We taste ‘food security’ on Vashon with every home-grown bite

By Karen Biondo

For The Beachcomber

I eat. You eat. We all eat. How simple is that? Food sustains life. How could it possibly be controversial?

But the fact is access to healthy, nutritious food — especially in times of crisis — is a complex and sometimes controversial issue, and one that many of us have come to realize is gravely important.

Consider the situation in Haiti. After its horrendous earthquake, some news reports mentioned a phrase that’s not often heard on TV news: food security. It turns out Haiti doesn’t have much of it, a fact that’s adding considerably to the nation’s woes in the aftermath of the quake.

It’s a relevant issue on Vashon, too, where a small but growing number of farmers are working hard to ensure Islanders have access to delicious, nutritious food — food that can feed us when times are good and that could sustain us, potentially, in a time of crisis.

The North American Community Food Security Coalition describes food security as a condition in which all community residents are able to obtain “a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.”  

Simply put, I say it is having enough nutrition for every one of our neighbors — without a doubt, no matter what.

To what extent can Vashon achieve a sustainable food system? Our Island is about 37 square miles, or approximately 23,680 acres, divided by about 10,123 people (according to our last census). That equals 2.34 acres per person on our little chunk of rock. 

But how much of our “rock” is truly tillable? How much has been given over to houses, roads, forests and pastures? Could we grow meat here? How about grains, coffee beans or olive trees for olive oil? OK, so we can’t grow it all. We still need grocery stores that can provide us with these luxuries — luxuries that many, myself included, have come to take for granted.

Still, this little Island can produce a lot, as Nancy Lewis-Williams, an extraordinary gardener and teacher, demonstrated with the bounty from her 2,000-square-foot garden.

I like to imagine what our community food resource — our food security — would look like if we have community gardens and pea patch gardens, if we shared our knowledge and supplies even more. And wouldn’t it be grand to have a community kitchen to preserve, package and sell our harvest? 

I’m not so naïve to think we can grow it all on our little Island, but I do believe we could do a lot better. And there’s little question but that we need to. Consider these sobering statistics: 

• Washington state loses 70,000 acres of farmland every year. (It makes it more important to support and encourage our Vashon neighbor farms.)

• Our farmers are aging and retiring. The average age of a Washington farmer is 57. (I am 56, however, and I’m happy to report that I am not retiring any time soon!)

• Washington has 288,000 “food insecure” households, and Washington is ranked 28th in the nation for very low food security, with 112,000 households experiencing hunger, a 24 percent increase from 2008.

• More than 60 percent of Washington adults are either obese or overweight. 

• Washington spends approximately $2 billion annually on obesity-related, preventable illnesses and premature deaths.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll get an incredible opportunity to explore these issues at the Island’s first-ever Food Summit. The free event will give us a chance to gather together as a community, discuss how we acquire food, prepare our food, grow our own food and create our own version of a food security coalition. 

Perhaps we can create a vibrant and sustainable Island food system.

This I know to be true: Growing just one tomato plant in one pot in a sunny spot in our yard, porch or deck, we get to taste food security with each juicy bite.

I am making pizza tonight from our garden. With a freezer and pantry full of last summer’s bounty, I am almost smug with abundance and security.

— Karen Biondo is co-owner of K-Jo Farm on Vashon.

Vashon Food Summit

The Vashon Island Food Summit takes place March 5 to 7, at Vashon High School. For more information, see story on page 1.

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