by Ronnie Estoque
Last month, the City of Seattle awarded $2.8 million to support community-driven initiatives through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ (DON) Food Equity Fund. Twenty-two community organizations received awards ranging from $75,000 to $150,000 to be used in various ways to offer opportunities to grow culturally relevant food and provide education around the importance of healthy meals. The awardees of this Tier 2 grant (a maximum of $150,000) funding are creating projects that will span from 15 to 24 months.
The Food Equity Fund was created in 2021 in response to recommendations from the Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board, and it received an additional $750,000 in 2022 when the Seattle City Council adopted recommendations from the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force. The Food Equity Fund provided Tier 1 grants (a maximum award of $75,000) earlier this year in February, funding projects that will take up to a year to complete. The Seattle DON received 62 eligible applications for Tier 2 grants, reflecting over a total of $8.4 million in funding requests.
Villa Comunitaria was awarded $116,400 for Salsa de la Vida, a farm and food production social enterprise started in 2018 that is operated by Latinx women and provides organically grown produce for the South Park community. Analia Bertoni serves as the executive director at Villa Comunitaria and acknowledges the importance of growing healthy food.
“South Park is a food desert, with no accessible grocery stores of any size, and the Salsa de la Vida project is a community-based approach to directly reduce food insecurity and to increase access to healthy locally grown produce,” Bertoni said. “During last year, this team produced more than 6,000 pounds; half of this production was sold to the [community-supported agriculture] boxes members and the other half was donated to the South Park senior citizens, the South Park Providence Regina House Food Bank, and local families in need.”
According to Bertoni, funding from the Food Equity Fund will allow the farm to increase productivity on the current site by improving soil, installing irrigation, building hoop houses, and constructing raised beds. It will also allow them to continue their distribution in the community in late summer and fall and provide educational field trip opportunities for youth to Marra Farm.
The Khmer Community of Seattle King County (KCSKC) is another organization that focuses on intergenerational food production, and it was awarded $119,185 to work on its Khmer Garden to Plate Extension project. Stephanie Ung serves as the co-executive director of KCSKC, and she is eager to see how the funding can be used to empower both Khmer youth and elders at the High Point Juneau P-Patch.
“The elders have been stewarding that patch for the last 25 years, and they’ve been running it like a market garden. Last year, we were starting to hear talks of some elders wanting to retire because they’re getting older,” Ung said. “In March of 2022 was the first time that we brought a cohort of Khmer youth to the garden every other Saturday, and the elders were there to kind of give direction and tell the youth basically what to do in the garden.”
Youth participating in the organization’s upcoming programs will also be provided a stipend, and food harvest from the High Point Juneau P-Patch will be used to cook culturally relevant meals that will be distributed to low-income Khmer elders living in West and southwest Seattle.
“Our goal I think is very important: building the trust and the relationships between the young and old … because I think through relationships, through that bonding, there’s many beautiful things that come out of that,” Thyda Ros, co-executive director of KCSKC, said.
East African Community Services (EACS) also works to connect people across generations, in spite of displacement. It was founded in 2001 to address the needs of many East African refugees fleeing civil wars. Amir Soulkin is the marketing and communications director at the EACS, which was awarded $150,000 for Project F.E.E.D.: The East African Community Food Equity & Education Drive. Soulkin acknowledges that gentrification has displaced many of the families EACS works with, and it has expanded its programming to a second Community Service Center in SeaTac.
“[EACS is] hoping that we really get serious in the Pacific Northwest, and particularly in King County, around food stability as a racial justice issue,” Soulkin said. “Our hope is to use food as a way to bring first-generation young people and their elders together to keep those stories going along.”
According to Soulkin, the EACS plans to bring in culturally competent dietitians, health practitioners, and chefs who are knowledgeable in East African cuisine to teach classes for community members. EACS is planning to create videos on various recipes that will be shared across social media so they can be accessed by community members virtually at home. The project will also provide monthly food bags with cultural-staples classes to 150 low-income East African refugee and immigrant families in the community.
“We’re very proud and excited about how the City of Seattle and the region is leading, but more, please, more of this for the people who need it the most,” Soulkin said.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: High Point Juneau P-Patch, where the Khmer Community of Seattle King County focuses on intergenerational food production. (Photo: Jaidev Vella)
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