Fresh Produce for all: Connecting small local farmers and food banks

Food assistance organizations and farmers are changing the expectations of “emergency food” to provide the types of food people need most. And Public Health Seattle & King County is helping fund those connections. Through PHSKC’s support of the King County Farmers Share, run by Harvest Against Hunger, and Growing for Good, run by the Neighborhood Farmers Markets in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger and PCC Community Markets, 76 small-scale local farmers are growing fresh, high-quality, culturally relevant produce to sell to 39 local food assistance organizations. In addition, twelve South King County food banks have banded together through Elk Run Farm to bring fresh farm produce to their customers.

"The Growing for Good Program benefits the farmer, the food bank, and food bank guests. Partnering with food banks like White Center Food Bank has helped our farm business produce and deliver our goods more efficiently. In addition, it's very satisfying to provide the same quality and variety of foods that we offer at the farmers markets to shoppers who may not otherwise be able to access them." – Genie Bradwin of Kirsop Farm said. "Receiving payment early in the season helps our farm business with cash flow when production costs are high, and having the food bank as a buyer ahead of time allows us to plan without spending as much time and energy negotiating sales along the way,” Bradwin added.  

Through Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance’s Growing for Good program, White Center Food Bank partnered with Kirsop Farm to purchase whole chickens and fresh produce like green and red napa cabbage in the Summer of 2022.

“Buying from local farmers allows us to provide high-quality foods,” White Center Food Bank Executive Director Carmen Smith said. “Just because you come to the food banks doesn’t mean you get the bottom of the barrel. Everyone deserves access to high-quality food.”

Rainier Beach Action Coalition’s weekly farm stand offers customers fresh produce purchased and delivered from local farmers.

Beatrice Shimirimana, an immigrant from Burundi, brought beautiful red and white Dragon Tongue beans on this day. She got seeds from a Nepalese farmer and will save them for next year to send back to her family in Burundi. The contract she has with the coalition has positively impacted her small family business. “I started farming in 2017 in the U.S. and farming as a business last year. The contract helps me continue my farming journey believing that I may expand the size of my farm in the future,” Beatrice shared. “I’m learning a lot about farming here in Washington State – farming brings me joy,” Shimirimana said.

For farmer Bill Thorn of Sky Island Farm, this year’s funds came at a great time. No money was coming in, so he had a very late start to the season. However, the contract helped him get through the rough times, and he was able to invest in his farm. “We work with North Helpline Food Bank because they’re consistent [at ordering]. Everyone should have access to good quality healthy food regardless of income level,” Thorn said. “Our motivation is quality food to as many people as possible.”

Krishna Biswa of Namuna Growers started farming in 2012 at the International Rescue Committee's Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila. He now grows on a 1.5-acre plot at Horseneck Farm, located on King County-owned and preserved farmland in Kent, with over a dozen other farmers. On this day, Krishna delivered green onions and chard, which were immediately made available in the Des Moines Area Food Bank produce room, where customers visit daily.

For the past five growing seasons, the coalition has purchased produce from Francis Ndishu and Elizabeth Mugeche of Faith Beyond Farms in Enumclaw. Throughout the summer and fall of 2022, Francis delivered zucchini, green onions, kale, corn, beets, and other produce to South King County food banks, including on this day, to Maple Valley Food Bank.

“Relationships with local growers are an important way to increase the amount of available produce in the food banks and support local growers in King County,” Program Coordinator for the South King County Food Coalition Maggie Rickman said. The coalition received funds through Harvest Against Hunger to purchase produce for its 12-member food banks. As a result, during the 2022 growing season, three local farmers have delivered a large variety of produce – including collard greens, amaranth, basil, beets, cilantro, dill, green beans, spicy peppers, leeks, radicchio, fennel, and corn.

Farmers working the grounds of a farm
Offering fresh farm produce is a top priority for the South King County Food Coalition, so much so that they started their own farm in 2015.

"Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables responsive to the preferences of food bank clients,” shared Rickman. “The farm also acts as a connector between the food banks and the food system as a whole by providing education about the local growing season and farming landscape in King County.” Elk Run grows more than 50 different fruits and vegetables, increasing yearly. Some recent additions include celtuce, gai lan, and yard-long beans, which are grown alongside longtime client favorites like green onions, tomatillos, cabbage, and broccoli.

Throughout the growing season, the produce grown at Elk Run Farm is delivered to the coalition’s 12-member food banks, often setting up a market stand at the food banks, as seen (above) at Tukwila Pantry this past August.

Photo Credit: Emilio Cerrillo Photography

Originally published December 23, 2022