Food access through community

By Ana Soltero

Tucked in between Fairhaven Dorms and Buchanan Towers is a five acre, student-run farm where students, faculty and local organization representatives met to discuss a shared desire: food access and education. These community based dialogues  were hosted by Community Connect in The Outback farm on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Community Connect is a program between Western and local nonprofits. Western invites nonprofits to lead dialogues with the campus community. Every year, Community Connect has a different theme for their events. This year’s focus is food access and security.

“It is always about what the community knows and what we can learn from them,” Laurel Hammond, a specialist with the Center for Community Learning Program, said. 

In attendance were two representatives from two major Bellingham community organizations, the Bellingham Food Bank and Common Threads Farm, in addition to the manager of The Outback.

Western and the Outback

The Outback started in 1972 and consists of a five-acre plot that stretches from Fairhaven to Buchanan Towers. It is part of a delineated wetland.

“Delineated means that someone has actually looked at it, mapped it and decided that this is an area that is worth protecting. It is legally a protected space and cannot be developed,” Terri Kempton, The Outback farm manager, said.

Kempton said she has visited a lot of campus farms, but they do not look like the one in Western’s backyard.

“A lot of other farms are flat and they are sunny,” Kempton said. “It makes it really easy to take care of and really easy to drive machinery on. You get all that sunlight, you do not have to worry about your plants getting too much shade from trees. We do not necessarily have that same situation.”

Although it might seem that this delineated wetland would result in a burden, The Outback is able to employ some permaculture practices as a result. Permaculture refers to a method in which the surrounding environment is incorporated into agricultural practices. This allows for a self-sustaining ecosystem.  sustainable agricultural development. 

“The idea is that it is a form of producing food and of living sustainably,” Kempton said. “It is so sustainable that you can kind of do it forever without ever draining those resources and with regenerating the ecosystem you live in.”

The main goal at The Outback is to teach students about farming, even if they come in not knowing anything about it, Kempton said. The Outback is a space that allows for self-empowerment when it comes to learning about food systems and providing food for themselves.

The Bellingham Food Bank

The Bellingham Food Bank has served the community for 46 years. It has five distributions per week at three locations.

“I very quickly saw that there is a profound need in our community, and I did not have that recognition before the job that I am in now,” Kristin Costanza, Bellingham Food Bank communications coordinator, said. 

Costanza has been with the Bellingham Food Bank for almost three years. She started her current job in 2016 right around Thanksgiving. 

“There is a profound community that wants to meet that need with food, care, volunteering, support, hope and everything it takes to overcome hunger in the context of giving food to people in need,” Costanza said.  

Costanza said the food bank has trucks driving around town Monday through Friday, making stops at 16 separate locations. These locations include Haggen, Costco, Trader Joe’s and even Starbucks. 

The food bank gets about 5,000 pounds of food every day. A good deal of them are perishable items that are stored in their refrigerators, Costanza said. 

“We reflect our community, we serve our community, but our community serves us, too,” Costanza said. “We wouldn’t do business the way we do if we did not have a community saying ‘we like that, we think fresh food is the way to go.’”

Common Threads Farm

Common Threads Farm was founded in 2006. The organization is a nonprofit “that promotes a seed-to-table approach to food production, nutrition and environmental stewards,” according to their website. 

“We garden and cook with kids. We like to say that we grow good eaters,” Laura Plaut, executive director for Common Threads, said. 

Common Threads started as the result of Plaut becoming a mom. She started to see the world through the eyes of a child, Plaut said.

“I started to notice everything that was at [my son’s] eye level at grocery stores. The next time you go through a store, just pretend you are as tall as your knees and think about the powerful marketing that is being done to your knees and therefore to your kid’s eyes,” Plaut said. 

Her challenge was to think about how healthy food choices can be the joyful and easy choice for children, Plaut said.

“We’re really in the business of helping kids — and by extension their families — to make joyful connections with food,” Plaut said. 

Common Treads employees cook and eat with children. Twenty-four Whatcom County schools and five school districts work with Common Threads, Plaut said. Most are elementary schools, though there are some middle schools in the mix. The organization is working on extending their reach to high schools.

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