Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Day in the Life of the Rainier Valley Food Bank

As the Seattle Community Farm gears up for spring, we’re planning out our season and figuring out what we should plant. The produce from the farm will go to volunteers participating in the farm's work trade program, and also to the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

To get a better sense of our food bank partner, I have been helping out on distribution days. Walking into such a small place – the distribution room is probably about 10 ft wide and 40 ft long -  I never would have expected it to serve so many people. On a slower day, such as last Wednesday, around 100 clients visited the food bank. A busy day can see up to 300 people in four hours!

How do the food bank volunteers and staff do it? Creative use of space, lots of volunteers, and more than a little patience. Shelves are lined with cans and packaged food before the day even starts. The produce and meats are packed into crates and set out on tables. Extra crates of food are stored anywhere there’s room. The food bank serves clients as quickly and as well as it can, given its limited area. I can imagine how much more smoothly the distribution would run if they had a bigger space, though.

The Rainier Valley Food Bank is located in the 98118 zip code, which is literally the most diverse zip code in the United States (click here to read more). This is obvious at the food bank. I have heard Vietnamese, Chinese, Ukrainian, Spanish and Somali spoken there, and those are only the languages I recognized! This mix of languages presents a unique challenge to the food bank volunteers who have to rely on non-verbal communication.

As we figure out what to plant on the farm, we want to know what vegetables are popular in the many cultural cuisines of the neighborhood.  We will host a meeting soon to gather ideas and will continue to work with the food bank to plan the type of crops we grow .


If you are inspired by the cultural mix of Rainier Valley and want to broaden your culinary horizons, try growing or buying vegetables used in Asian cooking. Or try out one of these East African dishes. And it’s the perfect time of year to cook Borscht, a Ukrainian/Russian dish that uses beets and cabbage

Happy Cooking!

-Mariah, Seattle Community Farm Outreach Coordinator

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