2011 21.3 Red Shed: Bringing People Together in the Upper Methow Valley
Kelleigh McMillan has been farming at Sowing Seed Farm in the Upper Methow Valley for 13 years. She grows mixed vegetables for direct market and vegetable seeds for regional seed companies. After the birth of her second child she made the decision to merge her love for growing healthy food with a long-held desire to work in social services and support victims of domestic violence. In 2006 she created Red Shed Produce, a non-profit farm and education program. Today, Red Shed Produce is program of Room One, a local non-profit providing social services and human resource support to folks in the Upper Methow Valley.
THE CHOICE FOR CHANGE
While the valley has attracted many residents who own second homes, have high paid jobs in the Seattle area, and provide strong support for local farmers, there are growing numbers of low income residents in need of basic social services, education, and access to healthy organic food. Kelleigh proposed to her CSA and farmers market customers a shift in her market farming focus to support families in need with produce donations. She found great support from her community and started a small pilot program.
After the first year, Kelleigh found that her goals for Red Shed dovetailed well with Room One and worked to gain their sponsorship of the food donation project. Room One’s mission is to decrease domestic violence, improve parent and child health, and promote and develop young adult life skills. Each year since, she has increased the quantity of produce grown, and last year distributed over 2,500 servings of food to Room One, The Cove (a regional food bank), and Methow Valley Family Practice Clinic. Staff at each distribution site coordinates receiving and distribution to clients.
Kelleigh has found it most convenient to track and distribute produce in serving sizes, that is to say, one head of lettuce, one pound of carrots, one pint of strawberries. The focus is on commonly used vegetables and berries. Kelleigh provides only #1 grade produce. She sees the poor quality produce that is donated to food banks and feels strongly that only the nicest, freshest produce will be donated from her farm. Since one of the goals is to teach people to learn about healthy eating, beautiful and delicious food is essential.
VOLUNTEERS AND FUNDRAISING
Kelleigh depends on volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. Several young mothers come to the farm one day per week with their children to help with weeding and harvesting. They harvest vegetables for their own needs while learning how to grow kitchen gardens. Other volunteers transport produce to the three distribution sites, and one helped Kelleigh put together a cookbook that focused on healthy meals from Red Shed produce.
Community volunteers also help with fundraising events. Each year Kelleigh hosts two benefit dinners complete with music, local organic food, and wine. These dinners provide about a quarter of her operating budget – the rest comes from grants.
GETTING AT THE ROOT OF PROGRAMS
The Root Cellar pilot program was created last year with the goal of extending produce distribution past last frosts. Kelleigh found a downtown merchant to offer a weekly drop point for storage vegetables like potatoes, onions, carrots, squash and cabbage. She is now able to supply more food from her own farm as well as to purchase bulk crops from other local growers. In its first year, The Root Cellar program extended distribution to families through December, and will expand in 2011 to purchase more potatoes, apples, and pears from Methow farmers.
Another recently started program focuses on at-risk teenagers in the public school’s Independent Learning Center (ILC ). Once a week, students come to Room One for a two-hour cooking class. The kids use local foods to make a healthy and nutritious hot lunch that they serve to all of the ILC students. Several students participating in the program have been inspired by Kelleigh and now come to her class every week.
A PRETTY SWEET LIFE
Room One plans to double the Red Shed budget for 2011 to $23,500 and increase services for clients. They hope to expand their cooking classes for teens and young mothers and add distribution to the senior center. Kelleigh will also be applying for grant funding to promote health and reduce obesity at the community level.
There is a growing excitement and support for programs that bring people together around good healthy food grown in the Methow Valley. The best part of this work for Kelleigh is the opportunity to grow beautiful produce for local families and combine that with teaching them how to prepare and enjoy healthy and affordable meals. All that gratification, along with time to play with her own kids, makes for a pretty sweet life.i
Tags: Community, Families, Farmer, Funding, Kelleigh McMillan, Methow Valley, Mixed Vegetables, Outreach, Program, Red Shed, Room One, Root Cellar, Sowing Seed Farm, Students, Support, Volunteers