City Fruit: Combating Southend Food Insecurity An Apple at a Time

by Marcus Harrison Green

Volunteer Dave Beeman picks plums to add to City Fruit's harvest.
Volunteer Dave Beeman picks plums to add to City Fruit’s harvest.

If an apple falls from a tree in the city and there is no one around to pick it up and eat it, should you squeeze out even a granular amount of compassion for the pathetic plight of the neglected fruit? To this riff on the age old philosophical thought experiment that has plagued anyone with the mixed blessing of having attained a liberal arts degree, those associated with South Seattle’s City Fruit would answer an emphatic, “Yes,” though probably with considerably coarser language.

Located in Beacon Hill’s El Centro De La Raza, the urban fruit harvesting non-profit has spent the past six years ensuring that all unused fruit grown from trees in the greater Seattle area – which just so happens to be the United State’s largest urban orchard- is given a shot at landing in the bellies of the community’s food insecure.

With 1 in 5 children in the King County area currently going hungry at night- the ratio is slightly greater in South Seattle neighborhoods- City Fruit’s mission could not seem more relevant, as with inequality presently serving as verbal cheese- instantaneously transforming the drab into intriguing as long as it’s strewn with liberal amounts of the stuff- food disparities within communities conspicuously often only rates a minor mention in the discourse, something that the organization’s Executive Director, Catherine (Kate) Morrison, knows all too well.

“There’s the calorie dense things that people eat that aren’t necessarily good for you, so we fight food insecurity because we’re providing food for people who need it. We also fill the gap for those food desert areas, all while doing it in a culturally sensitive and community focused way,” she says.

Morrison is speaking to the fact that even in areas that are not technically food deserts- meaning that there is at least one convenience store or small grocer located within a reasonable proximity- many families, in making a paycheck stretch to the bounds of breaking, are forced to purchase cheap, high calorie foods that often have less nutritious content than the material they’re packaged in.

For some South Seattle families who struggle to feed a family of four, the joke about living off of Top Ramen noodles, Kool-Aid and processed macaroni and cheese is a lived reality. It’s one of the many reasons that City Fruit’s popularity in the area has taken off like a lit firework.

“Every single time someone hears about us and what we do, people automatically light up,” says Brian Mickelson, City Fruit’s Development Manager.

Though tackling food insecurity is at the forefront of its mission, the organization – founded in 2008 by Beacon Hill resident Gail Savina- may actually serve as the motherload to bleeding heart do-gooders everywhere, as it crosses off just about every “must have” on their fantasy Christmas list:

Community Beautification? The organization works with local tree owners to salvage fallen fruit that has piled up around their residences, many times creating both an “eyesore” and an impediment for pedestrians.

Local Residents Benefited?  As they serve the South Seattle haunts of Seward Park, Rainier Beach, Mount Baker, Columbia City and Beacon Hill (with possible expansion into Skyway) the majority of the fruit they harvest is distributed to daycares, schools, lunch programs and food banks within those neighborhoods.

Environment? Fret not Sierra Club card carriers and proud Prius lessees (or should I say all Seattleites…), in a world where eating local means living in New York while choosing an apple from Washington over a comparable one from Argentina, all of the fruit they harvest is distributed within the state of Washington. Even that which is not suitable for donation ends up in the restaurants of Chef Extraordinaire, Tom Douglas.

Employs Locals? While the organization utilizes volunteers, the majority of their fruit harvesters are actually paid staff who come directly from the neighborhoods City Fruit serves.

But okay, says the still unconvinced cynic, with the free fruit they’re giving away these maniacal fruit loving fanatics must of course be undercutting the local area Farmer’s Markets? No, actually. The organization goes out of its way not to distribute at local markets – not only to make sure to not impinge on local growers, but to also guarantee that the fruit they harvest remains in the confines of the 206 area code.

“We always want to make sure that our food is either in a food bank the same day or the next day and not sitting in anyone’s car, although I do have 60 lbs of Apples in mine.  But those are cooking Apples,” jokes Morrison, as she readies for the organization’s 4th annual Hard Cider Taste to be held November 6th at the Palace Ballroom.

“We’re something that citizen philanthropists can get behind full bore, because they have this stuff in their backyard,” says Mickelson. “They see all that’s going to waste, and the more fruit they can grow, the more efficient and targeted we can be. There’s a ton of room for collaboration with the community.”

