As part of my position as a Food Focus Events Coordinator with Walla Walla Valley Farm to School, I put on an event at Blue Ridge Elementary School last month. A Food Focus Event features a local, healthy, and economical meal and a health/food related activities fair. Blue Ridge Elementary School has the district’s largest poverty rate and many of their students are on free-reduced lunch. Addressing food insecurity was a key component of this event.
Food insecurity is perpetuated by how inexpensive foods are often processed and mass produced, things that run counter to one of the vision behind Walla Walla Valley Farm to School and the Food Focus Events. From a farm to table meal, we try to start conversations around what it might look like to start eating locally. Eating locally is not only ‘good’ for you by eating less processed and more fresh foods, but also strengthens the local economy. However, it’s also more expensive, more inaccessible (once a week farmer’s market versus daily grocery store) and season dependent. One question we asked for this event was: how can eating locally be accessible and feasible for families with that have various barriers?
One way we addressed this question was to include take home bags for families to take after the event. The take home bags included ingredients from the meal that was served at the event. It included local chickpeas, a squash from Welcome Table Farm, and other ingredients like stock, canned tomatoes, spices, etc., that were made with the help of volunteers from Blue Ridge’s Head Start program. We also gave out the extra ingredients not used for the meal at the end. One of the vision behind having a local, healthy, economical and farm to table meal at the Food Focus event is for the meal to be easily remade at home. We usually include a recipe card for families to take home, yet I’m really glad of how these take home bags was an additional step in making the vision into a reality.
Something else we also tried was to do a lesson about local and global food systems with Blue Ridge students. We had students create posters of the global food system and think about how eating locally could drastically decrease the amount of processing and shipping foods go through. Working with elementary students is always so fun, and we hope to continue doing these lessons at future elementary schools.
Additionally, Blue Ridge has a predominantly Latinx population, and ensuring that the event was bilingual and culturally sensitive was another component that I learned and experienced. While seemingly obvious, I realized how every written material in English is to be translated into Spanish. This begs the question, who is doing the work of translating? The school district helped us translate programs and flyers, though I learned how a lot of the work is done by volunteers. During the event, with a help of a Whitman volunteer who knew Spanish, we were able to translate all the signs and posters that went up.
As for the ‘culturally sensitive’ concept, while a complex issue, I think it was important and successful to work with our partners at the Pre-School/HeadStart program. The program coordinator was a wonderful person to work with and truly had a sense of community with many of the families that attended. While we sat and looked around at how the event was running towards the end, she said that it really helped out their program as well, and told me she really felt like the families in attendance learned a lot from all the activity booths that were available. I think working with the Blue Ridge Program Coordinator was my favorite part of the event.
Overall, the I believe the Food Focus programs have shown me a glimpse of what “theory into praxis” looks like. Some of the topics I saw were sustainability, food insecurity, accessibility to local foods, and issues of structural, institutional, and environmental racism. I always struggle with how topics discussed in books or articles manifests in real life, inside a place like a regular neighborhood elementary school that we grow up in, unaware of larger societal problems. While limitations still exist, I’ve really appreciated seeing how non-profit work can have in allowing creativity and flexibility in addressing these issues.