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Many families and individuals have needed fresh and healthy food since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food banks have seen increased need from communities across the U.S. and Canada, and the Washington Department of Health has included food boxes in their quarantine and isolation kits (North Sound ACH helps coordinate Care Connect in our region).

A recent pilot project out of Skagit Valley wanted to address vulnerable families impacted by the pandemic, as well as provide culturally-appropriate and nourishing food to migrant farmworkers and the Latinx community.

Organized by the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) in Mount Vernon, Project Manager Alex Perez approached the Skagit Community Foundation and Catholic Community Service (CCS) Farmworker Center to pilot this unique food distribution project in 2020. North Sound ACH recently provided additional assistance and the third distribution was completed in September 2021. An additional distribution organized by North Sound ACH, NABC, and CCS is planned for November.

“For the past several years through our outreach work, NABC has become aware of many unique challenges, barriers and opportunities facing members of the Latinx, Hispanic, and Mexican Indigenous communities,” Perez said in an email. “In response to urgent food access needs exacerbated by COVID-19, NABC successfully organized and coordinated two food distribution projects in Skagit County in 2020. A great deal of groundwork was completed during these pilot projects last year and a strong coalition and valuable network is now in place.” 

NABC and partners worked with seven farmers in Skagit Valley to select organic produce for the families in need, including: peppers, chilies, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and strawberries.

Perez shared, “One reason this project was necessary is because several farmworker families have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as many do not receive government funded resources. This [project] allows [us] to close the gap in nutritional value for low-income earning farmworker households, at least for a brief moment, as the food provided was locally and organically grown in the Skagit Valley with sufficient nutritional value found in the variety of produce that was given.

“Secondly, the produce provided came from seven Latinx and Mexican Indigenous farming families from Skagit Valley and Whatcom County, who have disproportionately been affected by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This project provided a one-time source of income by purchasing a large amount of their locally and organically grown produce, at their market value.

“Lastly, although there are several great programs that also work to address the inequities for marginalized families such as food banks and food drives, many of us do not ask, ‘is the food being provided culturally appropriate within this particular culture?’ This project had that question in mind and the organizations aimed to ensure that the produce was culturally appropriate and accepted within the culture’s cuisine and kitchen tastes. Rather than providing long-lasting canned food full of preservatives, we were able to provide clean, organic, fresh local produce rich in nutritional value, grown by our local Latinx and Mexican Indigenous Farmers.”

In September, 115 families were served with these fresh food boxes. “The reactions from these families have been phenomenal, they asked if we are doing this every month or every week. They are shocked  to see so many of the vegetables that they love to cook with to make traditional sauces, hot sauce or soups,” Perez said via email. “The participating farmers are also filled with joy with these projects, they get to share their delicious produce locally with a lot of pride!”

Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) helps farmers establish new enterprises, and helps make existing businesses more profitable, by providing business feasibility, planning and implementation guidance, connections to markets and capital, and access to resources. 

This project was made possible by Marta Martinez and Guillermina Bazante of CCS Farmworker Center, who communicated and coordinated with Latinx/Hispanic and Mexican Indigenous Farmworker Families from the county; Alex Perez, Juan Morales, and Daniella Silva of NABC; the team at North Sound ACH; and many others.