It’s this hope for collaboration with the citizens of South Seattle that the still ripening non-profit hopes will allow them to reach their audacious goal: ensuring no one in the south end community lacks access to nutritious food, regardless of income.

Says Morrison, “My background is in public health, so for me access to healthy food is the foundation of a healthy community. It’s just that simple.”

Seattle’s Universal Pre-K Smackdown

by Sandra Vanderven

Preschool FightThe Seattle Channel hosted a debate last Wednesday between the sponsors of dueling initiatives on Seattle’s ballot in support of access to and quality of pre-kindergarten education.  Both plans start with the worthy goal of improving pre-k.  The choice we face is how to achieve that goal.  We shouldn’t be having to choose between them, because they each address different aspects of early childhood education, and taken together the plans would be complimentary.  Unfortunately, the City opted to put them onto the ballot in competition with one another. The City Council’s (really, Tim Burgess’s) plan privileges educator attainment of official credentials and a mandated curriculum.  The union backed plan seeks to leverage the wealth of experience among practicing professionals.

The situation right now is that the cost of preschool is so high that many families who need it can’t afford it.  At the same time, there isn’t enough money to pay the teachers adequately, so every year, 38% of the workers leave the profession.  Until the new minimum wage kicks in for smaller businesses, the turnover will be even greater, as people will leave to flip burgers instead when it becomes more lucrative.

Burgess’ plan seeks to raise money through a levy to pay for a new department of Early Childhood Education.  This new department will mostly pull people from work they are already doing for the city in that field, causing work disruption and delay, and likely requiring a new layer of management (watch for that, because expenses will go way up).  It will mandate methods used in the classroom for 3 and 4 year olds, and will serve about 200 kids in two years, and 2,000 in four years.  This ballot measure requires preschool teachers to get college degrees.

The union-backed plan doesn’t directly add enrollment capacity.  What it does do is provide access to preschool to more families by lowering tuition costs to no more than 10% of a given household’s income.  The means of paying for this has not yet been determined.  It will also create better conditions for the estimated 30,000 kids already being served from birth to age 5.  One way to do this is to raise the minimum wage sooner for pre-k teachers, so they can afford to stay in the profession, providing a consistent presence for the kids.  Another is by offering a variety of training opportunities accessible through an affordable training academy. In this way, the union backed plan honors the experience of the people who work with kids, and provides them with opportunities to grow professionally in a way that is tailored to meet each teacher’s needs and goals.

At last Wednesday’s early education smackdown, I sat next to former Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell.  He supports Tim Burgess’s initiative, which on the ballot will be labeled 1B.  From chatting with him, I got that he explains away the merits of the union backed initiative (1A) with an attitude that naysayers are gonna naysay.  I didn’t talk to him long enough to get a sense of whether he’s always a democratic establishment guy, but he sure wears their perfume.  The hallmark is a subscription to a smarty pants attitude, as evinced by his statement, “There’s always going to be some group or another ready to oppose a good plan.”  Never mind what the supporters of 1A think, or why.

This debate boils down to people’s a priori beliefs.  Some feel strongly that to support kids we need to support teachers and families.  Others think the answers lie with testing.  The catchword in education for at least the last decade or so has been “outcomes.”  This is an important and productive development.  But making all education conform to standard outcomes would be a mistake.  Here’s why.

Since I am totally objective, you know it is true when I tell you that the best teacher to ever walk the planet happened to work at my high school.  His name was Jerry Elarth.  Elarth was a feral thinker.  Because it was 1984 and no one had put a stop to it yet, he taught a class called Science Fiction and World Philosophy.  I learned more in that class about what it means to be human, and how to continue learning beyond school, than in any other.  What would have happened if that teacher had been hammered by our current obsession with outcomes?  Who could write the test questions that might evaluate what I got out of that class?  Even I couldn’t do that, and if I could, a different set of questions would have to be devised for every student he taught, because we all had a unique experience.

I love science, and I have a healthy regard for all things science-y.  This is how I have come to know that the enemy of science is hubris.  If you are convinced that we are always asking the right questions, then by all means, support Tim Burgess, who positions himself as having science on his side, like a member of a religious sect claiming that God is actually in his corner and no one else’s.  Check this out—if a nurse visits the home of a new, at-risk mom once every two weeks from before birth to age two offering guidance in nurturing, the child’s prospects rocket in all regards.  Significantly more of them graduate from high school, they go to jail in far fewer numbers, get in trouble at school way less, and have higher I.Q.s.  That’s science too, bub!

