Rotary First Harvest | AmeriCorps VISTA
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AmeriCorps VISTA

Engaging Rural Communities in Okanogan County

20.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Volunteering, Washington Site

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.  

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Train-the-Trainer in Clallam County

16.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Volunteering, Washington Site

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.

The Growing Connections team, in partnership with WSU Extension King County, visited Port Angeles on November 9th to present a train-the-trainer workshop to members of the Clallam County community. Clallam has been one of Growing Connections focus regions for the past eight months, and this was the third workshop that the Team has organized in the region. Clallam is also the home of the Peninsula Food Coalition, another Harvest Against Hunger VISTA (Juliann Finn), and an innovative WSU Extension office. The Peninsula Food Coalition, founded in 2016, works to increase healthy food access across Clallam County, where most residents live in food deserts. One of the areas the Coalition and previous Growing Connections workshop attendees are focusing on is increasing the knowledge of and access to fresh fruits and vegetables at community food banks – something with which the Growing Connections team was able to assist!

     

One benefit of Growing Connectionspartnerships across Washington is the ability of the program to collect and pass along best practices, innovative ideas, and new resources to interested partners. One of the recent developments they’d been following was an exciting new workshop being developed by the South King County Food Coalition and WSU Extension King County. This workshop focuses specifically on arming community volunteers with the information they need to get a food demonstration program started at their local food banks. 12 participants attended the November 9th workshop, including food bank staff and volunteers, WSU Extension staff, and staff from various civic-minded community organizations.

The training was dynamic and involved two recipe tastings: a green smoothie and a three-bean salad, both of which were received well by the group. Since the workshop last week, Juliann Finn, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA stationed in Clallam, has reported that volunteers from two of the participating food banks are moving on the momentum of the workshop to start their own food demonstration programs. This is welcome news, especially considering workshop attendees will be receiving free demonstration starter kits in December from Growing Connections. The Growing Connections team has their fingers crossed that Clallam food bank clients will be ringing in the holidays Grinch-style with green smoothies while they shop at their neighborhood pantries!

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Growing Minds at Elk Run Farm

02.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry

Elk Run Farm, built on a former golf course in South Kind County, provides produce to 12 food banks of the South King County Food Coalition.  It has been a Harvest Against hunger program since 2015.

 

Along with growing fresh produce, Elk Run Farm strives to be a community asset in Maple Valley by providing farm education for youth. Over its three years of existence, the farm has hosted many youth groups, student clubs and field trips. Starting in the 2017 school year, Elk Run Farm expanded its partnership with local Tahoma High School by co-creating the curriculum with the plant sciences class.

By collaborating with the teacher, the farm and field manager are teaching three periods with a total of 88 students about the plant families grown on the farm. The course also provides an overview of the emergency food system as well as the ins and outs of running a food bank farm. The students have been coming to the farm weekly for the months of September and October, taking care of their plant families. They have learned to how to use different farm tools, harvest a variety of crops, prepare them for distribution at a food bank, and plant cover crop. Initially there was a learning curve and need for encouragement for the students, but after a couple weeks, each class has taken more ownership of their plant families and have become more confident working at the farm. They have helped the farm harvest about 1400 pounds of food for six food banks. Some students have even started to volunteer at the farm during the farm’s volunteering hours. As the school year progresses, the students will learn about soil biology and advise the farm staff on how to amend the Elk Run Farm’s soil, plan crops, and advise on how to plant and cultivate next year’s produce.

Most importantly, this collaboration has given the opportunity for the farm staff to work with a consistent set of students and to start building relationships with them. By fostering a basic understanding of how their food is grown and increasing their community engagement through the food banks, Elk Run Farm hopes to provide an outdoor classroom for these students and expand a strong and mutually beneficial partnership.

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RFH & UV MEND Organize Cashmere Apple Glean

25.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Graduated Site, Rotary, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger has placed Harvest VISTAS with host sites around Washington since 2008, and graduated sites are still active in many parts of the state. Upper Valley MEND hosted a Harvest VISTA project to build and strengthen its Community Harvest gleaning program, which continues to thrive to this day.

On October 21, Rotary First Harvest collaborated with Upper Valley MEND’s Community Harvest gleaning project and Northwest Harvest to convene Rotarians and Interacters from Seattle, Leavenworth, and Cashmere for an apple glean at the Ringsrud Orchard in Cashmere. Despite snow in the passes, volunteers drove from Seattle and surrounding communities to glean beautiful cameo apples in a steady rain. Volunteer spirits remained high though no one stayed dry, and by noon, over 10,000 pounds of fresh apples had been picked. Northwest Harvest supplied bins and the transportation, and the apples are being distributed throughout Washington to families experiencing food insecurity. Orchard owner Chris Ringsrud said that it would have broken her heart to have put so much time and love into growing her cameo apples, only to see them go uneaten. She thanked the volunteers for coming out to pick apples on a cold, rainy day, so that families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, can have apples to eat.

 

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Food For Others Sweet Potato Cook Off

19.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, National Site

In March 2017 Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Amy Reagan surveyed the clients at her host site Food for Others to see which fruits and vegetables they would like to receive. One of the vegetables people said they do not like receiving is sweet potatoes. This is because a lot of the clients at Food for Others did not know what to do with them. Instead of turning away the sweet potatoes, Amy came up the idea of having clients taste dishes with sweet potatoes.

