Building Community One Bite at a Time

style=”text-align:left;”>By Lisa Woo, Nutrition Educator

Apple Corps Member helping at the Community Kitchens NW event at Marra Farm

Apple Corps Member helping at the Community Kitchens NW event at Marra Farm

Happy October Apple Fans!

September was a whirlwind month for the Apple Corps team! We welcomed a fresh, new round of Americorps Members (8 new, 2 returning) and after a brief orientation they were off and running at their new project sites. September is also a bit of a transitioning month, from summer to fall, vacation to school. So while some of our programs are just beginning to rev up, others are winding down. One such example of the latter, was our final farm-based Community Kitchens NW event hosted at Solid Ground’s Marra Farm located in the South Park neighborhood of southwest Seattle.

All summer long, the Lettuce Link program–which hosts one of our Apple Corps Members–invited members of the South Park community to Marra Farm to prepare a meal from scratch. And while the farm kitchen set up is primitive, nothing beats harvesting fresh, organic produce from 10 feet away.

Unfortunately, with the rainy season looming over our heads, September marked the last farm-based Community Kitchens [they’ll move indoors to the local community center]. But despite the threat of rain and thunder in the distance, the show still went on, and a handful of families and Apple Corps Members arrived, ready to celebrate over delicious food.

Community Kitchens food

The many stages of Mónica’s Calabacín Relleno [stuffed zucchini]. So delicious!

Our final Community Kitchens was led by an active Marra Farm volunteer and Concord Elementary mom (the school which neighbors Marra Farm), Mónica, and featured an amazing play on the Mexican dish, Chile Relleno. Using fresh zucchini from the farm, Mónica guided us through the process of slicing and stuffing the [massive] zucchini with shredded mozzarella, coating them with a whisked egg white mixture, and frying them up until golden brown. Accompanied by warm salsa made with juicy Mara Farm tomatoes, the result was a crispy, cheesy plate of heaven!

The Apple Corps Team wants to thank Mónica and the handful of families at Marra Farm that night for welcoming us into your community and sharing such a wonderful, culturally rich experience with us!

Marra Farm Weighs In: 16,984 pounds of produce!

By Amanda Horvath, Marra Farm Youth Development & Outreach Coordinator

All is quiet at sleepy Marra Farm

Since I arrived at Marra Farm, we have been busy, busy, busy.

In the two months I’ve been here, we’ve…

  • harvested and donated over 8,000 lbs. of produce.
  • worked with over 490 volunteers totaling nearly 1,950 hours.
  • explored worm bins, bees, and the gardens with 109 students all decked out in their rain boots who made faces when they sampled our sour sorrel.

After a bountiful season (yes, we actually harvested nearly 17,000 pounds of produce from April-October), it’s time to put the farm to bed for the season. We’ve been busy turning beds and planting Austrian pea that will grow throughout the winter, pulling (fixating) nitrogen from the air, which we will use come spring to return nitrogen to the soil. As we pull the blankets (of reemay and leaves) up over the beds and tuck them in tight, we say thanks to all of those who made our season a success!

The Apple Corps team lending a hand at Marra Farm

Goodnight Marra Farm!

Thanks for all the learning and fun you provided us this season.

And thanks to everyone who came out to plant, weed, harvest, till, chip, etc. this season.

Cooking Demonstrations at Providence Regina Food Bank

When you’re faced with a refrigerator full of a seemingly random assortment of groceries, how do you whip up a meal?

Twice a month, Amelia and Apple Corps Member, Amanda are showing food bank clients just that! Using ingredients from each week’s selection, plus a few basic ingredients, we cook a recipe right in the community center kitchen to share. Learning how to use ingredients at the food bank will help clients get the most use out of the items they receive, instead of possibly throwing away a foreign ingredient.

So far, our flexible, throw-it-all-in recipes have included: a vegetable stir-fry and a risotto.

An Italian dish, the risotto just required rice, cheese, and herbs, besides the vegetables. You probably have those things in your pantry! Although risotto is traditionally served as a side or appetizer, you can make it a complete meal by adding beans or any variety of meat/seafood to the recipe below.

from wordridden @ flicker.com

Risotto with Fresh Vegetables

1 cup Mushrooms, sliced
½ cup Onions, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 T. Olive or vegetable oil
1 cup Arborio (short grained) rice
2 cans (15 oz. each) chicken broth
2 cups vegetables of choice (broccoli, peas, etc.)
3 T. Fresh basil, chopped (2 tsp. dried), or herb of choice
2 T. Fresh oregano leaves, chopped (1 tsp. dried), or herb of choice
1/4 t. Salt
1/4 t. Pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

    1. Heat broth to boiling in medium saucepan; reduce heat to low to keep broth hot.
    2. In large saucepan, saute mushrooms, onions and garlic in oil until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice; cook 2 to 3 minutes.
    3. Stir 1/2 cup broth into rice mixture; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue adding hot broth 1/2 cup at a time, cooking and stirring constantly until broth is absorbed, rice is just tender and mixture is very creamy.
    4. Stir in vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until hot through, 3 to 5 minutes.
    5. Stir in cheese and serve.

