Tacoma man launches 'Food is Free' project after learning his neighborhood is a food desert

TACOMA, Wash. -- One in seven people in Washington state lack access to sufficient food for a healthy and active lifestyle, according to a report by the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department.

The lack of quality food options has created what the health department calls “Food Deserts,” but one man is taking the health of his community into his own hands, one vegetable at a time.

“I got squash, this is sauerkraut. I’ve got some tomatoes, peas, this is French pumpkins, corn, and a dozen eggs,” David Thompson said pointing to the home-grown food on a table in his front lawn. The harvest is more than showcasing his gardening talents.

“I put a sign out here and I give it to my neighbors,” said Thompson.

The signs say “Food is Free.” Thompson started the “Food is Free Project Tacoma.”

“It’s an international movement, really big in Australia and around the world,” said Thompson.

The movement is part of the non-profit “The Food is Free Project,” encouraging local communities to take health into their own hands by growing organic food and sharing it with others.

“Hopefully we’ll see this all over Tacoma,” said Thompson. He says some of his neighbors are already inspired and plan to add to his table next spring with crops they’ve started to grow.

In Tacoma’s south end, Thompson says quality organic food options aren’t abundant.

“We don’t have much food available, it’s kind of a food desert around here,” said Thompson.

This map from the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department shows those food deserts where quality healthy food options have been stripped away over the past 50 years as the multiple grocery stores and deli’s disappear and the area overtaken by big box stores.

“We have a Fred Meyer down the street and a Safeway about a mile down the street. That’s your two choices,” said Thompson.

Choices are something Thompson knows all too well.

“Yes, I had testicular cancer back 30 years ago,” he said. After cancer healthy living became a priority and a passion.

“I learned then that if you’re given another chance and when you are, you have to take advantage of it,” said Thompson.

So 10 years ago, he started planting a garden full of greens.

“This is broccoli right here, I kind of mix everything together,” he said.

Thompson says his backyard is kind of like life, sometimes you have to weed through the dirt before you can reap the seeds you sow, and if you have people to share the harvest with, that’s a life full of flavor.

“There’s nothing like a fine ripe vine tomato, it’s good eating,” said Thompson.

A number of community agencies, community groups, and coalitions are continuously working together to meet demonstrated need in the greater Tacoma area. Page 43 of the Mobile Market Readiness Assessment: Addressing Food Access in Tacoma lists places to find healthy food in the city.