Alumni Spotlight: Kate Koester
Kate Koester was a group leader for AJWS Volunteer Summer in Honduras in 2007. A social worker who has focused on human rights and violence prevention, she is currently the Social Justice Team Co-Chair of the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle.
What was your AJWS Volunteer Summer experience like?
We were in a rural village in Honduras working with an organization called Red COMAL. They are a cooperative with different programs throughout Honduras. In our village, Red COMAL had a community-run store that tried to foster a direct relationship in food distribution and consumption between farmers and community members. We did a building project to help expand the size of their store to have more space for storage. A lot of the participants on that trip have gone on to do amazing things, including several who did AVODAH in D.C.
How did you get involved with food justice work in Seattle?
I'm on the social justice committee of a Jewish cooperative in Seattle called Kavana. We just had Ruth Messinger come out and speak to us at a big Shabbat dinner about the root causes of hunger and food insecurity, which was great because we are part of the Tuv Ha'aretz program for community supported agriculture sponsored by Hazon. I was one of the people who got Kavana to be one of the Tuv Ha'aretz sites as a way to build community and raise awareness about local food and food security issues in general. We work with a farm which is run by two couples, one of whom is Jewish, which is unusual as most Tuv Ha'aretz sites are not run by Jewish farmers. We've been doing farm visits and also doing some gleaning on the farm, collecting excess produce for a food bank. It's been a really great experience.
How do you think this fits into other food justice projects in Seattle?
Everyone who bought their share of our CSA donated extra money to sponsor a box for a family that Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Seattle identified as in need. JFS has said that people are requesting fresh produce more and more, but it's hard for them to keep it because they don't have the refrigeration capacity. They're working on improving that in the redesign of their food bank. There was recently a New York Times article about how California food banks are redesigning themselves so they have more refrigeration. This is something new in the food bank world that we've been able to tie into, both in buying an extra CSA share and through the gleaning projects we've been doing on our farm to donate some fresh produce to the food bank.
I also volunteer for two other organizations. One is "Harvest Against Hunger" which does gleaning projects on different farms throughout the area. The other is Solid Ground, which is doing innovative projects on food security and has an urban farm called Marra. One of the participants on my Honduras trip, Jennie Netburn, did an internship with Solid Ground which has a program called Lettuce Link. With the help of local chefs, the program offers cooking demonstrations in the community on how to make easy, healthy meals with fresh produce provided by their farm. They're a very cool organization. I'd like to get Kavana more involved with their volunteer projects this year.
How does the Jewish aspect of this work speak to you?
So many of the holidays in the Jewish calendar are agriculturally-based. To me, having that connection to the farm and to the seasons of the year speaks to me in terms of thinking about the Jewish calendar and the food that's eaten during different holidays. For Rosh Hashanah, for instance, we went to an organic heirloom apple farm in the Cascades and went apple picking as a group. To think that here, apples are in season right when Rosh Hashanah happens… well, that makes sense!
And of course tikkun olam. Repairing the world, connects with eating healthfully and having a connection to our food. Being mindful of who made our food, how it's grown and where it's grown has been important to me. I want my son, Noah, to have a connection to a farm and to know where his food is coming from. I grew up in an urban area of Chicago, without a backyard, and it's just so nice to see Noah get on the tractor, wander through the blueberry bushes or pick basil!
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