn about volunteer opportunities, you can go to their website, Instagram, Facebook, email them or join their volunteer listserv. They are currently planning their 2023 year, so it is a great time to reach out if you are interested in helping out.
Another Seattle organization, Nurturing Roots, was founded in 2016 by Nyema Clark and is a community farm in Beacon Hill that focuses on healthy food choices.
“Nurturing Roots is all about self sustainability and access, so providing opportunities for communities of color to reconnect to their environment and then also educating folks on preservation and what’s at stake with our environment,” Clark said.
They also provide tutorials and workshops for the community, such as how to make your own jam or apple cider vinegar.
“I founded the program because I wanted to remove barriers of access around foods. We are able to access unhealthy foods very easily but when it comes to healthy foods it’s how much money you have,” Clark said.
The pandemic brought a new level of barriers to people who are low-income, including health care and food insecurity.
“It was like a light that turned on for food security even though it wasn’t a new issue,” Clark said. Many products simply ran out and prices skyrocketed. Many people worked two or more jobs and still faced food insecurity.
The climate has also contributed to food shortages. Clark said she has seen everything from new insects spawning, to plants not ripening over the last couple of years. She also notes that Seattle is drier and smokier than ever, which means plants aren’t getting watered as frequently or as cheaply.
For All, another organization, gathers food grocery stores are going to discard, sort it, and get it into the hands of community members in a variety of ways. It was started in 2012 by Terminello, who uses just this one name, and Annaliese, who did not want her last name used for this article.
Because of the nature of volunteering, Annaliese said For All can fill a gap in the traditional food-distribution system.
“We’re usually the people who are going to be available on the holidays and weekends and off hours and that’s kind of our niche within the overall scheme of food distribution in Seattle,” Annaliese said. “We’re more of a mobile pop-up organization that fills in the gaps that other food banks and meal programs leave.”
Every Saturday at the plaza outside the Yesler Community Center at 917 E Yesler Way from 8 to 9:30 a.m., the organization hosts a “Really (Really) Free Market” to distribute food.. They also set up these markets around Seattle for different events, such as a partnered event with Nurturing Roots that they held on Nov. 20 at the Nurturing Roots Farm. More information about pop-up locations and dates can be found on their website or Instagram.
Along with their summer art and food in the park, their free burrito program, and restocking community fridges, there are many places where people can find their food. The overarching goal of all of these programs is the need to reduce waste in the existing food-distribution system.
“We just saw a tremendous waste,” Terminello said. “And after we had that food, then it was about developing the strategies to how to distribute it without using a lot of gas and resources.”
For All’s community distribution model is a way to offset carbon emissions and waste. According to Terminello, last year the organization diverted over 167 tons of waste from the landfill.
Northwest Harvest partners with over 400 food banks across Washington State to distribute food. A social justice organization at heart, they are focused on how to address different elements of food insecurity and food distribution, namely honing in on the root causes of food insecurity. They help distribute food to the network of food banks they have helped expand, and they partner with different food distribution organizations.
The Northwest Harvest has three distribution centers around Washington state and a free community market open three days a week in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. The market is open to anyone. a
Typically, food banks get more donations during the holidays. However, according to Jeanie Chunn, director of community engagement for the Northwest Harvest, food donations are down this year for a variety of reasons.
“We used to have a poultry partner that would donate poultry every month during the month of November, and this year, they were not able to provide any poultry given supply chain issues, and where that food needs to be allocated,” Chunn said.
Chunn added that the ultimate goal of Northwest Harvest is to, in some ways, eliminate the need for food banks and distribution programs. They want to eliminate food waste and food insecurity. Chunn noted that emergency food distributions are important, but often address the “symptom” of food insecurity rather than the cause.
As a way to address this problem, Northwest Harvest has been lobbying for food policy changes.
To get involved with the Northwest Harvest and support food banks, Chunn says to reach out to your local food banks to volunteer, and there are multiple donation opportunities on their website.