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Building connections helps feed a community

Neah Bay, Wash. – This small town is the most northwestern point of the entire contiguous United States, with the nearest big town, Port Angeles, two hours away via a windy 70-mile drive. For residents, fresh produce can be a luxury.

Customers pick veggies in Glenda Butler’s farm during her farm stand hours.

“There is one grocery store in town, and they do the best they can,” said Karlena Brailey, nutrition educator for Washington State University Extension in Clallam County. “But they only get deliveries once a week and have limited space for produce that may go bad.”

That can leave the residents of Neah Bay without regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables, she said. And in the year and a half Brailey has been working for WSU, she’s heard numerous requests from residents for a farmer’s market or some other way to buy fresh produce.

The problem is, most farms in the county are in the eastern half and are at least a two-hour drive away. It’s not financially viable for those farmers to drive so far to serve such a small population, Brailey said.

But the community does have a major resource: an avid gardener named Glenda Butler.

Butler has never sold what she grows, Brailey said, but she’s expressed interest in participating in a farmer’s market. Since one vendor doesn’t constitute a market, Brailey used her expertise as a WSU Extension Food $ense agent to come up with a different solution: a farm stand.

Glenda Butler’s garden has a variety of well-labelled fruits and vegetables that customers can purchase during her farm stand.

Brailey is part of Washington’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program, and devised a solution for Butler through their statewide Farm to Community program. This program connects SNAP users with opportunities to access healthy, locally grown foods.  One strategy they implement is to help small farmers, like Butler, accept checks from the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).

Through this SNAP-Ed program and with Brailey’s support, Butler established the first FMNP-eligible farm stand in the area, with its first sale on July 16.

“Being able to accept FMNP checks is hugely beneficial, not just for Glenda but for residents of western Clallam County,” Brailey said. “Those checks are meant to help people who can’t afford fresh produce, but until now the nearest place they could redeem the checks was in Port Angeles.”

The program also allows Butler to sell fruits and veggies from other Washington growers, as long as she’s also selling her own. It encourages local gardeners and micro-farmers to take part and also expands what Butler can offer to her community, Brailey said.

“Because of her capacity this first year, Glenda really can’t grow enough food to meet demand,” Brailey said. “Being able to buy from other farmers, and then accept those FMNP checks to pay for them, is a huge plus for her and the community.”

In addition to setting up the farm stand, Brailey helped Butler and the local food bank in town enroll in the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Rotary First Harvest’s joint Farm to Food Pantry program. This program provides money to local food pantries to purchase fresh produce from local growers.

Glenda Butler’s farm stand, just outside Neah Bay, Wash.

That means Butler can sell the surplus produce from the farm stand, which not only reduces food waste but also benefits those who rely on food banks.

“It’s a great program that guarantees micro-farmers will be able to sell all of their food while also giving fresh produce to people who may not normally get it,” Brailey said.

Local residents haven’t given up on starting a full farmer’s market, but the farm stand provides a great first step that improves the nutritional eating habits in the community.

“The physical and economic barriers won’t change,” Brailey said. “So we helped find a way to work around those barriers to benefit this community. It’s pretty great.”

Butler’s farm stand is open every Sunday from 3-6 p.m. on her property just outside Neah Bay and will remain open until mid-October.