Here in Skagit County, we know we can do better. Wendall Barry, respected environmental advocate, farmer, and poet claims all hope lies in our ability to connect to place. Skagit Food For Skagit People hopes to help connect community agencies, local businesses, farmers, resource managers and the broader community to activate a coordinated effort here in our fertile valley. SFSP is a year-long USDA/NIFA funded Community Food Project planning grant with the end goal of creating a format for ongoing collaboration.
At the first stakeholder meeting hosted in April, we shared and evaluated existing data on food access here in Skagit. This included analyzing new, valuable information recorded at the six listening sessions hosted throughout the county last winter, which were essentially an inquiry into healthy, local food access for low-income consumers to find out what was working and what was not. Participants in the sessions were asked to envision and describe characteristics of a local food-secure system. Seven themes emerged from these discussions: interdependency (ie. barter, cooperative buying), justice and equality, accessible food banks, access to gardens, affordable food costs, move people to food, move food to people and closing the waste loop. After information was shared, stakeholders were asked to evaluate which of the seven themes they were most interested in. Skagit is a largely rural, agricultural county that has deep roots in growing, processing, and sharing food. It is no wonder that the majority of the folks at the first stakeholders meeting were interested in similar projects like cooperative food processing, canning and cooking classes, shared childcare, food swaps, gardening and gardening education, edible landscapes and community gardens. Stakeholders were then asked to reflect on the following questions:
Who else should be invited/involved in this work?
What information is needed?
What are the collaborative possibilities?
What are the unresolved questions?
The feedback we received helped us design our next stakeholders meeting on June 23rd. With special regard to social justice, food sovereignty and food security, we plan to explore how we may engage and amplify grassroots efforts by identifying and weaving together individual efforts, while learning how to better collaborate/interface with existing resources, government agencies, and community organizations. There will be plenty of opportunity for group discussion, envisioning, and problem solving. We will start by having attendees identify and share their skills and projects, where they live, and how far their sphere of influence/participation extends. They will then be asked to divide up into groups based on where their homes are within the county. As an exercise, groups will analyze the skills and projects available in their area and be asked to use these potential resources, or “low hanging fruit,” to creatively brainstorm and weave together potential collaborative food access projects. Later on, these same groups will evaluate their proposed projects, identify possible roadblocks and paths forward. In hopes of catalyzing the discussion by providing important information and inspiration, Jason Miller and Marla Reed, of Concrete Community Garden and Farm to School, Ellen Gray, Executive Director of Food Policy Council, of the Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network, Rosalinda Guillen, of Community to Community, and Sarai Stevens, of Chuckanut Transition, will share their experiences in community organization with a specific focus on how to expand collaborations, respond to community feedback, and maximize potential resiliency by interfacing with existing resources and/or agencies. At the end of the day, we will plan how to stay engaged for ongoing collaboration.
In the near future, economic, social and environmental uncertainties will only deepen, making a access to locally grown, processed and distributed food only more necessary. Proactively preparing for these changes, we are coming together because we believe that none of us is as smart as all of us. Skagit Valley is fertile with small, organic grassroots efforts and businesses that all lead towards a stronger localized food system. Each project is a small seed that, if nurtured symbiotically, has greater power.