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Good Food Bags and Community Kitchens Provide Food for Ethnic Elders

When Tilth Alliance was awarded a Seattle Human Services Department 2017 Innovation Fund award for its Community Good Food Project, it had two primary tasks:

  1. Distribute 1,200 Good Food Bags over a period of 10 weeks to three ethnic Senior Meal Program sites—El Centro de la Raza (40 older adults), East African Elders (30 older adults), and the Laotian/Hmong/Mien Community (50 older adults).
  2. Bring community together through four Community Kitchen meals prepared by Ethnic Senior Congregate Meal Program cooks at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands.

This is one of 12 Innovation Fund projects that will be celebrated at an event on April 13, 2018 (see related article in this issue).

Following are some of the things Tilth learned and shared as part of the Innovation Fund grant process:

Good Food Bags

Good Food Bags is a program that provides subsidized bags of fresh, locally grown organic produce to families in Seattle and South King County. Its goal is to improve access to fresh produce to families with limited financial resources or inadequate access to fresh food. Good Food Bags is a community-based food distribution program that’s kind to the earth, fair to farmers and good for the people they serve.

Tilth Alliance was successful in delivering all 1,200 Good Food Bags, with a few twists. First, the actual money for this project did not come in by September 1, as planned, but in October. Fresh local produce tends to decline in October and the Tilth Alliance Food Hub—where the bags are assembled—would be closed in late December. Therefore, Tilth Alliance had to shorten the delivery to nine weeks. Then, the East African Elders program attendance grew, so there was a need to up their total bags to 40 older adults. This left the program 40 bags short of the goal, so Tilth Alliance included 40 bags (2 weeks of 20 bags) for the older adults at the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.

In reading over the evaluation surveys from Good Food Bags, it appears that receiving the bags was a very positive experience overall. Many of the older adults indicated that they live with extended family; therefore, the produce fed not only older adults but often entire families of immigrants. Most indicated that the program helped them to consume more fruits and vegetables, which many could not afford normally.

As one participant said, “My doctor always tells me to eat more fruits and vegetables but I cannot afford them. This project allowed me to do what my doctor says.”

The Lao Mien Hmong program director expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to participate, saying many people were very saddened to learn the project was ending. The Tilth Alliance staff involved in this work were also sad when funding ran out. An opportunity came up to distribute produce from another nonprofit called “Imperfect Produce” (produce that might not be perfectly round or, for whatever reason, won’t sell in stores but is perfectly good to eat). That organization is now donating produce to the Tilth Alliance Food Hub, which made the decision to continue to distribute produce to the three sites that received Good Food Bags in the Community Good Food Project.

Community Kitchens

The second task of the Community Good Food Project was to promote and bring community together through four Community Kitchen meals prepared by ethnic senior Congregate Meal Program cooks at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Tilth Alliance contracts with a registered dietitian to work with these sites.

This task ended up presenting many challenges! The Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands kitchen was under construction and was delayed by nine months. This project was originally scheduled for completion by the end of February, but the kitchen was under construction and completion was delayed. Once open, equipment that had been stored for over three years had to be relocated, cleaned, and placed. Basics like tables and chairs had not yet been purchased. It was and, as this article goes to print, still remains an enormous task to ready this facility for the public. That being said, Tilth Alliance looked at other locations to host Community Kitchen events.

The first event was a Korean Cooking Class at Miller Community Center that occurred the morning before 100 older Koreans and other community members gathered to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Approximately 10 community members gathered around three Korean cooks to learn how to make beef bulgogi, japchae, tteok-bokkii, and kimchi. All attendees were given recipe booklets to take home. The responses after the class were very positive and everyone seemed to have a good experience. One of the best comments overheard was from the main cook, who said, “That was fun—let’s do it again!”

The second event was an East African Elders Community Kitchen—the first official event held at the new Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands kitchen on February 23, 2018. These elders had worked on the farm every Friday morning for years. Now they have a kitchen where they can prepare food that was previously prepared outdoors.

Since the facility needed more work before Tilth Alliance could open to the public, only East African community members, Tilth Alliance employees, and a few special guests were invited to participate. Despite the fact that it snowed one day earlier, more than 60 people attended. The menu included many traditional dishes, including two types misir wot (spicy lentils), gomen (collard greens), salad, and Injera.

The food was prepared by three regular cooks, who were all honored and applauded for their efforts. The East Africans were given a 2013 photo of them cooking outdoors that was enlarged and framed and now hangs in the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands kitchen. Another positive outcome is that the contract manager for the senior meal program attended the initial portion of the East African event. She was able to find congregate meal program funding that makes it possible to continue the Friday meal program.

The Community Kitchen events are a wonderful opportunity to share another culture’s cuisine, honor the cooks who prepare the food, and bring people of all cultures together to enjoy good food.

Two additional Community Kitchen events are yet to be scheduled due to further development of the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands and availability of senior meal program cooks.

A third task for the Community Good Food Project was to distribute approximately $800 worth of local organic produce to various ethnic senior meal program sites throughout Seattle.

Tilth Alliance contributed the main content of this article. Their mission is to build an ecologically sound, economically viable and socially equitable food system. For more information, visit www.seattletilth.org.

A Good Food Bag Toolkit is available on the Aging and Disability Services website (click here).

Photo credits: East African Meal, Good Food Bag, and Community Kitchen photos courtesy of Tilth Alliance.

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