A handful of people are already lined up in the lobby with paper sacks and plastic bags in hand when Solid Ground Farm Market Assistant Charlotte Minor pulls up in front of the White Center Sea Mar Community Health Center on a rainy fall morning. Her van is packed almost to the ceiling with crates brimming with tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, peas, peppers, radishes, squash, and more – all picked just a few hours earlier at a farm less than two miles away.
Within minutes, the crates are arranged along a series of tables in the lobby, and people begin taking turns filling bags with produce as Charlotte invites passing patients to help themselves as well. No money changes hands.
“People are excited about it,” says Charlotte. “There are some people who have come back week after week and show us pictures of the meals they’ve made for their families. It’s really special to be able to see what they’ve done with the produce.”
This is Food FARMacia, a partnership between Solid Ground and Sea Mar designed to get fresh fruits and vegetables into the hands and stomachs of people who struggle to access enough healthy food. It started last year at the Sea Mar Clinic in South Park and expanded this summer to White Center thanks to a grant from HealthierHere. (To learn more, check out A free farm stand sprouts in South Park, with produce grown by Solid Ground on the Groundviews blog.)
These free farm stands are tied directly to health services at Sea Mar, which runs nutrition education programs for patients with diet-related health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Patients who are diagnosed with one of these conditions are referred to a health educator like Maddi Rinehart, who talks with them about healthy eating practices and asks whether they’re able to get enough healthy food to eat.
“When I screen patients for food insecurity and they say they worry about running out of food, or they truly have run out before being able to buy more, it’s really great to have this resource right here to get them fresh produce,” Maddi says. “And of course, these are the kinds of food I’m recommending my patients eat anyhow.”
Most of the vegetables are grown just a few miles away at Solid Ground’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm, where staff and volunteers grow food for a variety of community organizations and host food education programs for kids. Each morning before a FARMacia stand is set up, Solid Ground staff and volunteers spend hours harvesting, sorting, washing, and weighing hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables before packing them into crates. This year alone, the Giving Garden grew 4,800 pounds of produce for the free farm stands in South Park and White Center.
Supporting BIPOC farmers
But the need for fresh produce at the Sea Mar clinics is greater than what the ¾-acre Giving Garden can produce, so this year Solid Ground started buying vegetables from BIPOC-owned farms as well, including Salsa De La Vida Community Farm, our neighbors at Marra Farm. Buying from our farm partners also provides them with a consistent revenue stream they can count on.
“They’ve said it’s been really helpful,” Charlotte says.
Along with the produce, Charlotte passes out recipes produced by Solid Ground’s Community Food Education team for dishes using the vegetables harvested that week. On a recent Friday, the recipes in Spanish and English included winter vegetable chili, glazed winter squash, and beet hummus.
FARMacia was launched in South Park in 2021, in part because it’s a “food apartheid”¹ neighborhood with no nearby grocery stores or other places to buy fresh produce. White Center does have several nearby grocery stores, but it’s also home to many people living on low incomes who can’t afford to buy fresh produce, which is generally more expensive than less-healthy processed foods.
The White Center Sea Mar Clinic also shares a building with a DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) office, so people stopping by to apply for benefits or pick up an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card can grab some fresh vegetables as well.
“I’m so glad you’re doing this for the community, because we really need it,” a patient named Javier recently told Sea Mar staff. “I hope this continues forever.”
Food FARMacia wrapped up for the season in October but will be back at SeaMar clinics in South Park and White Center starting in the spring.
Join the Solid Ground farm crew!
Want to help us grow food and build community at Marra Farm? Learn more about volunteering as a Marra Farm Giving Gardener!