The Olympia-based philanthropy group recently awarded its first environmental grants to two fellow nonprofits that will use the $25,000 to work on sustainable-food initiatives for farmers, consumers, pregnant teens and low-income teen parents in South Sound. They include:
• About $19,000 for Enterprise for Equity, which will partner with the WSU Thurston County Extension to survey 40 to 50 local food producers and buyers to come up with ideas on how to expand local food sales in Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties.
• Slightly less than $6,000 for Blue Earth Farms, a Lewis County farm that works with pregnant teens and teen parents, in concert with Centralia College, to grow and prepare nutritional food for themselves and their young children.
The grant in Lewis County will be used to start a weekly farmers market on the Centralia College campus operated by the Teens Entering Education Now Program, a high school completion program serving pregnant and parenting teens.
Blue Earth Farms owner Kari Winsor said she began working with TEEN Program participants in 2009, helping them start two garden projects and showing them the benefits of grow-your-own vegetables.
“When we started in 2009, the teen parents wouldn’t even get their toes in the dirt,” she said. They’ve come so far, they even like to grow and eat squash and feed it to their children, Winsor added.
Winsor said one of the goals of the collaboration between the college and the TEEN Program is to restore an agriculture education program at the college.
“We believe, that given the opportunity, these students and the surrounding campus can bring new ideas and life to the future of farming, local food systems, and many other areas critical to the health and well-being of our community,” Winsor said.
Enterprise for Equity already has its hand in growing the local food network. For five years, the nonprofit that helps low-income folks start and sustain businesses has been supporting fledgling farmers get started as entrepreneurs. It does so by teaching them how to develop business plans, helping them apply for business loans and offering training sessions and workshops on sustainable agri-business.
Working with Thurston County agriculture extension agent Lucas Patzek and The Evergreen State College graduate student Sarah Rocker, Enterprise for Equity will research how to grow and sell more food in the tri-county area.
One of Patzek’s goals is to connect farmers with some of the larger institutions in the region as potential high-volume purchasers, places such as Joint Base Lewis-McChord, state prisons, school districts, day-care centers and hospitals.
“We’re trying to build capacity so the farm businesses can grow stronger,” Enterprise for Equity executive director Lisa Smith said. “Right now, we have too many farmers who are not in touch with their markets.”
Two small forums involving the farmers and food buyers will follow the survey. Patzek colorfully described the events as “speed dating for farmers and buyers.”
A community forum to share the results of the survey, and let participants brainstorm how to use the data, will be scheduled later this year.
The Community Foundation, which manages some $14 million in 75 funds, set up the environmental fund in 2011, and relies on gifts from donors who want their contribution to further environmental causes in South Sound. The fund will focus on conservation, green enterprises and a sustainable local food economy.
The foundation board reviewed eight grant applications and came away with a greater awareness of the local food movement, foundation executive director Norma Schuiteman said.
“I was moved to tears by every applicant,” said Anne Kirske, communications and programs manager for the foundation.
The foundation would love to keep the environmental grants coming to complement its other grant award programs, both unrestricted grants to nonprofits twice a year and discretionary grants allotted annually.
The growth in assets and influence of the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound is a true philanthropic success story. The environmental grants are a logical extension of all the other good work the foundations does. Here’s hoping the environmental grant program has a long and similarly successful future.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444