Thursday, July 17, 2014

From the Valley to the Banks

One day a week our summer intern, Rhona, volunteers at the Rainier Valley Food Bank, which receives produce from the Seattle Community Farm. Here are some of her reflections. 

As community gardeners, we often wonder at the market value of our produce. How much money is today’s harvest worth? How many meals can it make or mouths can it feed?

At the Seattle Community Farm, Tuesdays are harvesting days. That is when the beets come up and the raspberries fall down, when the crates for delivery stack up for washing and weighing before its final destination: the food bank. And that’s where we are headed today, to see how many mouths we can feed with the produce nurtured with community hands.

It is 8 in the morning. At the Rainier Valley Food Bank, a crowd of people already wait at the front door, many with large bags and containers. The food bank doors are shut but within there is a rush of activity. Crates are unloaded and stacked in a pick-up line system, the garage is prepped for quick restocking, and volunteers are standing at each station, ready to distribute the food: a package of chicken, a few vegetables, some canned goods. The hungry are many, and the resources always go quickly.

Looking into the storage garage, where the shelves are fully stocked for the week, you realize the meaning of “group effort.” Those ten crates over there are from Lettuce Link's Seattle Community Farm, those other ten at the entrance are from local P-Patch Giving Gardens and Seattle Tilth’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, and those being unloaded just now are from local grocery stores, as well as Northwest Harvest, and Food Lifeline. In the other corner being unboxed are packages of gnocchi, instant mashed potatoes, mushroom quinoa, and various snack products.

In that one food bank on that one day, there must have been over a dozen separate nonprofits, stores, and organizations that contributed to the food distributed that morning. But is it enough? The shelves are empty at the end of the day, yet familiar faces come back every week, and we ask ourselves just how many mouths can we feed? 

Because at the end of the day, when the empty crates are stacked outside awaiting restocking from the next deliveries, and when the numbers of food bank clients checked-in are calculated, I am seeing first-hand that perhaps helping stop hunger and providing food means not just providing a safety net that gives people food for a day. It’s so much more complicated than that. One piece of food justice means creating opportunities and resources for people of all backgrounds and income levels to learn how to grow their own food – skills they can use to feed their families for a lifetime.

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