The brightly colored building on 18th Street in Astoria may not appear very large, but the North Coast Food Web, the non-profit organization that operates there, makes good use of the space. “We have lots of hands-on activities for all ages in our kitchen. We also host a farmers market on-site and rent out some of the space to a local meal box program,” details Executive Director Jessika Tantisook.
All of these programs sound like they could be a lot to handle, but Tantisook manages everything as a part-time director. “We rely on volunteers to run most of our programs,” she explains.
When Tantisook is not working at the Food Web, she is across the river helping to manage an organic cranberry farm. Before moving to the coast, she did community food system work in Ohio. After tackling the challenge of converting the cranberry farm to a certified organic operation, she wanted to play an additional role in our community food system. Earlier this year she decided to take on the role of executive director in addition to her farm duties. Before Tantisook joined the organization, the Food Web was run by the Board of Directors and one paid Kitchen Coordinator, Wendy D’Agostino.
Using Tantisook’s background in food system work, the organization engages people across the community in food related programs. “We have three main program areas: community education, organization for producers, and community food assistance. We have a number of programs in each of these areas, and we are always looking for volunteers to help out,” she says.
Under education, the North Coast Food Web offers cooking classes for kids and adults. In 2016 the organization taught a total of 64 cooking classes. Kids camps are offered during school breaks and focus on putting a new twist on food kids may be used to. For example, kids might make a peanut butter and jelly smoothie one day. Five kids camps are planned for 2018. Adult cooking classes include spice nights, pie classes, soup classes and other themes. Full scholarships are available for cooking classes.
They take their classes out to the community and offer classes at Columbia Memorial Hospital and local schools. Other educational programming includes engaging students in activities for Food Day. The organization created a vegetable petting zoo where kids could learn what different vegetables are like. They also deliver fruit boxes to local schools so kids can have access to a healthy snack.
The organization also supports local producers by being a point organization. The North Coast Food Web hosts the only local farmers market that focuses on food, and it is free for farmers to participate. River People Farmers Market is held once a month in 2017, and the schedule has not been set for 2018. The organization has also created a farm guide listing local farms, hosts Farmer-Chef Connections and Meet-Your-Farmer events, and serves as a drop point for Community Supported Agriculture boxes.
To provide community food assistance, the North Coast Food Web provides a meal at the Astoria Warming Center three nights each week, but may cut back in 2018. They also provide an EBT match at the River People Farmers Market.
When asked about rewarding parts of the job, Tantisook responds, “A lot of progress has been made, and access to local food has increased. Kids’ food proficiency is increasing, and that’s good to see.”
There is always a need for volunteers, and volunteers can choose from the wide variety of programs that they would like to support. There are also volunteer opportunities to help with general non-profit management activities, such as fundraising. In 2016, 2,389 volunteer hours were recorded.
“Our board is very helpful for fundraising. We are also thankful for all of our partners,” Tantisook says. The organization receives funds from grants, various government bodies, revenue from programs, individuals and local businesses.
“There’s always a lot going on around here,” Tantisook says. For more information about upcoming events with North Coast Food Web, click here. All events take place at the North Coast Food Web, located at 577 18th Street, Astoria.