Food insecurity became a focus of much attention in 2020. The circumstances arising from a global pandemic pointedly revealed the fragilities in our food systems and supply chains. It also exposed the most vulnerable among us to immediate threats of food, health, and financial insecurities.
Wages and salaries on Lopez Island are among the lowest in Washington State. Job opportunities that pay a “livable” wage are scarce, as the primary economic activities of our community are farming, seasonal tourism, retail and related services. Many of our family members, neighbors, and friends were already struggling to meet their basic needs. COVID-19 made their problems exponentially worse.
The Lopez community rose to meet these challenges in many ways. Our food-based support system began collaborating in new and innovative activities. Generous donors funded a study of overall community food security needs. San Juan County Food Hub, the Lopez Island Family Resource Center (LIFRC), the Lopez Locavores and Taproot Kitchen joined this effort to assess the feasibility of creating a Lopez-based food center. Ideally, a coalition of organizations residing under one roof could leverage each other’s strengths, expand markets for local food and create opportunities for local farmers and food producers. The food center building would provide the necessary infrastructure for collecting, storing, processing and distributing farm produce and value-added products.
The Food Hub, one of many of such hubs nationwide, facilitates collection and distribution of locally produced foods. The Food Hub connects dozens of San Juan County farmers and food processors with hundreds of consumers on their own and other islands. During 2020, Taproot Kitchen provided the Lopez Island “spoke” of the Hub’s food aggregation and distribution system.
“Stand Up for Lopez, a Pandemic Food Security Program” was initiated by the LIFRC. Again, thanks to incredibly generous donors, LIFRC began feeding Islanders by purchasing food directly from 19 local farmers and restaurants and then distributing fresh produce and meals through the newly formed Lopez Food Bank. (Grace Church Food Bank and LIFRC Lopez Fresh decided to join forces to more efficiently distribute food to our community.) The following link connects to a video which further explains this collaboration.
The Lopez Locavores took on an additional food security project during and worked hard to process Island produce into frozen meals to be distributed through the Food Bank throughout the long cold and hungry days of Winter. Summer’s fresh veggies and fruits became Winter’s nourishment, thanks to these hardworking volunteers.
Taproot Kitchen served as a lynch pin in all of these efforts by providing storage space, distribution facilities and a processing venue.
In October of 2020, Taproot’s walk-in refrigerator, a purchase funded by a $21,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), arrived at our kitchen facilities. Taproot Kitchen is now equipped with “state of the art” commercial-grade appliances including a food dehydrator, tilting blender, steam jacketed kettle, immersion blender, food processors and fruit wedger/corer. Installation of the walk-in refrigerator will be completed early in 2021.
Next Step: The Cook Room
2021 will also bring Taproot Kitchen to the start of the next phase of our business plan. We are applying for a new grant from the USDA in February. If awarded, grant funds will be used to purchase and install a commercial oven, cooktop, range hood and ancillary kitchen equipment. The preliminary cost estimate for this project is $65,000.
The mission of Taproot includes creating jobs by promoting local economic opportunity and entrepreneurship; encouraging local agriculture; and improving Island food resiliency. To be successful in competing for USDA grant funds in 2021, Taproot must demonstrate the availability of about $30,000 in matching donations.
If you believe in the importance of local food security and job creation, please donate to this infrastructure upgrade by February. You can securely make a tax deductible donation online on the Taproot website or send a check to Taproot Kitchen, PO Box 551, Lopez Island, WA 98261
This donation will help make our USDA grant application a success. Your gift will also improve Lopez Island’s food processing capability, making for a stronger link in the supply chain from local farms to ‘plates and bowls.’
The Taproot Crew
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Thank you.