The Community Educator Program Supports Self-Sufficiency for the Palouse Community21 Mar 2019, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Palouse Tables Project, Washington Site in
Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their moto’s is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.
Week after week, month after month, “Pappy’s Pantry” dry pinto beans, stays on the shelf of the commodities section at the Community Action Center. The Food Pantry receives around one hundred clients each week, Pappy’s Beans are always out but they aren’t always well received. One of the faithful volunteers at the Community Action Center, Andrew Vaughan, sees this occurrence each week and wanted to do something to affect how people receive these less than exciting dried beans, in order to move the product and highlight this healthier option. We all know the choice is clear among clients of a food pantry when they are given the option between dried beans and “Chef Boyardee”.
Andrew, “Andy” among friends at the CAC, jumped on the opportunity to teach a bean demo as part of the Community Educator program lead by AmeriCorps VISTA, Robyn Glessner. So, on a cold and snowy day in February, Andy and Robyn set up crock pots and spice blends to start cooking the soaked “Pappy’s” pinto beans. The community kitchen was set up to greet participants the following day at 11am when the Food Pantry opened up for clients. Samples were made, recipes printed, and multiple handouts were provided to inform curious community members about the different ways beans can be soaked, cooked, mashed, refried, stewed with meat, or tied up into a sock to fashion a microwaveable heating pad! As time passed that day, a few participants trickled through the community kitchen, curious to see where the source of the cumin and onion infusion that was wafting throughout the building had originated. Unfortunately, the weather got the best of the turnout of people for both the food pantry that day and secondly, the bean demo.
There was both discouragement but also hope left over at the end of the day that Wednesday in February. Both Robyn and Andy were able to identify areas that the program could improve on for the next demo, but there were some unexpected “wins”. Volunteers and staff had come through to support the two during that day and there was unexpected and beneficial conversation being had about the community and their relationship to food. Our consensus came down to the fact that though the few community members that came through that day may have been less than anticipated, it still proved that the purpose and goals were being met. Even if a Community Educator is there to teach only one person about cooking nutritious food for themselves, that knowledge is still granted the power to live on and can be passed through that one person to another person, and so on. This is the definition of capacity building, and it is also important for the educators to know that being available to our community as educators is not as much about informing and collecting “numbers” of participants as it is about simply being available to those who do show up to learn, whenever and wherever that may be.
And now, on to the next educator challenge… lima beans.