The Outback Farm has taken on the fight against food insecurity among Western Washington University students as it helps stock up free food pantries around campus – with the help of locally grown produce from Western’s own backyard.
“Food insecurity is a big buzzword around the program,” said Stu Johnson, associated students engagement coordinator for The Outback. “The simple definition of that is not knowing where one or more of your meals per day is going to come from.”
A study conducted by Western found that roughly 30% of students are food insecure.
“When you really think about that number, it's three in 10 people, no one really thinks or talks about it,” Johnson said. “As a farm, there's a role that we can play there, by supplying fresh food to the food pantries we have.”
The Outback Farm has spent the last few years putting together on-campus pop-up pantries that provide free produce from the farm, which are harvested and grown by students for students. These pop-ups eventually led to the opening of their permanent Fairhaven food pantry location.
“Being able to give that to students, whether or not they're food insecure, has a huge impact on the people who need it,” Johnson said. “It is for anyone; you don't have to be on food stamps; you don't have to be struggling with money. If you are hungry, or you just want good fresh produce, it's for you.”
The Outback staff is able to restock the Fairhaven food pantry multiple times a week, not only with fresh produce from the farm itself, but with the help of Miracle Food Network, a nonprofit organization that delivers fresh produce and pantry staples every Monday to the pantry.
If you want to follow along with when the food pantry gets restocked, The Outback Farm has an up-to-date Instagram page, which can keep you in the loop.
“I learned about the Fairhaven food pantry through Instagram,” said Sebastian Mendoza, a third-year student at Western. “I’d say I check it out three to five times a week. I've gotten fresh produce a couple of times, and a granola bar today actually.”
Sasha Mosier, The Outback’s Operation coordinator said not only do they want to bring awareness to the food pantries themselves, but also to the volunteer student-based work parties that happen weekly at the farm.
“Last week in my work party, we did a harvest for the pantry right before we painted signs,” said Mosier who runs the Monday work parties at the farm.
“We advertise the work parties every week, twice a week," Mosier said. "We’ll have them on Mondays from three to five working with the chickens, bees and produce, as well as Wednesdays from noon to two, where my coworker leads the work parties in the forest garden.”
In the fight against food insecurity, The Outback Farm wants students to know that there is always a safe place to go if you're hungry.
“Free fresh food is for everyone. We should all be able to have access to that,” Johnson said.