Photo depicting shoppers browsing a stall at a farmers market.

Living Well Kent Collaborative’s 70-Acre Commitment to Food Access and Affordable Housing

by Lauryn Bray

Living Well Kent Collaborative (LWKC), a community-driven coalition of residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government leaders united to achieve health equity through policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change, was recently allotted 70 acres of land from the City of Auburn and Auburn School District. Plans for the 70 acres include community and technology centers, affordable housing, a botanical garden, more land for farming, a food hub, and more. The organization is now tasked with raising enough funds to begin developing the land. 

LWKC is a young nonprofit organization, and despite only being founded in 2014, it has had a substantial impact on many communities in and around Kent. Their goal to achieve health equity and build community through collaboration, communication, engagement, promotion, education, and advocacy has inspired the implementation of several programs such as food access, health and wellness, youth empowerment, and early learning. 

As Hoda Abdullahi, director of programming at LWKC, explained, “When people are able to have their basic necessities, and not have to use any money or put energy into getting their basic necessities, they are able to actually thrive. They are able to help their family and help the community.”

For some families, food insecurity is constant. Access to food assistance is government-regulated and based on application, and not everyone who needs food assistance is able to get it. Food banks are also not always ideal, as they can elicit feelings of shame and/or loss of autonomy. With LWKC’s plans to use some of the land for farming and to develop a food-access hub, families will have somewhere they can turn during times of food insecurity. 

“It [access to food] opens up more opportunities than just being able to have food. It gives more ease in mental health, it gives more energy you can put into other things you could do with your kids. If you’re worried about bills or if you have to go shopping, you’re thinking about [buying] certain foods and cooking,” said Abdullahi. “Having that stress, you have less time to develop yourself as a person and also develop your kids and grandkids as people. So it opens up people to be able to actually live versus them just surviving.”

Under the umbrella of food access, LWKC also organizes an annual farmer’s market that runs every week from June to September, and sometimes October. The farmer’s market accepts SNAP, EBF, and WICC and is designed to cater to people with lower or fixed incomes. The produce is grown locally by farmers who farm the land for free and sell their crops at the farmer’s market. Farmers are also allowed to keep produce for themselves or their families, as well as sell produce to other grocery stores or food vendors.

The food hub is intended to operate like a grocery store, as opposed to a food bank. Instead of being handed a bag of miscellaneous and assorted food items, patrons of the food hub will be able to choose the food they want to take home, like one does in a grocery store. Currently, while the farmer’s market is not up and running, LWKC gives out vouchers that allow clients to go to the grocery store and pick out the foods they want. When the food hub is operational, clients will be able to get groceries free of cost.

Throughout the envisioning and establishing of new programs and projects aimed at promoting health equity, LWKC has maintained their direct service work. They continue to provide diapers to families in need, as well as direct food service and helping clients navigate the health care and childcare systems. At the moment, LWKC is working with Black communities and Arabic-, Farsi-, and Spanish-speaking communities to further implement community-initiated care practices by training well-known and respected community leaders. 

In addition to the development of the 70 acres, LWKC is currently working to create a King County-wide program that protects cultural hubs and as a result, combats gentrification. The program would be modeled after the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative. 

Also, acting on their belief that children deserve culturally relevant education and trauma-informed preschool care, LWKC recently opened their first preschool. 

“When I think of things like generational wealth, I don’t think about it in terms of nuclear families where it is [limited to] the immediate family. I feel like generational wealth is also community wealth,” explains Abdullahi. “I’ve seen times where we would help a group of people with food, and in that time, they’re able to spend time with each other. The whole community, a whole neighborhood of people will come together and cook for each other because everyone has the resources to have those genuine human connections again.”

This series is supported by the City of Seattle’s Generational Wealth Initiative. The South Seattle Emerald and its contributors maintain full editorial control over all its coverage.

Headshot depicting Lauryn Bray holding up an iPhone to take a mirror selfie.

Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.

📸 Featured Image: Farmer’s markets are one of the services provided by Living Well Kent Collaborative, which has plans for a 70-acre site with community and technology centers, affordable housing, a botanical garden, farmland, a food hub, and more. (Photo: Natasha Reed, courtesy of Living Well Kent Collaborative)

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