From poverty to potholes, Pierce County’s problems sometimes seem insurmountable. Individuals and small groups look for ways to help and ask: “What difference can I make?”
It’s a question one nonprofit is happy to answer. The pay is lousy, but volunteers get the bonus of breathing fresh air and sinking their fingers into clean soil.
The Emergency Food Network is seeking teams of people this spring to help make its mission statement a reality: No person in Pierce County goes hungry. Last year alone, EFN provided 18.3 million meals to over 1.3 million clients, many of whom were children, seniors or individuals with disabilities.
EFN owns and operates Mother Earth Farm in the Puyallup Valley. The 8-acre organic enterprise distributes more than 100,000 pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs annually to Pierce County food banks and meal sites.
But as any good farmer will tell you, the fields don’t tend themselves.
A chance to adopt three rows of produce awaits businesses, friends, classes, clubs, neighborhood associations, youth organizations and even large families. Last year the farm saw groups from JBLM, Girl Scouts, churches and a collection of college students.
There’s no better team-building experience than kneeling in mud and watching something grow. In the spring, help is needed to seed, weed and irrigate. In the summer and fall, the farm needs help with weeding and harvesting.
Ideally groups would have 10 to 15 members willing to commit a few hours once or twice a month. It seems like a lot of work until you consider the healthy yield; each group could potentially harvest 2,000 pounds of organic fresh food.
The way we see it, EFN’s adopt-a-row program is a fresh and much more palatable alternative to one of President Trump’s recent budget proposals.
Under the misbegotten White House plan, needy people who receive at least $90 a month in benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would receive a so-called Harvest Box.
Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, sold the idea as a “Blue Apron-type program.” (Blue Apron is one of several companies that deliver expensive meal kits.)
But don’t expect your Harvest Box to come with fancy goat cheese and arugula.
This meal kit includes items one might find in a DIY nuclear fallout shelter: boxed milk, peanut butter and canned goods. Fresh produce, which is better tasting and replete with nutrients needed for good health and child development, is sold separately.
But it’s not the content of the box that bothers us as much as the context. Like many things Trump, this plan has fear at its core — fear that food stamp fraud is rampant and that somewhere some undeserving person may be getting something for free.
Government-issued food removes both dignity and choice, and it leaves people with allergies, food intolerances or religious diet restrictions in the lurch. It also siphons money from local economies.
Luckily, as is often the case, Trump’s reach exceeds his grasp. The Harvest Box idea isn’t finding much Republican support, though we expect his budget proposal to cut SNAP by some 30 percent will. You’ll find it filed under: “Someone’s got to pay for those huge tax cuts.”
Trump’s goal to slash $214 billion from federal food assistance programs over a decade would affect some 45 million people who count on some kind of federal assistance to eat.
In Washington state, more than 1 million individuals receive SNAP; the average monthly benefit is $120. Even the best coupon clippers have difficulty making those dollars stretch.
And that number may soon drop, not because U.S. food insecurity has been solved, but because of politics starved of basic human compassion.
For these and many other reasons, we encourage groups large and small to roll up their sleeves and grow local. Adopt some rows at the Mother Earth Farm, a place where even one pair of willing hands can make a difference.
For more information
- What: EFN’s Adopt-A-Row program
- To register your group: Call Merritt Reed, coordinator of volunteer activities, (253) 584-1040; or by email at email@example.com
- More information: Go online to efoodnet.org