Makes 8 (3/4 cup) servings. – Emily

Winter Farming

The eve of Seattle’s third consecutive snow day felt like the proper moment to behold the power of pause. Today we remember that our daily planners are mortal, that snow tastes good with syrup but better with friends, that the natural world can stop us still.

This snow day, I cooked toe-curlingly delicious kale gratin and then hunkered down to meditate on urban agriculture and Americorps for this blog post. Especially: how have I sought to shore up the strengths and challenges of these two fierce and flawed approaches to anti-hunger work?

At the Lettuce Link/Marra Farm giving garden, the one-acre urban farm where my Apple Corps position is based, volunteers cultivate organic vegetables that are primarily donated at two local food banks. On an immediate level, the vegetables feed people who would otherwise struggle to afford them, and particularly in the South Park neighborhood which experiences very poor food access. We work hard to grow a lot of food — 18,500 lbs this year — and yet alone, Marra Farm will never be able to produce enough for South Park residents.  This one acre is a tiny skirmish against the vast industrial food system, where big farms grow monocrop corn, soy, and wheat — and big profits. FACTOID: 8% of farms get 75% of federal subsidy aid. Almost none of that money goes to fruit or veggie growers

Part of what makes Marra Farm so important, however, is that it provides a space for people to learn and organize  in creative ways. As farm manager Sue McGann always reminds visitors, “the most important things we grow here are new farmers,” referring especially to our gardening classes with youth. The very act of growing food cooperatively builds crucial relationships amongst people and with land. We need these relationships for survival. For many of us who did not grow up in farming families, growing food in new settings, such as at an urban farm,  humbles and  empowers us.

What about people who have experienced the violence of our food system firsthand?

South Park is a neighborhood with a particularly high population of Latin@ residents, and through getting to know those who visit the food bank, I have learned that several worked on (big, big) farms prior to settling in Seattle. It is also a working-class neighborhood where many residents work multiple jobs and have scant time or interest in volunteering time on a farm. Former farmworkers have graced me with different perspectives on community agriculture, and pushed the Marra Farmers to be better. As the farm aspires to be a community project, run with and for South Parkians, we are consistently challenged to advocate and educate around different questions:  How can we dignify agriculture so that farming is celebrated, exalted, and rewarded? Why are farmworkers — through whose labor and skill, we are nourished — the lowest paid occupational group in the United States? And especially for Marra Farmers: how can we follow leaders in South Park to build a project to responds to community need and builds resiliency “from seed to table”? In response, we are developing an affordable CSA, offering more vegetable cooking demos to food bank clients, and especially promoting a bilingual work-trade every Tuesday of the growing season.  We continue to educate our traditional volunteers on anti-oppression values and food sovereignty.

The project of urban agriculture at Marra Farm reminds me a lot of Americorps. Apple Corps members spend 10.5 months engaged in direct service promoting nutrition, access and education on food, and healthy, active lifestyles. We receive a stipend of 110% the poverty line and qualify for government assistance programs such as SNAP (food stamps). Many of us are able to choose fulfilling work over filling paychecks because we already receive other privileges from society.

Our work does make a difference — the testimonies of Apple Corps members on this blog, for example, prove that point — and yet I would be challenged to find an Americorps member who felt their impact exceeded their individual learning. Take my experience in a position of “community outreach and development,” as a person who hails not only from a different geographic community but from a different class, race, educational background, primary language, and customary palate from most of the people I am serving. Safe to say, I have learned more than I have contributed. South Park is full of lively leaders who have been mobilizing their friends and neighbors for many years, and will continue to do so long into the future. Through my service, I have learned to be more honest, inquisitive, and resourceful. I have become a better listener, teacher and advocate for justice — and as a result, I have become a more effective service corps member. Instead of initiating projects, I have learned to support ones that already exist, to develop youth leadership at the farm, and to ensure that our project is accessible for non-English speaking residents.

So thank you, snow day, for slowing my body down and my brain up. Winter gives that crucial chilllll for farmers, and especially for those concerned with cultivating community as well as vegetables.

Read more about Lettuce Link’s work in 2011 on our blog. and pssst, green thumbs: take a drool — erm, look — at these organic, non-GMO veggie & flower seeds from high mowing. any purchase supports lettuce link’s work!