Good Food Bags: increasing access to farm fresh produce

The Good Food Bag program is an effort that aims to increase the accessibility of fresh produce. The program, run by Tilth Alliance and Washington Community Action Network, delivers subsidized farm-fresh produce to families with limited financial resources in Seattle and South King County and has distribution sites that include preschools, churches and public health centers. The bags, which are delivered weekly, contain locally grown fruits and vegetables, along with recipes for cooking healthy meals. In 2016, 5,901 Good Food Bags were delivered to 888 families. Learn more about how we work with community partners to start to tackle the challenges of a food system that makes it more difficult for lower-income families to access healthier foods.

This blog was originally published as “Better access to fresh local food in Auburn,” on the Healthy Incentives blog.

Adults in South King County are the most likely to run out of food, according to a recent Communities Count survey. Programs like Auburn’s Good Food bags help connect people to fresh, nutritious, locally grown food that might otherwise be out of reach.

The Auburn Good Food bags are subsidized bags of farm fresh produce that are distributed by grassroots organization Washington Community Action Network (CAN!) to community centers, preschools, places of worship, and other easily accessible pickup locations. With financial support from the King County Partnerships in Community Health (PICH) grant, families with limited financial resources or inadequate access to fresh food can pay $5 for $10 worth of produce each week.

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Ariana and her daughter oversee an Auburn Good Food Bag pick-up location.

What is unique about Auburn’s model?

When the Auburn Good Food bags started, the program operated a lot like a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where members receive crops that farms select for the entire summer season. However, for recipients who struggle to make the most of each food dollar, unfamiliar foods or items disliked by family members often led to wasted produce.

Responding to that feedback, Washington CAN! changed the format of the Auburn Good Food bags to look more like a farm stand. Recipients get to fill their bag with four produce items each week, doubling up on items they like, and leaving items they won’t use. The program is also pay-as-you-come, rather than subscription based, which gives recipients a choice in how they feed themselves each week.

These options require more hands-on management, but organizer Emi Yoko with Washington CAN! says that the structure respects people and their preferences. “People like picking the produce themselves, and get excited about food items they already know.”

Recipients also like supporting the two local farms that grow their produce, and keeping their food dollars local. Red Barn Ranch – an incubator program of Seattle Tilth – and Mosby Farm are both located in Auburn and supply all the produce for the bags.

Planting a seedbags

By respecting its community’s food choices and helping families eat better, Washington CAN! has been able to foster discussions about how to make food more accessible for all.

“Food access is a way to talk about systemic change,” says Yoko, “and to think about issues on a broader level.” While federal policies do a lot to shape food access in our country, Washington CAN! connects community members who want to explore improving food access on the local level. For example, through this work, they have opened up more Good Food bag distribution points, and a group of Auburn residents is exploring how to start a community garden.

“People start learning about local government, and who represents them. Food access is a good entry point to that,” says Yoko.

Contact Washington CAN! if you’d like to volunteer with the Auburn Good Food bags or if you’d like to learn more about their local work.

Originally posted July 7, 2017.