This all boils down to beliefs.  Do we Seattleites believe that there’s value in supporting teachers in their creative quests to guide students toward richer lives, or do we continue to find ways to standardize education?  Let your beliefs guide you when choosing between the two early education plans.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

This Weekend In South Seattle: Oktoberfest, West Hill Cleans Up, and Othello “Mulches” Ahead

Events this weekend in the South Seattle area


Friday, September 26th

Community: VFW Meat Raffle from 4 to 7pm @ Skyway VFW Hall 7421 S. 126th St Seattle, WA 98178. More Info: email

Music:  Arabona(Funk and Jazz) begins at 8:30pm@ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:


Saturday, September 27th

Community: West Hill Community Association/ West Hill Action Mob Fall Clean Up from 8:30am to 12:00pm @ The Skyway Fire Station:12417 76th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98178 More

Community: Othello Neighborhood Street Mulching Work Party  from 9:00 am – 12:00pm @ 6725 45th Avenue  South Seattle,  WA 98118  More Info:

Children: Story Circle: Animal Legends and Lore w/Susy Irwin and the Wild Puppets starts at 10:00am @ Seward Park Audubon Theater: 5902 Lake Washington Blvd S Seattle 98118. More Info:

Environment : National Public Lands Day begins at 10:00am@ The Amy Yee Tennis Center: 2000 Martin Luther King Jr Way S Seattle 98144  More Info:

Community: Detective Cookie’s Urban Chess Club with Pro Chess Instructor H.R.Pitre. From 12:00pm – 2:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center: 8825 Rainier Ave South Seattle. Ages 7 and Older. More Info: 206-650-3621 (Detective Cookie)

Community: Free Car Seat Inspections begins at 12:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center 8825 Rainier Avenue S Seattle, WA 98118

Community: Oktoberfest from 6:30pm to 9:00pm @ Lakewood Seward Park Community Club: 4916 S Angeline Street Seattle, 98118 More Info:


Sunday, September 28th

Music: Stringtet CD Release Party begins at 8:00pm @ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118.  Cost: Free. More Info:

If you have an event to post, please email



Nate’s Wings and Waffles: A Southend Game Changer

by Drea Chicas

Crowds form outside of the grand opening of Nate's Wings and Waffles.
Crowds form outside of the grand opening of Nate’s Wings and Waffles.

What pairs better with fried chicken than waffles? Nothing does. That makes Nate’s Wings and Waffles the obvious choice when deciding between Rainer Valley’s latest, chicken-themed restaurants. What’s most exciting about Nate Robinson’s grand opening of this southend gem, however, is not just the mouthwatering cuisine. It’s the kind of business model Robinson is contributing to the community. We should all be taking notes because Nate’s Wings and Waffles is another kind of slam-dunk.

When gentrification negatively affects pockets of the community, as has been the case recently in Rainier Valley, outsiders who don’t understand the community’s history create new businesses and restaurants. These places tend to be overpriced and cater to the appetites of a specific populace; often excluding those of longstanding residents. The newest pubs erected in Hillman City model this pattern. Robinson’s family-run business represents an entirely different narrative—one that challenges current gentrification trends in the southend—and one that is inviting. For one, the chicken is organic, and reasonably priced. It makes sense Robinson understands his customer. He is the customer.

Robinson represents the insider—not the outsider of the community. Growing up, his mother owned a salon on the same block. Oh, and Robinson is a professional basketball player, philanthropist, sneakerhead, and businessman who graduated from Rainier Beach High School. Then he played ball and was a student for the University of Washington. Robinson, therefore, has insight about the Valley no outside business owner can ever have. That’s home court advantage at its finest. This positions Nate’s Wings and Waffles restaurant in a league of its own. Unfortunately, new businesses of the like aren’t necessarily mass producing in the Valley. That could soon change. How can we cultivate more innovators and leaders like Robinson? Let’s learn from Robinson and his business team. If we want to see more businesses like these, we need the inside insight.

As a friend and I waited for the grand opening just before noon on Tuesday, there was already a line that extended down the block. Right in front of us, stood a group of young men from Rainier Beach High School’s basketball team. The chicken prices easy on the pockets. The students enthusiastically waited in line. A special appearance by Nate Robinson caught their attention– they current students and he an alum of Rainier Beach High School. The significance of the moment was beautiful because I’m sure this business was created with them (and so many other people) in mind.

A game changer, both on and off the court, Robinson grabs the red baskets off the counter, proudly taking orders to the customers. He should be proud, he’s an example for all of us.

