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Deaconesses Express Radical Love with Poor People’s Campaign

By guest blogger Katie Thiesen, Deaconess Community of the ELCA candidate from the ELCA New England Synod

The Deaconess Community of the ELCA is using prophetic diakonia – or service that leads to social change that restores, reforms and transforms – to do the work of justice with the Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC). This movement encourages us to be grounded in the thousands of scripture verses that call God’s people to the work of justice.

We claim as Lutherans that we are loved. We also know that being personally loved is only part of the story. Being unconditionally and radically loved is not an end. We more fully realize that radical love when we see the sacredness and love for ALL.

“Every stranger I meet is a part of me I don’t yet know – and I a part of them. Together, strangers, inextricably connected, we live into God’s reign on earth.” – Sister Davia Evans

After hearing the scriptural call to radical love, I have struggled with what it means to do the work of charity. If I see you hungry and feed you one meal, knowing that you will again be hungry later, where does that leave my relationship with you and with God? Matthew 25 connects us to Jesus in the encounter – “when you saw me hungry.” One meal begs many questions, including: Did not God create this world in abundance for all?

I am learning I must never stop with acts of charity. We all need to have daily needs met now, so we need charity now. Yet charity is only needed because we do not have justice and will only be needed until we have justice! Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:15-22 call us out when we leave one another without needs met. Micah 6:8 calls us to justice.

Hear in this two minute video names and reasons including Emmett Till to Sean Reed “and the too many murdered just because they were black” that compel this deaconess to participate in the PPC: “The Poor Peoples Campaign is a vision and a movement for right now. That’s why I am going.” – Sister Ramona Daily

At a small PPC gathering in 2018, organizers called us together in a circle, asking us to stand next to people we didn’t know. We were then asked to turn to our left and then turn to our right and say, “Hello Image of God!” Even typing this brings me to my knees two years later.

This immediately consecrated everyone in the room! No one was more the image of God than another, and no one less. I felt a surge of the Holy Spirit moving about that space, affirming we all belonged, we all were loved and able to love in return, and we all wanted to be part of each person’s complete wellbeing.

We are not all the same, as 1 Corinthians 12:26 shares, but in all of our beauty and diverse gifts, we are ONE. I do not have all the answers of how to do and be this moral fusion work, but it grounds me and crosses every line of division.

The Deaconess Community of the ELCA endorsed the Poor People’s Campaign in 2019. “For over 130 years our Community has been acting on our call to prophetic diakonia – we can do this better with the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival fusion movement,” said Sister Noreen Stevens, Directing Deaconess, of work carried forward with the movement begun by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 20, 2020 will be a digital gathering of poor, dispossessed and impacted people, faith leaders, and people of conscience, marshalling collective voices to demonstrate the power of our communities, and you can register from this link.

“The PPC is a moral call to take care of all of God’s people in an equitable way. The prophets called out injustice, and Jesus stood with the most vulnerable. It is our mandate to follow the command to Love your neighbor. This campaign addresses the root causes of injustice, and we are called through our baptisms to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” – Sister Dottie Almoney, Chair, Board of Directors of the Deaconess Community

You already have a place of belonging in this movement as we are all doing the work of being the one body we were created to be.


Learn more about PPC and the June 20 event from
Learn more about The Deaconess Community of the ELCA from

February Update: Advocacy Connections

from the ELCA Advocacy office in Washington, D.C. – the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, director



TRAVEL BAN EXTENDED:  On Jan. 31, 2020, the Trump administration announced an expansion of the January 2017 travel ban to include more countries in Africa and Asia. Under the new policy, citizens from Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan will be barred from applying for visas to immigrate to the United States. The National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act would address this executive action and assist those of us escaping perilous or life-threatening situations. Support for the NOBAN Act can be facilitated in a current Action Alert.

In a statement on the expanded travel ban, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton writes, “As Lutherans, these actions should concern us. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has set us free from ourselves to serve our neighbor. This expanded policy separates families from loved ones already here. Further, it prevents people — especially those escaping perilous or life-threatening situations in several of these nations — from coming to safety in the U.S. It does not enhance our safety or reflect our vocation as Christians.”


