However, I found the biggest benefit of the event to be the people I met and talked with while sharing the meal that came included in the cost of the evening. To the right of me sat a woman who organizes the annual Bellingham Seed Swap. To my left was a couple also from Bellingham. The woman had recently left her job with Sustainable Connections to finish a master’s degree in psychology and food (coincidentally she is the woman who compiled the comprehensive list of commercial kitchens in Whatcom and Skagit that we have posted on our website resource page.) Accompanying her was the owner of Mallard Ice Cream. Time flew by as we discussed the psychology of change, the importance of participation, involving children, and innovative projects sprouting up in our region like the new Acme Farms and Kitchen (more on that below).
In the month since the lecture, the topic of distribution and our Skagit food system has repeatedly surfaced. Janet McKinney has brought to our attention that Skagit Co-op’s major food distributor, UNFI, has not only committed crimes against its employees, but has also effectively created a monopoly in organic food distribution (you can read more on this situation and Janet’s interaction with the Co-op on our blog post below titled: When Workers and Community Stand Together They Can Make a Difference). This information is obviously important in regards to worker’s rights, but it also highlights a need to rethink distribution at the local level. Luckily for us there are people who have already begun responding to the problem.
Janet, one of the Bow Little Market Ladies, attended a gathering at the Community Action Food Distribution Center in Sedro Woolley to see how the market can help connect people growing local food on farms and in kitchen gardens with our area food banks (read more below in our blog post titled: Hunger and Malnutrition Are Serious Problems In Our Community and There Is a Way You Can Help). Right now the food bank receives weekly semi-truck shipments from Kirkland that contain a lot of food that came from right here in our own Valley! What a waste of time and resource to ship food south only to have it turn around and be trucked back up here. Assuming that this local food to food bank program will flourish, it will not only increase the amount of fresh food to our area’s hungry but will also increase efficiency and maybe in the long run decrease cost.
Another innovation in localized food distribution is the Acme Farm and Kitchen facility that just opened up in Bellingham. This company is sourcing, processing and distributing locally made value-added products like bread, cheese, milk and meat, and making products available in a weekly or bi-weekly box for pick-up. They are also combining these ingredients and offering pre-made frozen meals. Patty Sweaney, another one of the Bow Little Market Ladies, is currently communicating with Acme Farms and Kitchen to see if we can create a buying group in this area for delivery locally or to the Market this summer. Stay tuned!
There are those who say we are powerless in the face of monopolies and aggressive corporate rule, but I don’t think this is true. I predict in the next couple of years, with an influx of innovation and grant money coming from the NABC, regional processing facilities, farmers and food entrepreneurs, with more opportunity to create value added product, will provide a wealth of food for market. For example, our community is lucky to gain access to one of these new processing facilities, making it easier to meet health department requirements to safely prepare food for commercial sale. The owners of Bow Hill Blueberries are currently working on finishing a low-risk processing kitchen where they and others from the community can come and dry, freeze or preserve high acid fruits and veggies. Personally, I have plans to experiment with making currant fruit leather for market.
As I sit here on my couch, nursing my baby on my left and writing with my right, I meditate on these factors with hope. Why not be hopeful?
Back to my experience at the Raj Patel lecture on our world-wide food system and food security: I found the biggest benefit of the evening to be confirming once again that we don’t need to ship in experts to address our problems. We have all the brains, innovation, resources and work ethic right here in our own region.
My parting words: We repattern the world when we repattern our communities.
Sarai Stevens, Bow Little Marke