This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP) completed for WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: FareStart, Seattle, WA. Story and pictures by David Hanson.
A four-year-old carrying an adult-size food tray is a funny thing. It looks like a construction worker hauling a sheet of dry-wall from one end of the house to the other. It takes concentration and focus. The pre-K students at West Seattle Montessori have been taught to carry their trays directly in front of them, and to look at the tray and the ground as they slowly walk back to their classroom where they will eat. In this way, they spend at least a minute or two, as they walk, tray out on extended arms like a ring-bearer, smelling and looking closely at the plate of food that they just learned about thanks to the Fresh Lunch program. It’s an intimate food moment, really.
These are the kinds of food connections that can shape young people’s eating habits. The West Seattle students eat a variety of dishes, from vegetable lasagna to sweet-potato quesadillas. Two mothers volunteer with the school’s Fresh Lunch program, dishing out the meals two days a week. Parents sign up for the voluntary program (otherwise, students bring their own lunches from home), and it costs $3.75 per meal for the younger students and $4 per meal for the older kids (West Seattle goes up to 8th grade).
Deb, one of the mothers who volunteers for Fresh Lunch and serves the meals every Tuesday, is working her second year with the program. Her son is in the first grade. As she dishes out a scoop of egg fried rice with bok choy and Natalia, the other volunteer and mother of first and second graders, places cantaloupe chunks on their plates, Deb tells the students about the food: protein from the eggs, vegetable nutrients from the bok choy. She’s curious to see how the program will stick with the younger students as they get older. If they’ll have expanded and healthier palates because of the Fresh Lunch variety of dishes.
The big-picture connection with West Seattle Montessori, a relatively affluent school in the otherwise low to middle-income White Center community south of Seattle, is the organization that provides the twice-weekly Fresh Lunch program.
FareStart cooked that fried rice and chunked the cantaloupe that arrived to West Seattle earlier in the morning. FareStart is a darling of Seattle’s non-profit food security world. It has found a sweet spot in the progressive, socially-conscious city by combining good, local food with positive, enriching job training, and it does it from a stylish kitchen and designer restaurant space in the heart of downtown. In fact, when walking past 7th Ave on Virginia St, you can look through the giant, sidewalk-level windows and see the chefs, cooks, and trainees at work.
FareStart uses revenue generated from its lunches and weekly Guest Chef Night (local chef prepares distinctive meals), plus other sources, to fund its job training and placement programs. Disadvantaged and homeless men and women and at-risk teens work in the kitchens to receive on-the-job training and skills to help place them back in the workforce. The program, which has been operating as a non-profit since 1992, graduates over 150 students in recent years, 80% of whom move into living-wage employment. Its success has gone nationwide with the launch of Catalyst Kitchens to bring similar programming to other communities.
Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.