JUNE 12, 2018 EDITOR 4 COMMENTS by Tammy Morales

Saturday morning saw the start of something beautiful in Rainier Beach. In the middle of this neighborhood with limited food access, a farm stand with fresh local produce and eager young people emerged in the parking lot of the Ethiopian Community Center.

Unfazed by the clouds and drizzle, the Farm Stand Fellows—young people hired as part-time coordinators—got busy setting up three bright canopies in red, yellow and green. Others gathered in the kitchen to unpack fresh herbs, apples, AfricaTown eggs and the most beautiful collards from Clean Greens. This was the food they helped order from local farmers earlier in the week and now, they were setting out the goods, realizing some items were new to them like beets and butter lettuce.

Once the produce was beautifully displayed, Meron Mekkonen, a senior at Rainier Beach High School, checked the produce scale for accuracy and ensured the correct prices were entered in the card reader.  Her responsibility for the day was staffing the pay station and she wanted to be well-prepared for the first customer.

The Rainier Beach Farm Stand is a collaboration between Ethiopian Community in Seattle, Rainier Beach Action Coalition and ROAR, Roots of All Roads, who has provided valuable technical assistance to the fledgling project. The project evolved after many conversations among the organizations serving communities of color. They were looking for a way to address south end health disparities, growing interest in a vegan diet, local gardening projects and the  community’s passion for supporting local businesses owned by people of color.

“We wanted a place to gather and have discussions in a safe welcoming space,” said Liya Rubio, the farm stand manager. “For us, this isn’t just about providing produce. It’s about creating a safe space to talk about sensitive topics: affordability, what is it to eat vegan.  We want to empower our community to take ownership of their health and talk about eating in a positive way.”

The Fellows, who are responsible for assisting every aspect of the project, are learning important job skills, says Rubio.

“We hired five young people from the community. We want to give young people a chance to understand where their food comes from,” Rubio explains.  “Our goal is to help them learn to advocate for healthy food in their schools, pass their knowledge to families, and establish healthy eating habits.”

It’s a hands-on experience, Rubio stresses. The Fellows are tasked with budgeting and cash handling, event management, logistics, office work, community outreach, customer service, teamwork, learning different cultural backgrounds.

“We keep them busy,” Rubio says.

Ridhwan Salat is one of those Fellows. The 10th grader from Garfield High School was eager to join the team. “In health class, we always learn about obesity and the problems in our community, but we don’t really learn how to do anything about it,” she said. “Maybe local food will help. I want to do something and help others in my community take action.”

When asked how she has prepared for the market, Salat grew excited.

“We went on field trips! We went to different markets to talk to local farmers and learned about challenges with getting organic.  It’s a lot of work to get certified,” she said. “We also got to talk to POC farmers who told us about the challenges of not having land or being the only black farmer in a room where policies are being made.”

 As the project grows, the plan is to offer market space to local craft and other businesses. For now, the fellows are busy preparing for the Grand Opening on Saturday, June 16th.  The event will have music, food available for sale and a very special coffee ceremony to celebrate the space.

“This will be a fun place to be,” Salat said, encouraging readers to take part “Come try new things, meet your neighbors, have some coffee, just come have a good time!”

The Rainier Beach Farm Stand will be open 10 – 2 every Saturdaythrough October.

Ethiopian Community in Seattle
8323 Rainier Avenue South

Update from the Author:
The reader is right to point out the many small ethnic stores in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. These stores support access to culturally appropriate, more affordable food. However, these smaller stores often don’t sell fresh produce and are often unable to accept food benefits like WIC, which hinders access for some low-income families as I’ve written about before. http://runtanews.com/building-local-business-ownership-to-serve-our-communities/
The reader is wrong in their assumption that food security is not an issue. The students at Rainier Beach High School just started their own food pantry to support students who come to school hungry. In a neighborhood survey conducted by Rainier Beach Action Coalition last year, close to half of the 400 respondents indicated they believe they live in a food desert. While the neighborhood is not technically a food desert, food insecurity is most definitely an issue this neighborhood faces. The Farm Stand is a neighborhood-led response to closing a gap in food access for Rainier Beach. You should come by on Saturday!

Tammy Morales is an organizer with Rainier Beach Action Coalition, a food security expert, and an avid believer in teaching young people to eat fresh,