by Pia K. Hansen

She has protested the waste-to-energy plant for as long as it's been around. She's a farmer and a strong spokeswoman for small local growers, lobbying the legislature, local representatives and farm organizations to focus their attention on sustainable organic agriculture and the value of being able to grow the food we need in the areas where we live. She's long campaigned against chemicals in our environment and advocated for clean air, clean water and a safe food source, especially for children. And now BrightSpirit has a new project in the works.

"I guess I've turned into a farmer who is trying to grow more farmers," she says with a big smile, as we meet in the back of the empty Music City storefront in downtown Spokane. The grassroots group People for Environmental Action and Children's Health (PEACH), of which BrightSpirit is president and co-founder, is using the old store on the City Terminal block as the downtown basis for the PEACH Safe Food Project -- a community building farming cooperative that distributes produce to member families once a week.

"In our guinea-pig group, we had about 13 families, but now they are beginning to add up really fast," she says. "We are planing to proceed very carefully so we don't grow too fast."

But wait, there's only a couple of apples sitting around in a dish. "We'll never have a storefront with produce," she says, "because we believe produce should be consumed fresh." Once a week -- so far -- a truck backs up to the old ramp in the alley and unloads boxes of organic produce ready for immediate distribution.

"We try to buy as locally as we can," says BrightSpirit. "Right now we are using Pupo's [Produce] to get deliveries from Charlie's Warehouse in Seattle. Charlie's specializes in dealing with small farmers. We want to support the small growers." Over the winter, the Safe Food Program is going to locate local farmers and chart out what types of produce they have available and when.

In order to be able to buy produce, families have first to become members of PEACH, which costs $35 annually ($15 or about six hours of volunteer work for low-income families). Next, new members must participate in an orientation, then volunteer to sort produce on delivery day.

"It's really important for us that people get the concept of what we are trying to do," says BrightSpirit. "This is not profit-driven, this is education-driven. We want clean air, clean water and babies born without industrial waste in their bodies. It's a tall order, but we are only going to carry produce and products that live up to that goal."

The Safe Food Project may also be filling a gap in the local farm community. With consumers being busy, and many small farmers so caught up in running their own business, valuable distribution opportunities are sometimes missed. Some small organic farms don't produce enough to fulfill a large grocery chain's needs, yet generate too much to rely on barn-door sales only.

"Some farmers don't want to deal with the public, so we'll just deal directly with them," says BrightSpirit. "There are also many farmers who'd like for their crops to stay locally, but they don't know how to achieve that."

The Safe Food Project will carry locally produced greens and vegetables first and foremost. But when green beans are in season, members will be directed to go buy them at the Farmers Market.

"It's important for us to do this without taking away from local farmers -- they are near and dear to our hearts," says BrightSpirit. "We don't want to compete with them or with the market."

But don't be fooled -- the Safe Food Program is not about meditating over a handful of organic tomatoes. It has great growth potential and a serious high-tech component.

"The way it's going to work is that we'll launch a Web site where members can place their orders. You can order as much or as little as you want, every week or once a year," she says.

In Europe, co-ops selling organic crops, meat and sometimes bread have had great success setting up Internet-based farmers' markets, complete with home delivery. But the Safe Food Program is not going to go the delivery route.

"We want to get to know people, so regardless of how many families join and how many times a week we'll end up doing the distribution and packing, we want them to come in and pick up their box," says BrightSpirit. "Many of us don't know our neighbors; we don't know if they are sick or well. A big part of what we are doing with the Safe Food Program is community-building. We want to get to know people, and we want for people who belong to the group to get to know one another." This, she says, will make it easier to promote PEACH's other activist goals, such as closing the waste-to-energy plant.

"When you already have 200 families in your network, and they all show up at city hall and say 'close down the incinerator,' then the city is going to have to listen," says BrightSpirit.

Within the next couple of months, the Safe Food Program plans to open a store carrying everything from futons to toilet paper in the City Terminal Block.

"Our yardstick is that the products we carry have to be safe for children. Using best current available science, we'll look at every product we'd like to carry and see if it measures up," says BrightSpirit. In other words, there goes the diet pop and the hyper-processed morning cereals. "Just imagine, at that store your purchasing can make everybody else's lives better, because the stuff you buy won't have a negative impact on the environment or people anywhere. It's like a visionary trip to the grocery store."

PEACH's Safe Food Program holds new member orientations every Monday at 3 and 6:30 pm. Call: TEL-FOOD (835-3663).

Resale Trail @ Spokane

Through Dec. 3
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