GIRLS’ EDUCATION:  On Jan. 28, the House of Representatives passed the Keeping Girls in School Act, a bill that seeks to strengthen U.S. international programs by reducing education barriers faced by millions of girls around the world. The bill calls on continued U.S. government and private investments to ensure quality and equitable education, promotes girls’ empowerment and streamlines existing programs.

Hundreds of ELCA Advocacy network members used an Action Alert in support of this legislation to send over 1,000 messages to members of Congress. An identical bill in the Senate awaits committee action before it can be sent to the Senate floor for a vote.


DISASTER AID FOR PUERTO RICO: The House of Representatives passed legislation to provide an emergency aid package for Puerto Rico in the wake of ongoing earthquakes and aftershock damage to the island. Support for this emergency aid in the Senate is the subject of an Action Alert, which emphasizes the lowest-income families in the greatest distress and the pressing need for authorizing proactive disaster policies for the greater United States.

The new package comes as the Trump administration recently released half of the blocked allocated assistance to help Puerto Ricans recovering from severe storms such as Hurricane Maria who now face additional devastation across the region. Two years after the 2017 hurricanes, more than 30,000 households are still waiting for assistance to have their homes repaired and/or rebuilt. Recent earthquakes have only accentuated the devastation many have experienced. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding is desperately needed to assist survivors with building materials, furniture and labor so that they can rebuild their lives and homes.


FAIR HOUSING RULE: In January the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a new rule that would weaken oversight and national data on fair-housing initiatives in low-income communities of color. Under the new proposal, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule would be rendered almost completely ineffectual. Before March 16, use the Action Alert to make a public comment discouraging implementation of the change.

AFFH was first designed to help localities promote diversity and inclusivity under the 1968 Fair Housing Act and take proactive steps to reverse the effects of housing segregation. ELCA World Hunger recently shared a blog outlining the effects of altering the AFFH rule and explaining how discrimination in housing is an intersectional moral issue that affects multiple aspects of our lives.


ELCA PARTNER WITH 2020 CENSUS:  The ELCA is an official partner of the 2020 Census as we work toward a just world where all are fed and further our commitment to greater justice in public policy and the electoral process. More than $675 billion in federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities is based on census data. An accurate count determines electoral maps and ensures that resources more justly go where they are needed most, including to vital programs that combat poverty and hunger and support people in need.

Posters are available from to help ELCA congregations encourage participation, particularly among hard-to-count populations such as people residing in rural areas, young children, LGBTQIA people, people experiencing homelessness, indigenous people, people who do not speak English, and racial and ethnic minorities. National Census Day is April 1, 2020, at which time all homes should have been invited to complete the census. For your neighbor and yourself — encourage your community to be counted!


Receive monthly Advocacy Connections directly by becoming part of the ELCA Advocacy network – , and learn more from .


SNAP in South Dakota

By the Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen, OMG: Center for Theological Conversation in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 824,082 people called South Dakota home in 2011.

In the last four years, the number of people receiving the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly referred to as Food Stamps — has increased from 63,655 in July of 2008 to 104,279 in July of 2012 (the last month on record). Not only do these numbers indicate that 12.65 percent — more than one in eight! — of my state’s population draw on food stamps for their daily bread, they also show that the need for assistance has increased 63.8 percent over the last four years.

These are shocking statistics.

Earlier this year, during an offering of letters at our church, our family wrote letters to our members of Congress, asking them to please retain funding for this key program. Our 8-year-old daughter put her own crayon to paper too, and sent off her request that our officials protect hungry children by protecting SNAP from budget cuts. While we were pleased that our daughter received a response from our Representative, we were stunned at what that letter told her. “Loopholes and fraud in the current program have lead [sic] to federal spending on SNAP to increase by 270 percent over the past ten years.”