Nate’s Wings and Waffles is located in Rainier Beach at 9261 57th Ave Seattle, WA 98118

“Spice Rack” Sprinkles Funk All Over South Seattle

by Marcus Harrison Green

The members of Spice Rack
The members of Spice Rack

A few friends forming a band for the sole purpose of slaughtering time between guzzles of adult specific refreshment is about as common a ritual for the typical American male as persist. As these words are read, somewhere there is a group of underemployed 20 somethings who have converted a mother’s garage into a makeshift Muscle Shoals – and somewhere else a group of 40 somethings try to shake off the residue from a monotonous 9 to 5 by siphoning their dwindling energy into a jam session that is to music what Twilight was to literature.

No, that homemade bands proliferate like memes on the internet is no surprise. That one could be so good that they conjure up thoughts of Parliament-Funkadelic, Zapp and the Ohio Players is. Spice Rack -the South Seattle band that has injected The Royal Room in Columbia City with its dynamic blend of funk, rock, and soul in recent months- merits those exact comparisons by anyone who has glimpsed one of their impossible to stay composed in your seat performances. The Emerald caught up with Tristan Gianola, the band’s lead guitarist, to discuss their plans to make South Seattle a much funkier place, figuratively of course.


Emerald: What made you guys get together as a band?

Tristan Gianola:  I wanted to start a group that was really fun, and that we didn’t need to rehearse a lot and that we would be able to recycle the toons over and over again, so really Spice Rack was born out of necessity. I tried to find people who I thought were the best players for the situation. I wanted people who could really contribute their own personal language to the music we play.


Emerald: Is that what you attribute to your unique sound?

Gianola: It helps that every single musician in the band does so many different things. I play everything from country, to metal, to funk. Our keyboardist plays in a million salsa bands around town, and our drummer is also a fantastic composer and jazz musician. We wanted to leave room for any of these influences to come into our music at any given time, but we wanted all of them to work around danceable groove that the passive listener could enjoy just as much as the attentive listener.


Emerald: Your performances are starting to build a local reputation for being quite energetic. Is that a function of the personalities in your band?

Gianola: Sometimes we open our performances up and get a little crazy, but it just really depends on the environment and where we are. When we’re on stage we can all really vibe off of each other as friends and not just “wonderful” musicians who happen to work with each other. It’s because of that we’re willing to take more risk on stage, and have a great deal of fun. There’s certainly been many nights when we’ve fallen flat on our faces and things didn’t work out, but sometimes you really have these magical moments that only happen once.


Emerald: What do you hope people take away from your music after hearing it?

Gianola: I really want our music to be easy for people to relate to. I want it to be music that you can’t possible dislike and that’s danceable and fun. When you look at a neighborhood like Wallingford, they have regular funk nights where people go just to hang and kick back to the music. They have a  regular built-in community there and that’s something that I want for the southend area. While it’s great to play shows where there are a lot of people there unfamiliar with South Seattle who are checking out the music for the first time – we’d rather develop a friendship with the community we cater to. If we provided something for them to come together around I think that would be the most gratifying thing to us.


Emerald: Since you alluded to it, can you compare the southend music scene with that of the northend?

Gianola: We definitely have a diverse scene down here because it’s a really diverse neighborhood. In the northend every neighborhood seems to have its own little schtick. Wallingford is known for its funk and jazz, and Ballard is really common for country and string bands. The southend is a little hard to nail, but it did occur to me that there wasn’t a regular funk oriented thing that was going on when we started Spice Rack, and The Royal Room has noticed it as well, so we’re working on putting a regular funk night together.


Emerald: Who are some of the bands influences?

Gianola: That’s a fairly long list, but I would start with Danny Gatton, Mark Knopfler, John Scofield, Frank Zappa, and of course local people like Tim Young and Wayne Horvitz of Zony Mash.


Emerald: Finally, any advice for the burgeoning musicians in the South Seattle area?

Gianola: Play as much as possible; go out as much as possible, and talk to people as much as possible. I did the whole music school thing- and yes it was a great education-but when I started going out and playing with different people, some my age and some older, that’s when I really started learning.You’d be surprised how much you can pick up by just grabbing a beer with someone.

Also, one thing I’ve learned: people would much rather work with someone who’s really cool than work with an absolute amazing artist who’s a pain in the ass. Another thing I’ve learned is that in Seattle you have to make your presence known on the scene. A lot of times if you’re talented and people don’t call you, it’s not for any reason other than they don’t know you exist.  Everyone is always looking for someone and willing to give you a chance you just have to go for it.

