HEDI Update: Good Food Bags Explores New Business Models

Good Food Bag is a program of Seattle Tilth, an environmental nonprofit celebrating its 36th year of inspiring and educating people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system. Jess Bitting, the Good Food Bag Coordinator, has been participating in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and recently sat down with Slow Money NW to discuss her experience with the program.

Tell me about your program.

The Good Food Bag program is run out of Seattle Tilth’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, which is the largest urban farm in Seattle. It provides a weekly distribution of bags of fresh produce, taken to community hubs where people are already gathering. We target the neighbors of the farm, many of whom are low income and have limited access to healthy food.

The program has been running for over a year and we’ve distributed 2,000 Good Food Bags to 200 families, totaling over 5,000 pounds of nutrient dense produce.

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Photo Credit: Seattle Tilth

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

We want to focus on a way to not just provide access to healthy food but to also save members time by bringing it to places where they are going daily. Our current focus is on childcare and senior centers through partnerships with Tiny Tots and Southeast Seattle Senior Center.

Organizations such as food banks offer mainly shelf stable options, whereas we focus on fresh food. This also provides the opportunity to talk about seasonality and nutrition. We include recipes that are quick, healthy and easy to make, and are approved by the registered dietician we have on staff.

What goals do you have for the program?

Like so many community-based organizations, we have limited capacity so we think it’s important to grow sustainably. That being said, we think this is a powerful model and would love to see it grow, or other organizations take it on in their own communities. We recently met with the City of Seattle and they are putting together a toolkit that will make it easy for others to replicate the program.

We would also like to expand our infrastructure, including adding more cold storage space. If you’re interested in supporting the growth of this program and the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands, please visit our campaign page.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

We are gaining a lot of insights from the program! We are confident the Good Food Bag program has great potential but we need to refine our model and make it more financially sustainable before we can increase the scale of our operations. Currently, our cost to pack a Good Food Bag is greater than the $5 price point, so external funding and donations are subsidizing the true cost of each bag. Our current industrial food system is also heavily subsidized, but it does not favor fresh produce or earn farmers a fair price for their production, so we need to be creative in making fresh local produce as affordable and accessible to all while making sure the people that grow and pick our food can stay on the land. We are also having conversations about who (beyond the customers) benefits from our work and how we can collaborate for ongoing success.

What advice do you have for other non-profits taking on social enterprise projects?

Prioritize your strategy and planning! Our program operates all year so it can be a challenge to find the time and resources to work on the bigger picture. Working with a program like HEDI has allowed us to do this important work and we are already seeing how it is changing our conversations about the future.

 

 

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