My husband, an economist, and I, a theologian, were dumbfounded, not least of all because of our respective disciplines.

Based on both economic and basic moral grounds, this assertion couldn’t be more wrong.

December 2007 to June 2009 marked the greatest recession since the Great Depression, an economic event that clearly parallels the increase in families supported by SNAP. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities there is almost no fraud in this program. Since 2008, despite obvious increase in SNAP benefits, the overpayment rate of 4 percent was reduced to 3 percent in 2011 (the last year on record); the underpayment rate went from 1 percent to 0.9 percent; the combined error rate in 2011 was only 3.8 percent; and the overpayment rates are counted as errors even when recouped. 

I wonder if our officials are aware that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office points out that one-fifth of the increase in SNAP monies from 2007-2011 comes from the temporary allowance of higher benefits through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and that higher costs of food and lower earned wages during the recession play a key role in the difference?

I also hope our officials realize that a wide range of religious leaders have converged from various traditions in a coalition called the Circle of Protection. They consider support of SNAP among its core commitments. These leaders and faith groups include our own church, the ELCA, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners, Bread for the World, the National Council of Churches, the Salvation Army, World Vision and a long list of additional Christian clergy leaders from other traditions across the spectrum. The Jewish community, in a variety of forms, also advocates for SNAP, as does the Muslim community.

The inaccurate statement in the letter our daughter received back from Capitol Hill insults more than one-eighth of South Dakota constituents by suggesting that the primary reason for the increase to SNAP is because of loopholes in the system (loopholes which are then exploited), and fraud from the recipients. 

SNAP is part of the Farm Bill because it is not only a nutritional assistance program; it is also an agricultural assistance program. Feeding hungry people also means feeding farmers, by way of compensating them for their hard work in the fields and on the farms.

We have farmers in South Dakota. We have hungry people in South Dakota. 

I urge our officials in Washington, D.C., to protect SNAP from harmful cuts that would hurt farmers and the poor, not only in South Dakota, but across our nation.

Poverty, policy and the classroom

Erin Ryono Wener

Erin Ryono Werner

By Erin Ryono Werner

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
 – Paulo Freire

I became a high school English teacher because I believe in the strength of words. Reading moves students to live lives beyond their own. Writing empowers them. I echo the words of Carlos Fuente: “Writing is a struggle against silence.”

Yet, I realize that this is not the classroom many students experience. I remember a hip hop song from my high school days: “Man that school *$%t is a joke. The same people who control the school system control the prison system, and the whole social system. Ever since slavery, know what I’m sayin’?” I didn’t really know what they were saying, but I think I understand a little better now. To some, the classroom is a harbinger of freedom and a better life; to others, it is a bolster of cyclical poverty.

As I consider Lutheran advocacy in the fight against poverty and hunger, I can’t help but picture the classroom. I believe school has the potential to be a great equalizer, and in creative ways, the church can help.

We can continue to support successful programs.

About 40 percent of the children in our school district in Oregon receive free and reduced lunch and breakfast. Kids come to class, for the most part, with full stomachs. In Central Oregon, the Family Access Network, which is primarily federally funded and based in schools, ensures that children receive medical care, school supplies, clothing and rent assistance.

Other programs are at risk and need our help.

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of children from low-income families. Parents who cannot afford preschool send their kids to Head Start so that they might be on an even playing field with their more privileged peers. Under sequestration (and even alternative budget proposals), this program is facing devastating budget cuts — budget cuts that would deepen inequalities long present in our country.

We must defend programs that benefit those already at a gross disadvantage and partner with them in creative ways.

Our congregation, Nativity Lutheran, realized that our building sat vacant for the majority of the week, so in 2010 we opened the education wing to the struggling Head Start Program. A member of our community recognized the weekend nutrition gap for students receiving free and reduced lunch. Every week, her organization sends out hundreds of backpacks full of food for students to take home. We must urge our public officials to prioritize these programs that replace poverty with opportunity for our students. 

