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.