Fresh Produce for Seniors during a Global Pandemic

28 Oct 2020, by Admin in Harvest Blog, International Rescue Committee

Harvest VISTA Anastasia Ryseff serves at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) New Roots Program. New Roots at the IRC Seattle works with refugee, immigrant and vulnerable communities in South King County to improve food access and community wellness. New Roots provides individuals and families space to grow their own food at four different community gardens, while also offering community programs such as English classes, yoga, stress reduction groups, and student summer internships. New Roots also runs two subsidized farm stands that sell produce grown by clients in the gardens. For those who need or want assistance, New Roots offers trainings and workshops on gardening skills and guidance on how to navigate the Pacific Northwest growing climate. 

The global pandemic of COVID-19 disproportionately affected marginalized populations such as the elderly and refugees. In collaboration with Food Innovation Network (FIN), the International Rescue Committee New Roots program and HAH VISTA Anastasia coordinated the delivery of 50 bags of fresh produce weekly to low-income seniors in SeaTac and Tukwila. 

The program began last June in conjunction with the Tukwila Village Farmers Market, run by both the IRC New Roots Program and FIN. Each week through December, grocery bags filled with local and fresh produce from refugee and immigrant farms, Alvarez Organic Farms, Collins Family Orchards, Namuna Garden and New Roots Aggregate Farm Stand will be delivered to elders in South King County.

The global pandemic puts older shoppers at higher risk when visiting busy markets and many seniors experience barriers to transportation. According to HAH VISTA Anastasia, many of the communities that the IRC serves prefer to eat diets replete with organic produce which is often too expensive for low-income budgets. Seniors are often forced to make tough choices between buying high-quality produce and paying for rent. In order to address this issue, New Roots and FIN worked together to seek out funding for the delivery of produce this summer and will continue to reach 50 households per week. 

HAH VISTA Anastasia worked with New Roots Specialist Kamal to decide what produce would go in the bags. They aimed to provide variety and only purchase from immigrant and refugee farmers. The small produce bags are often comprised of fresh fruit, root vegetables, herbs and dark leafy greens and with the help from volunteers are delivered to many of the seniors door steps. Additionally, in collaboration with SNAP-ed, New Roots added recipes to go along with the produce for each week. 

Some of the IRC clients who live nearby chose to pick up their produce bag at the Tukwila Village Farmer’s Market, where they also received $10 in “Heart Bucks” from the American Heart Institute to spend on more produce from vendors at the market. Market vendors also accept SNAP and provide Fresh Bucks to EBT recipients- with the hope to remove barriers in making local, organic produce available to everyone.

Krishna, a farmer who graduated from the IRC’s Microproducer Academy, an eight-week program that teaches budgeting, crop planning, irrigation and other farming skills operated his own farm stand for his farm Namuna Garden. The bounty of fresh vegetables he brought to market and supplied the bags with each week was impressive especially considering the small amount of land he currently farms. HAH VISTA Anastasia was honored to work with such a humble and talented farmer and is thrilled that through the Food Access and Aggregate Community Team (FAACT), for which she provided administrative support, Krishna will scale up next season on land provided by King County.  

FIN and New Roots will continue to distribute fresh produce, culturally appropriate food and food vouchers to elders and families facing food insecurity through the holiday season.