Juniper Rogneby of the Vashon Island Growers Association’s Food Access Partnership believes that the novel coronavirus pandemic has made a strong case for the importance of a robust local food system.
Originally beginning a decade ago to help stretch the purchasing power of those with food stamp benefits shopping at the Vashon Farmers Market, members of the Food Access Partnership recognized the island’s long-standing agricultural history underscored the importance of their work to provide fresh food to islanders while supporting the local agro-economy, Rogneby said.
Now the group aims to support both growers and under-resourced eaters caught in a global health crisis that could threaten the availability of fresh food everywhere.
The Food Access Partnership, said Rogneby, wants to turn more of its own fundraising power into VIGA’s Farm Bucks, used like cash to pay for fresh food and redeemable at the island’s farmers market as well as participating farm stands. The program benefits low-income shoppers who have the agency and freedom to purchase products from where they like and when they like while supporting local farmers who receive full value for their fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat.
That’s important, Rogneby said, because group members are concerned about the island’s many farmers who may have anticipated a robust market or wholesale season this year, selling direct to customers that are now out of work and to restaurants that are now closed.
One of those with lost business from farmers’ markets having shut down is Stella Maris Farms. VIGA is instrumental in helping get the word about the Stella Maris’s goat cheese and whey-fed pork, said owner Collin Medeiros, adding that they planned to use VIGA’s Vashon Fresh online retail program this year, driven by the current circumstances facing small farms. Medeiros added that business has been supported by social media and more customers shopping at their farm stand which has partly made up for lost sales at shuttered farmers markets.
Rogneby said adaptation to the situation for farmers is key, but that in spite of their creativity and fortitude they can only be expected to handle so much.
“And then on the other side of it, you have these newly under-resourced eaters, a lot of people who all of a sudden have lost their income and maybe either have not yet rolled into SNAP benefits,” she said. “Or we have all these people who have never had to ask for help before and going from being a person — from a have to a have-not, like in the flick of a switch — it’s so challenging.”
The group currently distributes farm bucks through the island’s network of social service providers to give to their clients or to use in their own meal programs. Last year the Food Access Partnership distributed $12,000 worth of coupons to multiple social service partners.
“What we want to do is be as responsive to the partners that we have and trust that they know how to best serve their clients. A lot of funders and philanthropists often want you to do things their way, and we say, ‘what works for you? How can we support you and your eaters and your clients in the way that you know best?’” Rogneby said. “Particularly for those partners that give them directly to their clients, this allows many under-resourced shoppers to participate in the local food economy, something many of them otherwise might not be able to afford.”
She added that the food access partnership places no limits on how partners can distribute farm bucks, important for those who may not be eligible to participate in federal assistance, some of whom might be undocumented.
“It’s not just about getting through this crisis, which is a lot,” Rogneby said, “but there’s also like, what can we do to envision longer-term how we take care of each other and show up for each other so that on Vashon people don’t go hungry? Because people have always been food insecure and people are not going to magically be better when this is over, whenever this is over.”
Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign, echoed Rogneby’s refrain. After opening a dialogue with the island’s food growers and service providers to see how the organization could augment what others were doing, The Backbone Campaign began working to help increase support for Vashon’s growers and food distributors.
Moyer explained that it was in preparation for a potentially unrecognizable world in the near future. One where food production is not occurring at the scale necessary to support those depending on it, necessitating that the island becomes more self-sufficient.
“To me, more important than going back to normal is to take advantage of this moment of pause, this moment where [we can assess] the system that we assumed was taking care of us but now we understand that it was not — that we can collectively work to imagine what is the new normal we’re striving to get to, and then work toward that,” he said.
To do that, The Backbone Campaign began compiling resources, creating PSAs and organizing volunteers to step up production — minding safety and physical distancing requirements — at Matsuda Farm. Moyer said it was the most logical place for their efforts as the one nonprofit farm on the island, in addition to Matsuda being a participant in VIGA’s Food Access Partnership program.
“Our broad goal is for there to be plenty of food for everyone, and that means people who can afford to pay for it and people who cannot afford to pay for it,” Moyer said. “Hopefully what we’re also inspiring is a shift in culture and a prioritization of food.”
For her part, Caitlin Ames, a VIGA member who joined The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust in 2016 and managed operations at Matsuda, said that she believes there is a bright future in farming that everyone can be a part of. She hopes for Matsuda to come to the aid of other local farms however possible and to directly support individuals on the island as the economy undergoes a drastic change.
“Not only do these situations show us what our weak points are, but I think it allows us to take advantage of where our strengths are and recognize the strength of small-scale farming and community farms,” she said. “I think that’s something that we can definitely help support. And that’s really what I want to be doing what the Land Trust wants to be doing through Matsuda, it’s helping to support the community through all the way that we are able.”
Visit Vashon Island Grower’s Association to find out about the bounty of grown-locally food on Vashon.
A complete list of local farm-stands, complete with what produce and other foods they have on hand, is updated weekly at foodaccesspartnership.vigavashon.org/farm-stand-locations.
Aeggy’s Farm — now selling eggs
The McCoy Family
13609 SW 220th St, Vashon, WA 98070
Jasper & Will Forrester
8800 SW Dilworth Rd, Vashon, WA 98070
Farmstad — now selling kale and greens.
Doug Dolstad, Barbara Larson, Stacey Sampson
12108 SW 148th St, Vashon, WA 98070
Forest Garden Farm — certified organic produce, especially greens and cut flowers.
Lisa Hasselman & Chris Hedgpeth
10515 SW 140th St, Vashon, WA 98070
Holmestead Farms — Thursday through Sunday selling kale, eggs, greens, bread, jam, lamb and sweet cider.
Amy Beth & Toby Holmes
23013 107th Ave SW, Vashon, WA 98070
Juicy Root Farm
Brian Lowry & Cricket Carroll
10301 SW Cemetery Rd, Vashon, WA
La Biondo Farm & Kitchen — now selling eggs and kale, and featuring greens from Wild Dreams Farm.
20602 111th Ave SW, Vashon, WA 98070
Northbourne — kale and onions, greens from Matsuda Farm, microgreens from Gracie’s Greens.
16530 91st Ave SW, Vashon, WA 98070
Olive Farm Stand — eggs and mostly flowers.
24629 Dockton Rd SW, Vashon, WA 98070
Pacific Crest Farm — salad, spinach, kale, herbs, broccoli and kiwis.
Jen & Bob Keller
23720 Dockton Rd SW, Vashon, WA 98070
Pacific Potager — a wide variety of plant starts.
27918 Vashon Hwy SW, Vashon, WA
Pink Tractor Farm — eggs, lamb, beef.
Dave & Katie Hatfield
10714 SW Cemetery Rd, Vashon, WA
Plum Forest Farm — kale, eggs, cheese, greens, flowers, microgreens. Also featuring Stella Maris cheese and flowers from Forest Garden Farm and Handpicked Homestead.
Rob Peterson & Joanne Jewell
20020 107th Ave SW, Vashon, WA
Provo Farms — eggs and greens, featuring Near Season eggs and Matsuda Farm greens.
20171 Vashon Ave, Vashon, WA 98070
Stella Maris Farm (formerly Burton Hill Farm) — goat cheese, whey-fed pork and quince marmalade.
Collin & Rebecca Medeiros
23419 107th Ave SW, Vashon, WA
Sun Island Farm
Joe and Celina Yarkin
24002 Vashon Hwy SW
Venison Valley Farm & Creamery — cheese and microgreens from Gracie’s Greens.
Kelsey & Ben Killian
9617 SW 192nd St, Vashon, WA 98070