Rainier Valley Radio Coming to Southend Airwaves

by Staff Writer

rvrSouth Seattle- South Seattle residents will soon be the beneficiaries of tailored made airwaves  as Rainier Valley Radio was just recently granted a construction permit/license by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Rainier Valley Radio, spearheaded by SEEDArts and local luminaries including radio personality Tony Benton, has been in the planning stages for the past two years and was initiated when the FCC announced  that it would begin issuing licenses for low power FM stations- or LPFMs.

The stations are primarily meant to provide a non-commercial platform for nonprofits, schools, churches,  and communities to broadcast original and hyper local content that would not normally appear on their corporately owned counterparts. LPFMs operate at a maximum power of 100 watts which equates to a coverage area of 3 to 5 miles.

The organizers behind Rainier Valley Radio hope that the station can provide the solution for what they feel is a void of adequate media coverage on Seattle’s south end.

“This is indeed an achievement… but we have lots of work still to do,” said Jerri Plumridge, one of Rainier Valley Radio’s lead organizers.

Indeed, though the station has an official call signal of 105.7 FM, it still has to go about the business of obtaining an antenna permit, fundraising, and settling on a programming schedule that can appease the diverse community housed in the Rainier Valley area.

However, those issues appear to be on the far end of the minds of most south end residents, as the initial reaction of most to having a local station housed in the area was all but enthusiastic. “I just can’t believe that we’re going to have a radio station of our own,” said Terry Elsemore, who lives in Rainier Beach. “The time has been long overdue that we can speak to the rest of the city using our own voice!”

Group Hopes “Tool Library” Helps Build a Better South Seattle

Tool LibraryGaining inspiration from tool libraries located in the other three quadrants of Seattle, a small group of volunteers have worked several months completing early planning for Southeast Seattle’s own tool library. The Internal Revenue Service this week approved 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit status for the organization. This significant milestone allows individuals and companies to deduct donations to the SE Seattle Tool Library on their itemized tax returns.

“We are just thrilled with the significance of achieving full-nonprofit status,” said Sally Bailey, founder and director of the SE Seattle Tool Library. “We achieved, in just a few months, what naysayers told us would take years. But our volunteer Board of Directors believes so strongly in our mission and the needs of this community that we will continue to move rapidly to deliver this important service to a deserving population.”

The Phinney Neighborhood Association began Seattle’s first tool library more than 35 years ago, providing inspiration for others throughout the United States. West Seattle gained its tool library in 2009 through the neighborhood group Sustainable West Seattle with the support of a grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.  Another neighborhood association, Sustainable NE Seattle, took the concept to a modern level in January 2013, opening their tool library to “inspire participation in community projects and pursue sustainability through backyard gardens, home energy improvements, food preservation, and water harvesting.”

“Seattle’s other tool libraries came out of existing neighborhood organizations,” said SE Seattle Tool Library Board Member Cindi Laws. “We are proud that SE Seattle Tool Library began this as individuals coming together to fill a giant void. We have unique challenges in Southeast, but we also have the benefit of thousands of people who came here with nothing and built their lives, their families, and their households. That’s our greatest asset and our greatest opportunity.”

“Tool libraries seek to make it nearly as easy as checking a book out of the library,” said Ms. Bailey. “The older tool libraries have been generous with their guidance, their practices and policies. Most have rental fees, on a sliding scale. But we want to take ours in a different direction. Once people become members, we hope that, with the help of grants and donations, we can loan tools, along with advice, at no cost. However, those who can will be encouraged to contribute to cover maintenance, repair and replacement.”

Southeast Seattle has the most diverse ZIP code in the nation, and more than 60 languages are spoken in the Othello neighborhood alone.The average household income of Southeast Seattle is more than $20,000 lower than the next closest City Council District, West Seattle. And while Southeast Seattle has an exceptionally long lakefront with thousands of high-value homes, average home values are the lowest in the city, reflecting old housing stock in need of repair.

“We want to, very literally, provide the tools and the training so people can improve their homes, add value, improve their quality of life, and create pride in their community,” said Ms. Laws.

The SE Seattle Tool Library is in final negotiations on a centralized location accessible to both auto and transit users. Future goals include a mobile tool van.

Memberships and contributions are accepted on the website,, or can be mailed to PO Box 78650, Seattle WA 98178.

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