In just a few short years, the Inland Northwest Food Network (INWFN) has come to be one of the most impactful nutrition educational organizations in the region with hundreds of educational and outreach events in the name of connecting the public with the farmers who grow their food. In 2014, Teri McKenzie saw the need to not only educate the area on cooking from scratch, gardening and basic cooking skills, but also a desire to connect with the farming community as well. The programs that have followed include farm-to-table dinners, tours of local farms and how they operate, cooking classes, farmers market booths, workshops and more. Teri’s goal is to simply impact the community in a way that gives people knowledge of their local foods and empowering the decision to make healthier choices.
“We are especially eager to deepen our work with kids, since our eating habits are formed when we are young,” said Teri, founder and executive director of the Inland Northwest Food Network. “Early intervention equals prevention of debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and other diet-related diseases.”
To this end, INWFN hosts the Power of Produce or POP club at the Hayden Farmers Market for kids ages 5 through 12. The club was inspired by a similar model in Oregon City, Oregon. Kids are given a $2 token to spend on fruits, vegetables or plants of their choice in the market and are taught how to shop for, prepare and grow fresh foods.
“The program has been well received by kids, parents and farmers alike,” said Teri. “In 2017, 336 kids enrolled in the program; this year, close to 500 kids joined!”
The program is set to continue when the market reopens next season. INWFN hosts monthly events aimed at adults as well, with the hope that they will have an impact not just on individuals but entire families.
“Anyone who is interested in making healthy food choices or who wants to support our local farmers is welcome,” said Teri.
One such event is The Seasonal Kitchen. This is a monthly hands-on cooking class designed to teach people how to cook delicious, nutritious, locally grown seasonal foods. The September class will be all about tasty ways to cook the humble bean—a tasty, affordable, nutrient-dense food that is abundant in countless varieties. In October, attendees will learn about preparing winter squash. Classes are held at the Jacklin Arts and Culture Center in Post Falls on the third Thursday of the month. Class size is limited with pre-registration required.
The Inland Northwest Food Network also hosts One Dinner, a series of dinners offered throughout the year, with each dinner prepared by one chef on one night featuring one ingredient. The final dinner in the series will be held on October 19 at Central Foods in Spokane. Chef David Blaine will use locally sourced apples in each of the multi-course meal accompanied by regional wine and craft beer. Seating for this event is also limited, and advanced ticket purchase is also required.
Chew on This! is a lecture series presented by guest speakers from around the region who explore various topics related to food and farming. The series resumes on September 11 with a timely topic of “How to Cook Organically on a Budget” by guest presenter Brenda Doggett. The following month, on October 9, chocolate educator Savina Darzes will share "The Story of Chocolate” just in time for Halloween.
One of Teri’s favorite events is the annual Love Your Farmer, Love Your Food event. The event features a panel of farmers, ranchers and producers who share stories about life on the farm and their growing and harvesting methods. There is also a mini-farmers market that allows the public to connect with our local producers.
“These events, along with our farm tours and our farm-to-table dinners, provide a way for people to meet farmers and form personal relationships with them. This helps eaters to source farm fresh food while also supporting our local producers and our local economy,” said Teri.
INWFN has also been instrumental in supporting public awareness of seed saving. Each year, a seed exchange is held at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. “We also have hosted two Seed Schools—one in Coeur d’Alene and one in Spokane—to help teach people how to save their own seeds,” said Teri. Seed sovereignty is critical to food security, is economical and helps to preserve varieties of plants that are well-suited to our climate.
With so many programs, events, dinners and engagements across the Inland Northwest, one might think that the Inland Northwest Food Network has reached its plateau; not so, according to Teri.
“While we are proud of the impact we have made in just four short years, there is much more that we want to do to grow our region’s food system. We are committed to continuing to connect people through food and to ensuring a healthy food future for all.”
Like nearly all nonprofits in the area, the Inland Northwest Food Network relies on individual donations and monthly pledges to help support programs and the work done across the area. A membership program and a Business Affiliate program are currently being developed to help support those efforts. People who wish to make a donation can do so at INWFoodNetwork/donate.
Another way to show support is by volunteering. As a volunteer-based organization, INWFN is always in need of help with a wide range of skills and expertise. To learn more about their volunteer program or to apply to volunteer, you can visit the website as well.
The Inland Northwest is blessed to have excellent growing conditions as well as ranchers committed to cruelty free and sustainable harvesting practices of animals. Generally speaking, the closer you are to the people who grow your food the fresher and healthier that food is likely to be. While farmers and city dwellers might live very different lives day to day, we are all connected by what we eat. Knowing where your food comes from and choosing to support local not only helps your own nutrition but stimulates the local economy by keeping dollars here. As summer comes to an end, so do many of the weekly farmers markets we enjoy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still create fresh and healthy meals at home, and INWFN is there to present healthy choices year round.
Whether you’re looking for a fun volunteer opportunity, dinners with like-minded folks or in need of a brush up on how to prepare vegetables, the Inland Northwest Food Network has you covered.