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Know the West

Food insecurities exposed by COVID-19 in Washington

A task force addresses weaknesses and inequities in the food system.

 

To reach Jefferson County, Washington, on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, most people take a ferry or the floating Hood Canal Bridge. Blackberries line trails, fruit trees flourish, and locals collect clams and crabs along the beaches. Small-scale organic produce is sold at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs).

The coronavirus pandemic tested this growing agricultural community and exposed its weaknesses and inequities. With an estimated three days’ worth of food on grocery shelves, people were forced to wonder what would happen if they had to rely solely on their local food systems.

Fortunately, some had already been pondering the question. The possibility of an earthquake or disaster disrupting the regular food supply prompted community groups to begin collaborating in 2006. Though processing capability and storage are still barriers, the nine Food Bank Farm and Gardens have become key to supplying the four local food banks with fresh organic food.

Now, a Food Resilience Task Force has formed to try to connect the food systems with the public utility district, so that the land’s bounty is accessible to all. “It’s as much about building community as it is about growing food,” says Dave Seabrook, who managed the Food Supply Unit of the Covid-19 emergency response team. “You’re not really food-secure unless your community is food-secure.”   

Brooke Warren is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based jointly in Colorado and Washington state. Her work has been published in the Guardian, High Country News, Wired, CPR, Trail Runner and other outlets. Follow her on Instagram. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.