Engaging Rural Communities in Okanogan County20 Nov 2017, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Volunteering, Washington Site in
Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Rachel Ryan serves at Northwest Harvest, an independent state-wide hunger relief organization with headquarters in Seattle, WA. Northwest Harvest delivers free food to more than 360 food bank and meal programs across the state, 70% of which is fruits and veggies. In an effort to expand the amount and the variety of fresh produce food programs receive, Northwest Harvest launched their Growing Connections program. Now in its third year, Growing Connections has reached over ten counties across the state, helping to provide the necessary tools and resources to assist communities with launching their own ‘Farm-to-Food Program’ (F2FP) initiatives.
On October 30th the Growing Connections team headed to Omak, a small town of 4,833 nestled in the desert hills of north-central Washington. The purpose of their trip was to conduct an action planning workshop with the community. Growing Connections has been working in Okanogan County since 2015, and has witnessed the Farm-to-Food Bank (F2FB) movement expand to include new organizations, backyard gardeners, and passionate community members.
Attendance at the October 30th meeting was the highest it has been in the large, rural county and the distances some attendees traveled illustrated their dedication to F2FB work. With 22 community members in attendance, the group got straight to work. They spent three hours brainstorming various ways their community could unite and tackle some pressing coordination barriers that were interfering with their ability to move F2FB work forward. Based on previous work within Okanogan, and conversation with the regional planning team, the workshop focused on action-planning around three main barriers: storage; collaboration with markets; and fundraising.
As the groups got together to strategize around the current barriers, the energy in the room was palpable, and the solutions offered were original, innovative, and inclusive. For the first time, the group considered what it would mean if they formed a strong coalition that worked towards becoming a 501(c)(3) – also known as a nonprofit – organization. They also addressed who was missing from the discussion and were hopeful to bring in members from the health care community to help tackle the barriers to healthy food access. As the workshop came to a close, many attendees left with smiles on their faces, eager to get started with the work cut out and excitedly anticipating the next meeting.