We are called to reach out to all people with the love of Jesus Christ. In creative ways, policy and outreach can synthesize to do just that. I’m in the classroom every day, so I’ll start there. Where will you begin?


A Commandment of Love

By Jesse McClain, student at California Lutheran University

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

 There are hundreds of commandments in the Bible, everything from not mixing different fabrics to not eating fat. This commandment we read from the book of Micah is the center of our call to strive for justice in our world. This commandment is a commandment of love. 

 My mom passed away this summer very unexpectedly. Through the shock and mourning there was something I kept feeling when talking with family members, friends, co-workers and all the people my mom had interacted with in her life: love. My mom worked at a homeless shelter in our town. What made her an asset to the shelter was her endless love and kindness to everyone who walked through the door. She knew she had the gift to love and gave it freely and used it to change lives.

One of my most prized attributes passed down to me from my mom was a burning passion for helping people. I have found that a lot can be done by someone with this burning passion to make a change. Working for justice in our world — through direct service and through public policy advocacy based on this service — can be tiresome and incredibly discouraging. It may seem as if all of our time and effort only results in a very small dent, sometimes not even noticeable by the human eye.

That is why we are told to walk humbly. God has not commanded us to change the world on our own, but has commanded all Christians to change the world together — and our God goes with us. That small dent we make may not be detectable by the human eye, but a bunch of small dents made by our brothers and sisters in Christ who share our passions for serving our vulnerable neighbors can definitely be seen and felt in our world.


Jesse and his mom

So, as the passage in Micah says: love. Love endlessly and passionately. Love the people who need it the most. Love in company of others. And most importantly, love through and with God.

Excellence at an impasse

Sarah Dreier

Sarah Dreier

By Sarah Dreier, Legislative Representative of International Policy for the ELCA and The Episcopal Church 

The discipline of yoga has taught me to realize that I am whole in God, regardless of what goes on around me — that no experiences I encounter in my worldly life will adulterate that godly wholeness. Drawing on this notion of spiritual wholeness, I have developed and redefined what it means to be excellent in my work as the legislative representative of international policy for the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, even as I tackle worldly injustices that seem utterly impassable.

Every day, I work with Congress and the Administration to challenge them to address and abate global injustices, including hunger, malnutrition, lack of development, violence and other human rights violations. I advocate for U.S. policies that will help eradicate extreme poverty, increase child and maternal nutrition, combat HIV and AIDS, address the atrocities of human trafficking, and hold multinational corporations accountable to the taxes they are so adept at evading. I urge Congress to pass an annual federal budget that is consistent with our church’s commitments to address poverty and support those who are most vulnerable in the United States and around the world.

And I am not alone. I work with a network of professionals in Washington, D.C., and New York — and with engaged Lutherans and Episcopalians all over the country — who are committed to speaking reason to partisanship, justice to power, generosity to profane greed; to confronting poverty, racism, sexism, violence, climate change and all other forces that subjugate rather than emancipate God’s people.

Even working together, these enormous objectives seem insurmountable, impassable.

But this should not intimidate us to respond to worldly impasses by surrendering or lowering our standards of success. Instead, through, with and for God, we may be driven by a different kind of excellence — a spiritual excellence that enables us to overcome even the most challenging worldly impasses.

What does it mean to be excellent servants of God as we face and try to overcome these worldly impasses? Surely, we must not misinterpret Jesus’ warning that the poor will always be among us (John 12:8) as permission to surrender to these impasses of injustice. We are instead commanded to open our hands to the poor and needy in our land (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Two principles have guided my own understanding of excellence, within these worldly constraints:

First, take a leap of faith, and trust that God is working through us to overcome the impassable.

Last week, I heard a representative from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ruminate on the global fight against AIDS in the last few decades — how unbeatable the pandemic seemed at so many critical junctures, and yet the unthinkable progress that our world has seen in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Today, scientists and politicians agree that if countries and international actors maintain a strong commitment to treating and preventing HIV and AIDS, the end of the pandemic is within our reach. Talk about surmounting impasses!

