Free meal boxes, and the need for them, have increased since the onslaught of COVID-19. The Wave's Food Program provides more than a box - it offers a hot meal and an economic marketplace for the region's fishermen.
Here I am catching a cool moment in the refrigerated truck at a coordinated food distribution effort with Columbia Gorge Food Bank at City Hall in Cascade Locks, Oregon.
This wasn't in the original plan.
Me, standing behind a rented refrigerated truck with our Executive Director, Justin Zeulner, and Disaster Relief expert, Bobby Rodrigo, bagging three fillets of Alaska lingcod with a recipe card, spinning the bag and tying it off with a red twist tie. This switch to distributing seafood to the people of a small town along the Columbia River under the hot sun of an Oregon July came courtesy of COVID-19. The crisis brought into light the fragility of the U.S. food system and forced many to face food insecurity for the first time. We had already been developing our program for healthy and sustainable food and it was now thrust into the top spot of importance, in a way we had not originally imagined.
Let me assure you, we did have a plan.
And it involved all the places we love to spend time with family and friends: aquariums, amphitheaters, golf courses, ski resorts, sports stadiums, science and technology centers, public landmarks, zoos. Wherever we wanted to be, that was where we wanted partnerships. Why did we want those partnerships? To make considerable and measurable impact toward defending the natural beauty of the Northwest and its economic vitality by using the collective energy of these entities to move forward on environmental and sustainability efforts.
One of the brainstorming sessions with potential partners helped us identify themes that are the foundation of The Wave.
Can you imagine?
10 million plus people between staff, members, visitors, fans, suppliers, and volunteers all working together to save not only our upper left corner of the nation, but the entire planet? We envisioned our local communities enjoying the benefits of:
Building a strong, clean energy economy
Breathing healthy air and drinking pure water
Sharing economic resources
Addressing environmental inequities
Engaging and activating youth
We logged many hours on phone calls to contacts we already had, and we reached out to new people in new sectors. There were focus groups, team meetings, and we even shared a plate of barbecued crickets (yes, the insect!) at a baseball game. In person. With other people. Face-to-face. Remember that?
My bus ride to Portland on the Central Oregon Breeze, when I should have been flying to Seattle for our public launch.
And then there was the snow storm to hit Seattle on our public launch day of January 15, 2020. We had to cancel our in-person event at the Seattle Aquarium. Our first move to a new virtual climate (that now seems prescient) was because the snow and ice that was forecast spelled trouble for travel. We moved forward with a social media blitz among our new partners to launch The Wave.
We established working groups and started to fill in our five programs:
We were adamant that these programs could be implemented by businesses and individuals and would benefit the communities surrounding them. We moved on projects to electrify vehicle fleets, kick plastic water bottles out of operations, and close the loop on food waste. We were on our way to events and venues that were not only fun and educational, but environmentally sound and offering healthy and sustainable food as an experience
And then there was COVID-19
I likely don't need to tell you that the first publicized case in the United States was out of Seattle. Where we had held brainstorming sessions with round tables of people passionate to do better for the environment. Where we had a large number of partners that rely on masses of people passing through their gates to pay their employees, their suppliers, and feed their animals. It all came to an abrupt halt. No more groups of people meant no more business for many of our partners. We knew we still had something worth holding on to and that all we needed to do was change our focus. And this is where I give immense gratitude to the tenacity of the Wave's leader and Executive Director, Justin Zeulner. Rather than sit back, he acted. A plan was created to move forward and move forward we did.
“We started looking around to see who is left behind in the relief efforts. It was clear that the seafood industry and our regional Tribal Nations are ignored.” -Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of The Wave Foundation
The abrupt halt of business from venues and restaurants to the food industry was unprecedented and there was now food in these places that needed to find a new home or be tossed. There were also farms, dairies, ranches, and fishing boats with nowhere to send bulk lots of their harvests and processors weren't prepared to switch from bulk to retail packaging. We all saw the newscasts and YouTube videos of dairy being dumped, mountains of potatoes being given away for free, and people lining up and waiting hours to receive food boxes.
