Agency and Ingenuity during COVID-19: A look into the 2020 Farm to Food Bank Program on Vashon Island

30 Jul 2020, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank

Abigail Findley serves as the Harvest VISTA and program coordinator between the Vashon-Maury Island Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association that strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. The goal of this collaboration is to connect surplus island harvests with consumers in order to combat the economic obstacles that historically prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in food-insecure communities.

Ingenuity comes out of necessity.

Currently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations and communities are improvising, experimenting, and coming up with creative ways to feed their neighbors. At the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank, the Harvest VISTA, Abigail Findley, is creating an equitable and transparent Farm to Food Bank purchasing system. The purchasing system gives farmers the agency to create the financial support system they need while also bringing premium local produce into the food bank; a win-win situation for all involved parties.

Historically, one of the primary markets for selling produce on Vashon Island is the Farmer’s Market frequented by both local residents and summer tourists. This year is different. The Farmer’s Market is closed for the 2020 growing season because the safety of the island community comes first. Farmers on the island have the option to sell produce at their farm stands and through the online island marketplace VashonFresh (another program of the Vashon Island Growers Association, known as VIGA) but for a variety of reasons, many low-income islanders have limited access to these options. Luckily, the Vashon Food Bank can help supplement lost sales through funds made available by the King County Farmers Share (KCFS) program and VIGA’s Food Access Partnership (FAP). By buying premium produce at retail prices, the Vashon Food Bank is able to support local small farmers through this uncertain time while also providing food bank customers fruits and vegetables they may not otherwise have access to.

The Vashon Island community has generous farmers and gardeners who donate to the food bank all year round. Kale, cabbage, salad mix, spaghetti squash, and other abundant summer vegetables come into the food bank weekly during the summer, but it’s less often that island-grown broccoli, corn, blueberries, peaches, and melons get donated. That’s where the food bank steps in to use funds to purchase produce that is desirable to food bank customers. The Vashon Food Bank’s mission is to ensure that no one on Vashon goes hungry. The food bank achieves that mission by offering the community the highest quality and most nutritious food available. Everyone deserves the opportunity to bite into fresh island-grown sweet corn and to support their local farmers at the same time.

The Farm to Food Bank program supported by KCFS is not new. This is the second year of two that the Vashon Food Bank is able to use funds provided by KCFS to buy local produce directly from Vashon farmers. However, the program operates very differently in 2020 than it did in 2019 when it was set up by the previous Harvest VISTA. In 2020, relationship-building between the Food Bank and farmers looks a little different since everything is now done remotely, instead of in person. Zoom meetings have replaced informal meetups at the local coffee shops. Presentations and announcements at local organizations are now facilitated over email, and by phone call. A Google Suite of documents is made available for everyone to be kept informed and for the program to be transparent. Each week farmers sign up to sell a designated vegetable or fruit to the food bank and work together to fulfill the order and set the prices. The goal this year is to buy produce from as many island farmers as possible and for the farmers themselves to set the prices. By using shared online documents, the program can be adapted and tailored to the needs of both the farmers and the food bank in a quick and efficient manner.

The food system on Vashon Island is a living system. As the needs of the Vashon community change over the growing season, the food bank will be ready to offer financial support to farmers while also feeding the community local, fresh, and nutritious fruits and vegetables. It is the hope of the Vashon Food Bank to use the funds provided by KCFS and FAP to help create an equitable and transparent food system by providing economic support to local farmers while also meeting the needs of the food bank customers.