This is just one example, and we have seen, time and again — around the world — that through God, nothing is insurmountable.

Second, redefine excellence, oriented not only toward large accomplishments or measurable changes, but focused instead on the “least of these” — the poor, vulnerable, excluded and weary among us.

When we redefine our own excellence in terms of our service to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) — the poor and weary among us — we begin to recognize the unseen vulnerable whose lives are better because we engage them and work with them to lighten their burden (even when we do not overcome the big-picture obstacles), or the contributions that our diverse body of Christ are making to a public dialogue and an evolving public ethic.

We in the church are counter-cultural, tasked to uplift an ethic that prioritizes and exults the “least of these” in a Wall Street, partisan, radically individualistic world. When we remember that we are made in the image of God, this spiritual wholeness frees us from being restricted to worldly impasses. We are freed to reorient our notion of ethics toward those whom society has cast aside. And this leap of faith and redefining of excellence — I believe this is what makes us truly excellent in the eyes of God.

Food and Community: a spiritual reflection

We close the September edition of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this spiritual reflection.

By the Rev. Carol Jensen, co-chair of Faith Action Network of Washington State (successor to the Lutheran Public Policy Office)

Most Sunday afternoons during the summer months, you will find me at the Everett Farmers Market, a short distance from my home. The first time I saw the sign “WIC and Senior Farmers Market Checks Welcome Here” prominently displayed on the stalls, I have to admit a surge of pride. Lutherans in Washington played a key role in bringing this program to our state — ELCA members and congregations have been longtime advocates for these important programs. Even more exciting, however, was observing real people exchange these checks for the fresh vegetables and fruits grown by local farmers.

The Washington State Farmers Market Nutrition Program is a blessing to seniors, low income families, and the farmers seeking a living from the land, but it is also a blessing to the wider community. In part due to this program, our Farmers Markets have become places where people interact across the boundaries that often divide us from one another (e.g., age, race, class and rural/urban). The Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks are a small part of the markets’ economy, yet they help create a much more diverse community of participants than would occur without them.

In late August, the church concluded five weeks of gospel readings from John 6, beginning with Jesus feeding 5,000 people and continuing with Jesus’ commentary that he is the bread of life that can satisfy our deepest hunger for communion with God. These texts show us God’s desire for our material and spiritual well-being, and also for bringing us into relationship with God and with one another. In the sacramental meal, we receive the bread that is Christ’s body and we become Christ’s body in God’s world. We are entrusted with the mission not only to feed people but to bring people into relationship with one another.

The WIC and Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program is one particular way for us as taxpayers to serve the mission of God to feed the world as well as to build diverse, interdependent communities. Through Christ, God breaks down the walls that are between us. Picture a grandmother living on Social Security, a single mom with two toddlers in a stroller, a Spanish-speaking farmer from the Yakima Valley, an engineer from The Boeing Company, a man in a wheel chair all gathered around the cherries and cucumbers that were sustainably grown in local orchards and fields. It is a scene to remind us that we are fed by the bounty of God’s earth and the relationships that bind us together with God and one another.

Policy connecting growers and consumers

We continue the September edition of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this piece, examining how federal policy affects our food, our neighbors, and our communities.

By Mary Minette, director for environmental education and advocacy, ELCA Washington Office

This month, the “Advocating on the Road” blog series explored a program that combines support for farms and farming communities with efforts to reduce hunger and improve nutrition among low income families. The Farmers Market Nutrition Programs in Washington state are funded by state and federal dollars and represent a new approach to food policy — one that looks at our food systems as a whole, rather than as disparate pieces. These programs support not only those who grow food, but also those who eat food, and perhaps most importantly, these programs pay attention to the systems and communities that connect growers and consumers.

