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Farmers’ markets open access to food

 

Elizabeth Murphy and Whitney Jacques prepare to plant seedlings in greenhouse.

From March to early May, Food for All is growing 10,000 seedlings for 20 varieties of vegetables, 14 flowers and one fruit.  For every seedling sold online, a plant will be given for a community garden or plant-a-row food bank garden.

The plants will be started in an 18-by-32-foot greenhouse built last fall behind the low-income Summit View Apartments at 820 N. Summit with a grant from the City of Spokane. 

Pickup days for the buy-one-supply-one plant starter program are Mothers Day on May 8 and on May 14.

Food for All started on one-third of an acre donated in 2002 for the Vinegar Flats Community Garden of St. Margaret’s Shelter. It became an independent nonprofit two years ago with the farm, borrowed greenhouse space and advocacy for food access.

Whitney Jacques, the Food for All farmer for eight years, and Jesuit Volunteer Elizabeth Murphy, who works with Food for All’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, described the program in a recent interview.

“On the farm, five minutes from downtown, we can hear birds and coyotes,” said Whitney.  “The farm grows nearly 3,000 pounds of produce.

For the plant sale, she did research during the winter about regionally appropriate starts.

“We offer vegetables and flowers, because gardens need flowers to draw bees and beneficial insects,” Whitney said.

Leftover plant starts will be sold at the Hillyard Farmers Market, where Food for All will market its produce this year.  It has helped that market for two years.  Previously, Food for All helped establish the West Central and Emerson Garfield farmers’ markets.  They begin farmers’ markets in low-income neighborhoods.  When they are successful they move on. 

This summer, the West Central market will be a farm stand for Project Hope.  The Emerson Garfield market is doing well, she said.

To increase access of low-income people to fresh produce and to support local growers, Elizabeth has sent $40 checks to 1,000 low-income seniors for them to use to buy fruits, vegetables and honey.

She does activity tables to engage children at farmers’ markets and gives them $2 in Fresh Bucks to spend.  Food for All also gives $2 in Fresh Bucks to low-income people for every $5 they spend in the EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer—food stamps) program on fruits, vegetables, vegetable starts, mushrooms and herbs.

Elizabeth also does nutrition education at St. Margaret’s Shelter, low-income and senior housing units of Catholic Charities and Father Bach Haven.  In addition, she delivers produce from Second Harvest to people in permanent supportive housing.

Weekly or monthly, she goes to homes of seniors and low-income people to teach them how to cook food bank food or to cook on a stove top—Fr. Bach Haven’s studio apartments have no ovens.

She also teaches a one-week garden class there, because they have planters around the building.  Interested residents sign up for the class and plant the garden boxes.

At St. Margaret’s, she helps prepare after-school snacks.

Elizabeth, who is from Chicago, studied nutrition and dietetics, and minored in urban poverty at St. Louis University in Missouri.  After graduating in 2014, she worked on a small organic farm in Indiana.

Now in her second year as a Jesuit Volunteer with Food for All, she appreciates the Jesuit Volunteer values of working for social and ecological justice, simple living, community and spirituality. 

Elizabeth, one of 13 Jesuit volunteers in Spokane this year, educates people on the incentives to encourage them to shop for fresh produce at farmers’ markets.

“We are trying to make them easy to use and engage people at the market to eat local food, meet the farmers and see produce they won’t see at the local grocery stores,” Whitney said.

“Often seniors are surprised to see vegetables they have not seen for years, and immigrants see produce they knew in their home country,” she said.  “There are 70 varieties grown for retail grocery stores, but thousands of varieties are grown for farmer’s markets.  Many sold at grocery stores are grown to be shipped and for shelf life, so they do not taste as good.”

Whitney, who grew up in Alaska and moved to Spokane when she was in her early 20s, earned a bachelor’s degree in English, philosophy and women’s studies in 2010 at Washington State University. She is also certified in organic agriculture.

“I want to provide healthful food for low-income homes.  I was on WIC and EBT, and I appreciated the assistance.  I want to help others.  I love to show people who come to the farm how we grow food,” she said.

Whitney said the Food for All farm uses organic methods but is not certified because of the cost to do that.  They meet organic and sustainability standards, and do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

“I grow bug flowers to bring pollinators—different kinds of bees, lacewings and ladybugs.  In the field, we grow different heights of flowers—sunflowers for birds, medium-height flowers for bees and low flowers for the lacewings and ladybugs.

“We do not till because it disrupts bees that burrow, and nematodes and bugs that live in the soil,” she said.

“There are smart ways for a small farm to grow produce without sprays.  We seek to be a model small-scale urban farm,” said Whitney, who is also a master composter and recycler.

Food for All receives donations of leaves in the fall for composting, particularly from the Catholic Charities Volunteer Chore program.

On third Saturdays, there are community volunteer events from 10 a.m. to noon.  The next is on April 16.  Volunteers come to help on the farm and learn best practices.

For information, call 723-3038, email greenhouse@ccspokane.org or visit catholiccharitiesfoodforall.org.





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