Katie Rains, Executive Director of Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB), will be speaking at the Seattle Food Tank Summit, titled “Growing Food Policy,” which will be held in partnership with the Environmental Working Group, Food Action, GRuB, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability on March 17, 2018.
Katie has a deep-seeded passion for food and culture. She has put that passion to work for GRuB since 2007, where she first served as a volunteer and then took the reigns as Executive Director in 2013. Prior to that, she was the founding Director of the Washington Free Clinic Association. She firmly believes that the work GRuB does is healthcare and she brings this perspective to her role at GRuB, where she supports and leads their broad team of youth, families, veterans, volunteers, and staff to grow healthy food, people and community. In addition to running a 2 acre urban farm in West Olympia, GRuB operates a Career and Technical Education (CTE) alternative high school program, stewards the Victory Garden Project, and hosts farm-based field trips for hundreds of kids and adults each year. Additionally, GRuB is developing traditional plant curriculum for use across the region and is preparing to launch the Rx Garden Project and a new Victory Farm this spring and provides leadership to the South Sound Food System Network.
Food Tank spoke with Katie about her work to promote access to fresh, healthy foods:
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Katie Rains (KR): As a young child growing up on Whidbey Island, we had a small garden that I helped my mom with, as well as daily chores fetching eggs from the chicken coop and helping to tend a small flock of sheep. We participated in a small neighbor-led food co-op and my food never had labels. A few years later, we moved to Yakima, and our economic status had changed significantly. My single mom and I experienced poverty for the first time. During those years, all of my food had labels and most of it came in plastic packaging, easily prepared by myself alone after school while my mom worked long nights to support us. Waiting for the bus each morning before school, I had time to connect with my friends and neighbors who were the children of immigrant farm workers and whose parents had left for the fields much earlier. Fast forward to my twenties, when I worked in multiple hospitals, became an insurance benefits liaison, and later became the founding director of the Washington Free Clinic Association. During this time, I had the opportunity to lead studies of free clinic usage at the height of the recession, and learned that diet-related chronic diseases or complications were four of the top five reasons uninsured and under-resourced people sought care at free clinics. These experiences, woven together into a tapestry of understanding of larger systems of oppression, rooted in distant memories of fresh food from the garden and eggs covered in chicken mess, made it crystal clear that there is something deeply wrong with our food system and that our economic and healthcare systems are part of the quagmire. So when I took on my role as Executive Director at GRuB in 2013, I was certain that the work that we do—to educate people, to create access to fresh food, and to support people in their journey to self-advocacy — is healthcare.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
KR: GRuB’s mission is to grow healthy food, people, and community. Our programs engage people with the natural world – with landscapes like farms and culturally managed landscapes like camas prairies – to embolden them to recognize their place in a larger ecosystem and to inspire them to care more deeply as stewards of the land and as agents in their food choices. We create access to fresh food for youth and families by providing them with the resources and skills needed to grow their own food, to cook it, to can it, and to share it with people they care about as part of an important cultural exchange. We value diverse life experiences as much as we value biodiversity on the farm, and we believe that practicing the skills that enable people to connect meaningfully across differences is not only good for our food system, but for our community as a whole.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
KR: We have to address the impacts of federally subsidized, calorie-dense, and nutrient-deficient foods that are formulated to be addictive. Everyone deserves delicious treats and has a right to choose how they want to be nourished, but the degree to which folks with finite financial resources are limited in their choices is unjust by any standard.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
KR: There are so many things that I’m excited about in the shifting landscape of the food system, but I’d have to say that the youth program model pioneered by GRuB’s co-founders Kim and Blue, forging partnerships with the Olympia School District to create opportunities for youth to earn credits and engage in their education experientially on a farm-classroom, is a huge part of closing the gap on farm to school, making education fun, and inspiring and exposing young people to the joy of being on the land to ensure a future generation of farmers stewarding our food system. Another innovation that I’m incredibly excited about is the increase in food rescue programs! The multiplying benefits of rescuing wasted food before it heads to the landfill are incredible. By developing infrastructure and distribution systems for rescued food, more people have access to great food, the precious natural resources that are poured into growing food are used wisely, and we reduce carbon emissions by keeping compostable materials out of the waste stream. It’s a triple win.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
KR: Before we change what we do, we need to think about the change we might make. So, one thing that I’d invite everyone to think about is to take 30 seconds before you eat to look at what’s in front of you and imagine where every piece of food on your plate came from. I personally started doing this a year ago and found it to be a marvelous exercise that fills me with awe about all of the hands that have cooperated along the line to make sure that I have food. As I think about each meal, I try to imagine every step of the process. What plants and animals grew and where did they come from? How did they get to me? Who were the people who helped get these foods from the farm to my plate? Are they in my community or far away? By asking myself these questions, I stoked my own curiosity about the foods that I eat, and had to wrestle with my choices when my answers showed me I was supporting environmental, social, and animal practices that weren’t aligned with my values. Most importantly, this exercise has made me more grateful for my own nourishment, and the many hands that make it possible.
FT: How can we make food policy more relevant to eaters so that the politicians representing them feel a mandate to act?
KR: We need to tie the costs of healthcare and lost wages due to health problems, including chronic disease, to the food system. People need to know the role that federal policy, the Farm Bill, plays in making certain food products cheap and accessible, and the personal costs and impacts these policies have on their lives.
FT: What policy areas or ideas would you like to see an increased focus on as the 2018 Farm Bill negotiations kick off?
KR: I hope that the 2018 Farm Bill reduces subsidies for commodity crops and instead subsidize mid-sized row crop and other sustainable agriculture ventures, including managed cultural landscapes and even mushroom production.