The Washington state Farmers Market Nutrition Programs reflect a new direction in federal farm policy that began with the 2008 Farm Bill with an effort to help more farmers markets process the electronic benefit transfer cards that states use to distribute nutrition benefits such as the Women, Infant, and Children nutrition (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly known as food stamps). The 2008 Farm Bill coupled these electronic benefit transfer initiatives with efforts to encourage new farmers markets in underserved communities, where access to fresh food is limited. The 2008 Farm Bill set aside 10 percent of the funds allocated to the Farmers Market Promotion Program to support the use of electronic benefit transfers at farmers markets and community-supported agriculture enterprises. By 2011, 2,400 farmers markets nationwide were authorized to accept electronic benefit transfers, and that number continues to grow.

The expansion of farmers markets into new communities benefits more than low income families who receive food assistance. Farmers markets also benefit others in the community who now have increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables at their local farmers market, the farmers (who keep more of the consumer’s dollar by selling directly to those who eat what they grow), and the people who are hired to work in farmers markets and who work in businesses nearby that may see increased traffic on market days. In addition, there are the less easily measured benefits to the health of communities amid growing concerns among public health professionals about poor nutrition and obesity, particularly among our children and youth.

The 2008 Farm Bill that made this possible is due to expire in less than one week (on Sunday, September 30). Although the United States Senate passed a bill in early summer that would renew the Farmers Market Promotion Program — and with it the electronic benefit transfers program for WIC and SNAP recipients — leadership in the House of Representatives has so far been unwilling to allow a floor vote on a House farm bill. Absent a new farm bill, the House and Senate must vote to extend the current bill or many farm and food programs will expire — small, new and innovative programs, such as the Farmers Market programs, are particularly vulnerable to being cut and eliminated as lawmakers argue over declining pots of federal dollars and large programs, including SNAP and traditional farm supports, take up the lion’s share of the smaller amounts that remain. The House left for recess this past Friday without passing either a new farm bill or extending current legislation; they plan to return after the election for a lame duck session.

Also, last week the House of Representatives passed a six-month Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government until the end of March 2013, which failed to provide extended funding for a number of farm conservation programs. Through this exclusion, the House’s Continuing Resolution removed these farm conservation programs from the “baseline” of funding that will be available when Congress finally turns its attention to a new farm bill. This lower baseline means that if these conservation programs are to continue under a new bill, there will need to be cuts in other programs — perhaps including the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the electronic benefit transfers program.

We’ve heard this month how the policy written, voted upon, and signed into law in our state and national capitols deeply affects the lives of parents, children, seniors, and farmers. These policy initiatives, like the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs in Washington state, are more than line items of a budget or words in the pages of a mammoth bill. Strong policy can have a direct, positive impact on our lives and the lives of our neighbors — strong policy can help us build more vibrant and hunger-free communities.



Fresh and Local Food for All

Healthy Food & Food Systems 2We continue the “Advocating on the Road” series, exploring hunger-free and vibrant communities in Washington state. 

Kurt Tonnemaker is a familiar face at farmers markets around the Seattle area. Each week, Tonnemaker Brothers, Inc. packs and sells produce — peaches, cherries, apples, pears, plums, peppers and more — from Kurt’s family’s farm in Royal City, Wash., and travels to as many as 18 farmers markets in a single weekend. 

The produce Kurt sells is grown as sustainably as possible on land inherited from Kurt’s paternal grandfather, a horticulture extension agent in Eastern Washington. “My grandfather’s family moved from Nebraska in 1903. In their move west, they brought produce with them in a wagon. I guess you can say this passion runs in the family,” Kurt says. “When he retired from extension work in 1962, my grandfather bought this land from a Korean War veteran, and the farm has been in the family ever since. My brother, Kole, started in 1980 and expanded the varieties of what we grow. I joined in 1992 and helped develop our business from two or three farmers markets to many more.”

Kurt’s passion for his work shines through to those he meets, as he explains why he values this work. “One of the most important aspects of my job is that I get to help reconnect people to who grows their food. Cherries don’t just come out of a bag, you know,” Kurt jokes. “One hundred years ago everyone either knew or was a farmer. Now, farmers are less than 2 percent of the population. Naturally, people are far removed from who grows their food, and they don’t eat as much fresh food anymore. At the farmers markets, we can help reconnect our customers.”

