Building community with food: Food is Free Washington

President of Food is Free Washington, David Thompson, speaks about the fresh produce and food he and his team provide for all Tacomans.

The Ledger had the privilege to speak to the president of Food is Free Washington, David Thompson. He provided some context and details about the non-profit organization that provides free fresh produce and food to residents all over Washington — the majority of this information stems from the branch based in Tacoma.

This organization began because Thompson had a surplus of food. “I had way too much produce. I was trying to give it to the neighbors. I was trying to get my kids and family to get it,” he said. “But I had too much stuff; I couldn’t get rid of all of it, and it was too much fun to grow. So, I found Food is Free on Facebook, and we started from there.”

Thus, this venture with Food is Free turned into Food is Free Washington that started in 2015 and prospered from then. Now, his wife and fellow volunteers work to secure free produce for all Tacomans.

This concern for accessibility of free produce and food came from Tacoma’s food deserts — parts of Tacoma where individuals lack access to affordable and nourishing food items. Thompson says these large food deserts are evident in East and South Tacoma. 

“On the Eastside, there’s an estimate that 60,000 people don’t have a grocery store. Then, if you go to South Tacoma, there’s only one grocery store on the other side of I-5. South Tacoma is the other unsaid food desert,” he said. 

Because of this issue, Food is Free aims to accomplish many tasks to provide food security. They have different divisions to meet these goals. They have Food Rescue, which consists of grocery stores giving away food that close to expiration, but not expired, to Free Food Washington.

“We’re going to do FIG share days. They will begin on July 11. These are events that will happen every Sunday and all summer and into fall. We will be giving food away at local parks. We have a rotating schedule of four parks,” Thompson said. 

They also focus on gardening and building up new gardens. Street gardens are something they’ve created. Currently, Thompson and his team are preparing for this upcoming summer and the goals they have in mind to continue their work. 

In this upcoming year, Free Food Washington is pushing to build 30 more gardens around Tacoma. Thompsons sees the need for gardens in Central and South Tacoma along with the need for garden support. 

Another large goal they’re working on is the 20% initiative. This initiative would make it so that 20% of fresh fruits and vegetables that are consumed in Tacoma would be grown locally whether it be through community supported agriculture, urban farms or home gardeners. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw store shelves empty. This was a result of our supply chain breaking. What we can do by bringing just 20% of our fresh fruits and vegetables back to Tacoma, [is that] we could help stabilize that food chain system,” Thompson said. 

Because of all the plans they are tasked with both currently and in the future, they find themselves very busy with the amount they do and are actively seeking new members. In particular, they are looking for a food rescue coordinator and garden crew to assist them in their goals. 

However, even with his team how it is, they have already seen the fruits of their labor. Especially throughout this pandemic, Food is Free Washington has been able to help give food directly to the people.

“There’s no means of testing. We just give food to everybody. The little tables in neighborhoods have helped a lot of people and have become a lifeline for some. For our unhoused population, it has become a real lifeline for them,” he said. 

Overall, Free Food in Washington has one mission. And this mission includes not only providing food security for Tacomans, but Thompson also hopes that Food is Free helps build community amongst community members in Tacoma. 

“Food is Free is all about building communities and using food as the tool to do so,” Thompson said “The whole idea is to get to know your neighbors and have your neighbors come up and talk about the garden. Gardening is a universal thing that can draw all kinds of people together.”

For more information on receiving or donating food:
Other website:
Instagram: @tacomaurbanfarmer

If you are in need of food assistance, you may go up to a Food is Free sign or reach out via Facebook for more information and assistance. You can also sign up with the app called Fresh Food Connect that works to get food delivered directly to those in need.