Potatoes were the talk of the nation when they were delivered to the Tacoma Dome for free distribution. Stock photo.
We brought together our steering committee, partners, and other connections that we thought could help create solutions for the breakdown in the food system and our Wave Food Program was born. With the serendipity that seems to follow our co-founder and resident Fisher Poet, Kevin Scribner, we were able to create a partnership with Alaskans Own and Catch Together to provide sustainably-caught fish as a tasty and healthy protein for our Food Box Program. We learned from Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association Executive Director Linda Behnken that moving fish from Sitka to Seattle is all together easy, difficult, and a mystery. With the added generosity of Lineage Logistics at the pier in Seattle, we found ourselves with a fish bounty of 40,000 pounds of frozen lingcod and sablefish. A generous private foundation assisted this collaboration and allowed the fish to get caught, the fishermen and crew to make a living wage, and fish processors to help sustain its workforce during a time that seemed (and still seems) very uncertain. All which feeds into our Food Program ideal of increasing regional food recovery, getting people back to work, shifting to more resilient community food systems, and feeding the food insecure. Which is how our team and I found ourselves bagging fillets of Alaska lingcod behind a refrigerated truck.
Koi Fusion brought two food trucks to Cascade Locks, OR to provide hot meals of teriyaki lingcod rice bowls to area residents.
The first distribution
We looked at current programs and searched for those who were being left behind with the programs already in place. What we discovered is that rural areas and Tribal Nation communities were being left out of many crisis relief efforts. We connected with Columbia Gorge Food Bank, Buck Jones and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), and enlisted our managing partner, Food Fleet, to activate their food truck network and headed to Cascade Locks, Oregon, population 1,169, along the breathtaking Columbia River. From the parking lot of City Hall, we served the local Tribal Nation community and food insecure area residents with 3- to 4-pound bags of fish and a hot teriyaki lingcod rice bowl courtesy of Koi Fusion and Food Fleet. What the fish gave to us that day was more than a hot meal and the knowledge that we were sending people home with a healthy protein. The fish offered community, gratitude, service, and the knowledge that we have what we need when we work together, take care of each other, and take care of the land and oceans that make up our home in the universe.
“I woke up to a food truck in my front yard and I thought, this is the best day of my life!” -Cascade Locks resident
National Seafood Month
As it happens, October is National Seafood Month. We will be posting our blog as a Wednesday Wave to those who follow. You will get first-hand accounts of distribution events and crisis relief, delicious recipes for seafood, learn about the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the health of our oceans and rivers, and you'll hear from guest bloggers. We will focus on seafood in October and move on to other themes related to our programs in the following months. We hope you'll join us.
Fish tip #1
How you thaw your fish can make all the difference in enjoying this healthy protein. Learn Chef Jeffrey Mora's dry brine and wet brine reconstituting methods below.
A wave of gratitude
There were so many people and organizations that supported The Wave Foundation from its lightbulb moment in Justin's head, through our first distribution day, to now, and who have expressed the desire to support and join us on this wild surf ride into the future. We'd be remiss if we didn't share our appreciation for them every chance we get. Current supporting partners of the Food Program include: Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association (ALFA), Alaskans Own, Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, Alpine Foods, B-Line, Catch Together, Charlie's Produce, Climate Solutions, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), Ecotrust, FareStart, Fish People, Food Fleet, Forever Wild Seafood, Lineage Logistics, Marine Fish Conservation Network, ReFED, Salmon-Safe, Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC), nutritionist Dr. Bethany Tennant, local chefs, and restaurants, and more. And the best set of waves to the tireless energy of Chef Jeffrey Mora of Food Fleet, and Kevin Scribner of Kooskooskie Fish, and Gregg Small of Climate Solutions. And wishes for an electric refrigerated truck for our Disaster Relief expert, Bobby Rodrigo. And lastly, even though they were first, without the unwavering belief and trust of NatureWorks, we wouldn't have that first dollar to frame.