How Two Vegan Activists Delivered 5K+ Plant-Based Meals
5 Simple Steps to Creating Your Own Food Relief Program
Posted on September 22, 2020 by Ilyse Wassermann Petter and Kris Malone Grossman
Why should anyone who’s hungry have to eat food that harms animals, the planet, and by extension, all human beings?
Why should anyone who’s hungry be expected to accept food that is not healthful?
Why not have plant-based options at every community food pantry, all the time, when we can offer more nutritious food for a fraction of the cost, food that is appropriate for all cultures?
These were the questions that inspired the creation of Seed Releaf, a small organization founded to serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seed Releaf teamed up with restaurants, community organizations, local organic farms, and plant-based food companies to offer freshly-made meals to families in need. Since its formation in April, Seed Releaf has delivered more than 5,000 plant-based, nutrient-dense, locally-sourced meals throughout Marin County, California.
In this article, we share what motivated us to start Seed Releaf, how it works, and how you can replicate our model for your community in five simple steps.
Who is Behind Seed Releaf?
I’m Ilyse Wassermann Petter, a practicing plant-based clinical nutritionist focused exclusively on supporting clients in transitioning to a plant-based diet. My family and I live a vegan lifestyle.
When COVID-19 hit, I was volunteering at a food bank that was donating hams! Offering meat felt out-of-balance and counterintuitive, given that COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease and that animal agriculture is destroying our planet. I felt that donating animal products was the wrong direction for relief efforts, yet, I could not find any vegan food-relief initiatives in my community.
I’m Kris Malone Grossman. As a mother and feminist scholar of Women’s Spirituality, co-founding an effort such as Seed Releaf is but one means for me to engage in the heart-centered work of tikkun olam — repairing self, community, and the world.
COVID-19 has profoundly intensified existing social inequities, not least of which is hunger. I believe any system that denies people access to food, especially during a pandemic, is unacceptable.
As the founders of Seed Releaf, our goal is to disrupt the food industrial complex by making organic, plant-based meals and produce available at fair prices in all communities.
How Seed Releaf Works
We started by forming partnerships with local restaurants to purchase low-cost vegan meals to serve the immediate needs of Marin County families. We also provide a Spanish/English educational handout that demonstrates the benefits of a plant-based diet for their health, the planet, and the animals. This important “take-home” resource facilitates an interest in continuing a plant-based life.
We then expanded our partnerships to area organic farms that provide their produce directly to restaurants to use in our vegan meals. One such partner is F.E.E.D. Sonoma, a cooperative of 80 local organic farms. We also formed partnerships with food companies Miyoko’s Creamery and Beyond Meat, who provide in-kind donations to our partnered chefs to use in our meals.
Seed Releaf + VegFund
We are so grateful for the support from VegFund, whose grant helped us provide 300 vegan meals to families at the Venetia Valley School meal pantry this summer. VegFund’s critical support for our community collaboration helped neighbors in need, restaurants, and the planet by offering the only vegan meals on-site.
Thanks to continued community collaboration and support, we have consistently provided meals for Venetia Valley school children and families. These meals are made with fresh, organic, and local produce that heal and fortify the body.
And, because we are sourcing from local restaurants, we are helping to keep staff employed. This model of mutually beneficial support is one we’re committed to continuing to cultivate, not only through our partnership with F.E.E.D. Sonoma but also with the community and our restaurant partners.
Volunteers at Seed Releaf bear witness to the excellence and care that goes into every meal. They see the difference between our meals made with love and the bags filled with day-old pastries and feel proud of what they are offering.
When we provide meals that are nourishing and not harmful to physical, emotional, and spiritual health, the recipients feel seen. One person told us, “your food shows us that you care about us.” Having access to nutrient-dense food means that those traumatized by loss of employment or other impacts of COVID-19 aren’t further traumatized.
We’ve served more than 5,000 meals, but the impact of this work can’t be measured with numbers alone. This relationship-centered work honors people and the planet.
What We’ve Learned: Five Simple Steps to Start Your Own Vegan Food Relief Program
Right now, there is a huge opportunity to do advocacy work for food equity, and we’ve designed our model to be easily replicable. Here are the steps we suggest to start a similar effort near you:
Assemble a core team and delegate tasks. For us, this process involved making cold calls and sending emails to local city and county agencies, faith organizations, individuals, educators, and public schools. Reaching out allowed us to connect with folks who are already working for food justice. Be tenacious. We did not stop until we connected with at least one person at each organization. We also consulted with people in our respective activist communities for advice and to help us connect with others. Of course, we also called on friends, family, and other acquaintances to spread the word.
Canvas existing community organizations to determine where the need is most acute and partner with them to assist in addressing that need. Seed Releaf works with a range of organizations, including public schools, faith-based organizations, municipal agencies, and not-for-profits.
Contact local restaurants, farms, and food companies to discuss potential win-win partnerships. Remember, even chefs at non-vegan dedicated restaurants will work to create plant-based meals!
Set a goal (such as 50 meals for one specific date or event or 25 meals per week for a month), then fundraise within your network of family and friends.Apply for grants. Ask for in-kind donations. Remember, every single meal makes a difference. Think: small and achievable.
Spread the word. People everywhere are looking for ways to get involved and will be happy to support your effort. We announced the launch of Seed Releaf on Facebook and Instagram. Of course, we asked for donations, but we also asked people to share our message. We tagged like-minded organizations doing similar work, many of whom posted about us in their stories. These connections led us to partner with vegan food companies such as Miyoko’s and Beyond Meat. That said, in every instance, it was phone calls that ultimately connected us to donors (individual, corporate), advisors, potential community partners, restaurant owners, and our fiscal sponsors. We also arranged masked, socially distanced in-person meetings to forge partnerships.
If you’d like to start a program similar to Seed Releaf but need advice or help getting started, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s Next for Seed Releaf
We are currently developing plant-based, Seed Releaf meals to become permanent menu items at partnering restaurants such as Wildseed, Floodwater, Juice Girl, and BŌL. Beyond Meat and Miyoko’s Creamery have agreed to support this project with one-for-one pricing for restaurants, making vegan menu options even more achievable!
A portion of the proceeds of each Seed Releaf menu item sold will help to fund our work, shifting the restaurant for-profit model from within and embedding ways to give to the community directly into restaurant spaces.
We are also developing a curriculum on plant-based cooking, gardening, and nutrition for the K–12 after-school program at Play Marin, one of our nonprofit community partners in Marin City.
Class topics will include making plant-based meals with five items or fewer, cooking in season, growing food in simple container gardens, and eating vegan to benefit our bodies and the planet.
In addition, Hamama is donating 100 microgreen starter kits with free refills to Seed Releaf for distribution to school kids in Venetia Valley and Marin City, which they can use to grow microgreens year-round.
For more information about Seed Releaf or to get involved, please visit our website at seedreleaf.org.
Communities everywhere could benefit from local initiatives like Seed Releaf’s, especially now that families have additional burdens due to the COVID crisis. Complete meal programs aren’t a traditional part of VegFund’s grants, but if you’re ready to build partnerships that disrupt the status quo of food systems and make nourishing vegan food accessible to all, let us know. We may be able to help. Learn more about how we can fund your vegan advocacy project.