This blog post was written by Riley Wilmart, one of our Winter 2022 University of Washington Interns.
Before beginning this internship with City Fruit, I was an Environmental Studies student at the University of Washington who had no idea which direction to pursue when it came to thinking about future career paths, and assumed I would just figure it out at some point down the line. How could I just focus on environmental justice? There are truly so many intersecting issues within the subject, and I had no way of determining which route I was most drawn to.
Growing up, I had a father who loved to cook, and would frequently make dinners for our family. There was nothing particularly special about them, but they always invoked an overwhelming feeling of comfort. One of his most notable dishes was his home-made spaghetti sauce, in which he would always bring me a small bowl of it to try so that I could give him my thoughts and suggestions before serving it (despite me being a child and not yet understanding the complexity of spices, I usually just said “more salt”). It wasn’t until I graduated highschool and moved into my own college apartment that I began to realize how important food is to our well-being. I started to adopt the mentality that if cooking and eating are things that are necessary for us to live, why not be good at it? Over the past 4 years or so, I’ve slowly begun trying new recipes, new ingredients, and developing a new attitude surrounding the food that I cook, as well as deepening my love for food through it all.
Through this newly found passion, I have learned so much about not only food, but its history, culture, and politicization. When I committed to environmental studies as my major, food justice wasn’t a term that I was familiar with, it was a whole realm of environmental studies that I had never really heard anyone discuss in academic environments. I never knew that there were areas of the country where grocery stores didn’t exist, and residents solely had to rely on gas-stations and fast food restaurants as their main source of sustenance. I was completely ignorant to the insecurity that so many communities face through a lack of access to fresh and healthy food options, or the fact that many communities with distinct cultural roots are often left without relevant food options in their local grocery stores. When I transferred to the University of Washington and began taking courses that discussed these issues, I became aware of the immense privilege that I had in the fact that I have always enjoyed the food I have access to, and have never had to go out of my way or struggle to find ingredients that I want.
Being a steward of urban food justice requires immense attention to all of the components that make food justice possible. From my research throughout this past quarter, I learned about the nuance behind urban agriculture in that it does not always equate to food justice. There are plenty of ways that urban agriculture can actually worsen the effects of food insecurity in urban areas by catering towards communities who already have access to fresh and local foods. In her article, “The Intersection of Planning, Urban Agriculture and Food Justice: A Review of the Literature,” Megan Horst writes, “Urban agriculture may reinforce and deepen societal inequities by benefiting better resourced organizations and the propertied class and contributing to the displacement of lower-income households.” From this I learned that if urban agriculture isn’t focusing on aiding communities who otherwise wouldn’t have access to locally produced food and face food insecurity, then it isn’t enhancing food justice.
When it came time to find an internship to work with for my Capstone project, I had begun to scope out local environmental justice-related organizations in the Seattle area. I quite literally typed into Google, “local environmental justice organizations in Seattle,” and City Fruit was one of the first pages to pop up. As I began reading more about their work on their website, I became increasingly exuberant about the possibility of working with them. For context, I decided that my research question for my project would focus on the accessibility of culturally relevant foods in the Seattle area, and what determinants exist in making culturally relevant food accessible to Seattle residents. And if there’s one thing that City Fruit focuses on in their work, it’s accessibility. City Fruit’s mission is to connect urban fruit to communities in Seattle who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. They harvest from local fruit trees all over the city, as well as partner with community members who have fruit trees and collect any unwanted or unused fruit, connecting it with various diversion partners where it will be made available to individuals lacking fresh, local food options. This is a very broad summary of the work that City Fruit does; there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes that I personally was unaware of prior to having done non-profit work with them.
City Fruit, while small, largely contributes to the food security of Seattle residents. They actively encourage all community members to learn more about harvesting urban fruit and urban agriculture in general by hosting numerous volunteer events throughout the year. Some examples include farmstand tabling, flier distribution, fundraising, language volunteers, and even becoming a neighborhood ambassador. During my time interning with them, I had the privilege of attending a few of their pruning events at Piper’s Orchard in Northgate. I was unaware of the importance of pruning before attending my first session, and I left with an entirely different understanding of fruit trees and the importance of pruning to the overall growth of fruit. Each time I attended, I saw some familiar faces as well as some new ones, and was able to guide first-time volunteers when pruning the trees in the orchard which made the experience all the more fulfilling. Further, I helped format lesson plans for their program called Urban Food Guardians, which aims to educate Seattle youth about urban agriculture, nutrient cycles, biodiversity, and other essential functions of our ecosystem. Through this, City Fruit is paving the way for Seattle to become an even better steward for food justice by educating younger generations about the importance of urban agriculture and its benefits to our communities.
The effort that community volunteers and the valued interns put into achieving City Fruit’s goal of providing sustainable and accessible urban fruit is invaluable. Community-driven work is one of the main pillars of City Fruits values, especially in regards to attaining an urban food system that serves everyone. The team behind it all, whether its full-time staff or part-time volunteers, is extremely dedicated to the work that it takes to create a more equitable and sustainable urban food system, and without them it wouldn’t be possible.
Though I don’t have a solidified plan after I graduate this spring, I do now have a greater sense of direction following my time with City Fruit. I was able to see first hand how important food access is to every single individual, and how much community members genuinely care about providing the necessary resources for that to be achieved. It has ultimately lifted my optimism about community aid, showing me that each individual has a part to play in the collective wellness that we all share. I look forward to seeing where else I go and how much more I learn in regards to urban food justice, and I will continually be looking to City Fruit as a leading example.
Interested in joining the City Fruit team? We’re currently hiring AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates to join our 2022 Harvest Team! As an integral part of our harvest team, the associate will support the harvest of residential fruit trees and the distribution of fruit to partnering food banks and meal programs. The associate will also outreach with community through farmers market stands, City Fruit’s free fruit pop-up stands, and more! This is a great work opportunity for individuals looking to work outside this summer and for individuals seeking to learn more about our urban food system! We welcome you to apply today!