Jesse Jones

Gets Real: Community farming heals bodies and minds

KENT, Wash. — Inside a South King County greenhouse grows a cure: raw, organic vegetables sown and reaped by the hands of low-income and immigrant families.

Vegetables that may even save a life.

“As an African, the blood know, you connect more deeply with the soil,” said community farmer Dixon Njeri. “It matters. Yes.”

It does, because the food goes straight into their communities. Farm to table. Health and fellowship.

“We are producing food here, organic and fresh, and then we are distributing it in food hub like a food bank,” said Nisar Omari.

Omari, who has a postgraduate degree in agriculture, manages the greenhouse run by the non-profit group Living Well Kent. It provides this pricey organic produce for free to thousands each year.

“It’s so difficult, you know, they can’t find fresh food even if you go to Renton and Costco there are frozen foods and there’s nothing fresh like here,” said Omari.

The program isn’t just about physical health, it improves mental health, too.

“Most of our community works in health industry where they’re indoors. Working in hospitals, nursing homes,” said Dixon Njeri.

He’s with Wakulima USA, another nonprofit farming for the community.

And that community can have difficulty adapting to the cold, rainy Northwest climate.

“So they’re not able to adapt where they’re able to access the sunshine out — and the soil. So they end up having some, also, issue of mental health issue like depression,” he said.

But Njeri said they find solace in the bright, hot greenhouses where some even grow hard-to-find foods from overseas.

Even so, the most valuable seed planted there is hope.

“And you feel good because you see life, you start seed from when it was a seed. You watered it, you see blossom and then you see life. So then one gives you peace in yourself knowing you are doing something positive,” said Njeri.

And center stage at Living Well Kent’s food hub is produce from the farm. Ahmed Farah is the food access manager.

“We try to bridge the gap of food inequity that’s going on all over the world and we try to make this a food hub and not a food bank,” said Farah. “It makes them feel more connected to us. Because we don’t want them to just feel like they can get any kind of food but food that they know, that I know that they’re going to make. You know what I mean?”

The farmers also work eight acres of land Living Well Kent shares with Wakulima USA.

“Oh, this is therapy for me. It’s so therapeutic. I love it,” said Living Well Kent’s Maura Kizito.

Kizito, who is getting kids to farm, is pure sunshine.

“This gives me a sense of giving back to the community. And it’s also, like I said, therapeutic. I enjoy it. And it’s just food. I love food,” said Kizito.

“All this food I made today is from our, like, culture and our community,” said Nidhal Kadhim, farmer and beneficiary of the Living Well Kent program.

And when that food hits the table…

“When you grow food and eat that, it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s (a) hard time but it’s worth (it) when you get fresh food, organic and healthy,” said Kadhim. “My health is better and my family, same thing.”

I’m told there are 16 farmers in the program this year. That number will grow, as the fruit they farm will never spoil.

“Food — it’s a language which you can connect with a lot of diverse community because food has no boundary. It’s like music. It’s where (you) connect, it’s where you fellowship people,” said Njeri.

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