Community Fellow Erina Horikawa ’19 Unites Community Members around Fresh, Local Food with Walla Walla Valley Farm to School

Eating. At the core, it is sustaining. Eating is celebratory, done with good company, colorful, beautiful, and simply delicious. But, eating can also become unsustainable and unhealthy. It becomes a temporary stress reliever, a source of stress, and some unjustly have a lack of access to healthy, fresh foods.

Let’s pause for a moment: imagine and remember the last time you had a really delicious and satisfying meal. When you sat down to eat, what was on your plate? Do you know where your food came from? Who the farmers are who grew it, how long it took to travel to be on your plate? Or, who made the food on your plate? Did you make it yourself? Did a housemate make it? Your parents? Or were you in a restaurant?

We aren’t just “what we eat” or however that saying goes – through my fellowship, I’ve seen how what we eat can be a beautiful reflection of our community. It’s a manifestation of nature’s process in growing the food, the farmers who grew the food, those involved in transporting the food, and the chefs who cook and create recipes that flavor food in endless possibilities of spices, temperatures, tastes, and textures that uniquely differs by country, region, and community.

Granted, this doesn’t happen every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but it has through the meal we’ve had at Food Focus events. At the core, I believe my fellowship as a Food Focus Events Coordinator through Walla Walla Valley Farm to School answers: how does what we eat here, in Walla Walla, a reflection of the Walla Walla community?

Logistically, this looks like putting on food focus events at local elementary schools. The food focus events bring together local farms like Hayshakers, Frog Hollow Farm, etc (I’ve used this awesome WW Farms brochure quite often) local chefs, local community and health services together for an activities fair and a meal that the students, their families, and the volunteers all share together.

At the last Food Focus Event at Rogers Adventist School, we had chefs come from Providence St. Mary’s. They made Vegan Winter Squash Curry, featuring garbanzo beans from Blue Mountain Seed, winter squash from Frog Hollow Farm, and onions from Walla Walla Organics. We sat down and ate with students, families, and staff of Rogers Adventist School, and the numerous volunteers that ran the activities fair, such as collaborators from the Family Medical Center, SonBridge Community Center, the YMCA, and the list goes on. It was a really special moment – to me, this meal reflected the generosity, engagement, and the literal fruits that were all available in Walla Walla. In the school cafeteria where families sat at those long white bench tables, Beth, our director, addressed the crowd:

“Eating healthy is a revolutionary thing…especially as we are constantly surrounded with convenient, packaged, and processed foods.”

Quick note about Beth Thiel. She is the director of Walla Walla Valley Farm to School (WWVF2S), which aims to enrich bodies and minds through inspiring healthy communities with food, farm, and garden experiences. The work WWVF2S does in school gardens is a whole additional collection of wonderful and amazing stories, engagement, and again, production of literal fruit (and veggies!). Anyways, as I reflect on Beth’s words, I think there is something else that was revolutionary at our Food Focus event.

Eating local is revolutionary – especially as most shop at Wal-mart, Safeway, Albertsons, etc and, at least for me, barely think twice about where all the ingredients in the package of crackers or the bag of apples come from. The labor behind growing the apples, wheat, dairy, etc remains nameless.

And, perhaps the most revolutionary thing was the simple act of taking the time to cook, gather, and eat together. How often does that happen–where strangers brought from different pockets of our community sit and eat together, unite together without any sort of social, political, or economic agenda? Here, I don’t want to discredit activist rallies or organized events for a social/political cause. These are IMPORTANT. Issues of injustice need to be heard. But something that happens at a rally or at the Power and Privilege Symposium (shout out to this year’s!) is that the people who really need to be there, the people who have no idea about what it means to face discrimination, aren’t there. And I think this stems from a larger place of polarization between people, apathy, and a lack of trust within a community. And I think that gathering around food and health is uniting, as who can deny a conversation around valuing and taking care of our bodies and the right we all have to living a healthy life?

Especially in light of the ever-increasing demand of busyness and productivity, consequently leading us to eating convenient, grab and go packaged foods, and a tendency to stay within our comfort zones and do what is expected of us – we are missing out on what our immediate local community of Walla Walla offers, we miss out on meeting amazing people that devote their time into allowing our community to thrive.

In future events, I hope to collaborate with organizations like the Blue Mountain Action Council and their foodbank, the farmers market, etc that will allow information present at the fairs that provide access to fresh, healthy foods. There are parts of the Walla Walla community that experience food insecurity or lack health services, and my hope is that through future Food Focus events, families who come can get information and resources for food and health.

Overall, working with Beth, being a part of Walla Walla Valley Farm to School, meeting amazing local chefs that run Walla Walla Hummus Hummus, learning about the works of the Food System Coalition, and meeting many members and organizations of the Walla Walla community that I regret to not list here, I’ve witnessed a community based approach in how food affects people, under a vision of ensuring equitable access to healthy, local, fresh, and delicious foods for all in the Walla Walla Valley.

To learn more, check out this video of Erina’s fellowship with Walla Walla Valley Farm to School: https://www.whitman.edu/newsroom/erina-horikawa-video

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