“Farmers markets sometimes get a bad rap because the prices are higher — it does cost more to pack and handle just-picked, ripe foods,” Kurt notes. “We do sell certified organic produce, and we try to price our stuff so everyone can buy it. Good, fresh food should not be just for the rich.”

Kurt’s family’s work of growing and selling affordable, quality foods to a diverse customer-base is supported in part by the state’s Famers Market Nutrition Program for low-income and senior Washingtonians. The program is an initiative that operates using federal and state funding. It allows seniors and those who receive WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program benefits to use their benefits for fresh produce at farmers markets, sold by producers like Kurt.

During the 2012 legislative session Kurt joined Lutheran advocates at the state capitol in Olympia to express the importance of these programs to their lawmakers. “We understand that money is tight in the state budget, but we needed to tell them the money for this program is critically important. I helped tell our officials that when money is sent to the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, it goes back to the farmer and back to our state. By paying the farmers, the WIC and senior customers are getting fresher produce and the money generated vitalizes our local and state economy,” Kurt explains.

“The senators and representatives are excited to talk to people who are benefited by these programs. They’re also trying to make the program as streamlined as possible, so it’s good to talk to farmers to see if where they’re spending the money is worth it.”

“I had to make sure my voice is heard”

We continue the Washington state leg of the “Advocating on the Road” series…

Tammy Nguyen is a second generation Vietnamese American and a single mother, whose life’s work grew out of what she experienced while receiving WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition benefits. When Tammy learned she could redeem WIC benefits at farmers markets (through the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program) in her state, she started exploring farmers markets in Seattle with her children. “I knew it would be so hard to feed my child nutritiously because I didn’t make enough money on my own. Through the WIC program, I was able to feed my children the healthy food from the farmers markets. So often, this type of eating is a luxury — low income people can’t usually buy fresh produce grown locally.”

After she and her children transitioned off the WIC program, Tammy began to focus her energies on ensuring that other low income children had access to nutritious food. She began working with a local nonprofit, Got Green, a grassroots group in the Seattle area led by young adults and people of color that promotes an equitable, green economy.

Got Green recently surveyed low income women and women of color in Seattle on a variety of issues, and learned that 40 percent of them put access to healthy food as their first priority. Tammy came away from this process thinking, “How can we put more food dollars into low-income families’ pockets?” and, reflecting on her own experiences, advised that Got Green make the preservation of Washington’s WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program an advocacy priority. 

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program is a state and federally funded nutrition program that helps provide low-income WIC households and senior citizens access to locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Lutheran advocates in Washington are longtime supporters of the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs because of the critical role they play in alleviating hunger in the state, in supporting local farmers and growers, and in stimulating the local economy.

In the 2012 session of the Washington state legislature, the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs were on the block to be eliminated due to the harsh budget climate in the state. “We worked to organize throughout the community and we wrote to our legislators to tell them how important the program was to Washington families,” Tammy describes. “And we brought women who had been served by the program to Olympia to speak to elected officials and their staff. They needed to hear directly from families how devastating the cuts would be.”

Assisted by Lutheran advocates within the Faith Action Network in Washington, the Got Green group met with various officials and left informational material behind in the offices of staff with whom they were unable to meet. “The meetings went very well and, ultimately, the program was saved and it still exists today. At the time we didn’t know what would happen and we were so relieved when the program made it out of both the State House and Senate budgets, then into the final budget the governor signed,” she said.

These victories cause Tammy to reflect on why she became involved in advocacy in her home state. “I was so tired of seeing lawmakers bypass us — low-income, immigrant families. In order to reform this pattern, I had to be at the front. I had to get my community to move with me and I had to make sure my voice is heard by our lawmakers.”

In Washington state and in Washington, D.C., the decisions by lawmakers affect the vibrancy of our farms and communities, as well as the ability for everyone to obtain healthy food.  Click here to learn more about how to urge our federal lawmakers for strong food and farm policy now.