 

On October 12, 2017 Food for Others hosted a staff sweet potato cook off so the clients could taste different recipes and vote on which one they enjoyed the most. As a result clients could sample the food and ask Amy questions about sweet potatoes and receive recipe cards. Each client who sampled the sweet potato had at least one dish they truly enjoyed. One client was even inspired to write his own sweet potato recipe on a blank recipe card to share with others who may not know how to cook them.

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HAH VISTAs Attend National Conference on Hunger

13.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, National Site, Washington Site

Harvest VISTAs

Harvest VISTAs from Washington and Virginia attended the Closing the Hunger Gap Conference in Tacoma on September 12 & 13. The conference, held every two years, brings together national and local leaders in hunger relief and social justice to share ideas, learn, and develop strategies to reduce hunger and improve racial and economic equity. The conference theme for 2017 was “From Charity to Solidarity.”

Keynote speaker Malik Yakini, founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, opened the conference with an inspiring and challenging speech, suggesting that solidarity means that each of us must do our part to liberate ourselves, as we’re all in this movement together. Keynote speaker Beatriz Beckford, campaign director of MomsRising and longtime grassroots organizer, closed the conference with a call to action: service without a movement toward change is not social justice, and a challenge: are we doing enough to abolish hunger?

In addition to attending sessions and hearing keynotes, Harvest VISTAs networked and ideas-shared with hunger relief organizations staff from across the country. They also assisted in facilitating a conference session titled “A Fresh Approach to Farm to Food Pantry,” which convened a panel of innovators from across Washington to share ideas and best practices with conference participants.

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National HAH VISTA Weathers Hurricane Irma & Helps Clean Up

12.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, National Site, Volunteering

As a part of its national pilot project, Harvest Against Hunger partnered with Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) to place a Harvest VISTA with the Florida Gleaning Project to build systems and capacity to support state-wide gleaning efforts. Forrest Mitchell started his term in February of 2017. Here, he reports on the recent hurricane damage in Florida to his project’s farm partners and how Hurricane Irma shifted priorities for his project.

Four weeks after Hurricane Irma, Floridians continue to work hard cleaning up the aftermath. Debris is still on the sides of roads waiting to be collected, loose power lines dangle from splintered beams, flooding comes quickly after normal rains only to negate weeks of hard work, and mosquitoes plague the dusks and dawns of each day in great numbers. All the while, the next tropical storm approaches and residents hope for the best. There is plenty of work to do.

Forrest made it through the storm unscathed, as despite losing power for three days and internet services another week, his hometown of Titusville, was well prepared for this storm and recovered well. Unfortunately, many Florida farms were not so lucky. Farms in southern Florida counties saw as much as 90% crop losses, with millions of dollars worth of losses and necessary repairs. The fields of corn Forrest anticipated gleaning with volunteers, beginning the first of October, have blown over and stunted in growth, requiring another month before there is anything substantial to pick. Now, with no produce to distribute but plenty of eager volunteers, SoSA is continuing the hurricane recovery any way they can.

 

Bekemeyer Family Farms, a hydroponic U-pick strawberry producer, and gleaning partner of SoSA’s, fell weeks behind the planting season because of intensive preparations for Irma. The week after Irma passed the state, SoSA Presbyterian volunteers went out to the farm and helped prepare the soil for the towers that will house strawberries. By the next week, all the strawberry plugs had arrived and required fast planting to ensure their health. SoSA volunteers returned to the farm to help plant the crop.

Though Hurricane Irma created unforeseen challenges for farmers in Florida, SoSA was well placed to help, with its incredible corps of volunteers, and offered timely assistance so that farms can get back on track and ready for a future glean.

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HAH VISTA with Volunteers of America Celebrates “Day of Caring”

03.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Stephanie Aubert had heard the buzz phrase “Day of Caring” many times throughout her VISTA service at Volunteers of America Western Washington, which began November 2016. It wasn’t until September 15th 2017 that she witnessed what this special day was about.

Stephanie arrived at the Food Bank Farm in Snohomish at 9:45am that morning to meet a group of 7 volunteers from Fluke Corporation to guide them through harvesting and packing a long, dense row of carrots. She was informed by farmer Jim Eichner that several groups would be volunteering on the farm that day, but it wasn’t until her arrival that she saw the hundreds of volunteers happy to greet her as she drove the Volunteers of America Isuzu box truck to a designated parking spot. Volunteers clapped and cheered as they cleared to road to let the truck through. . . She had never been the recipient of such a grand entrance!

When Stephanie found the group of Fluke employees, she was delighted to see that they each wore a pair of rabbit ears – excited to harvest carrots for their hungry neighbors!

 

Hundreds of Microsoft volunteers were hard at work harvesting several thousand pounds of winter squash across the field, and across the field, the Bellevue College softball team harvested the final crop of cabbage. The team began to load up the Isuzu with full boxes. Before long, about 30 banana boxes of cabbages were packed and ready to distribute!  Stephanie couldn’t believe how fast a large box truck was filling up with fresh produce!

At the end of the day, she returned to the Snohomish County Food Bank Distribution Center with over 5,500 lbs. of carrots and cabbage to be distributed to VOAWW’s 21 partner food banks. Project Harvest was also able to secure another 3,400 lbs. of cabbage and green beans for 12 additional food banks in Skagit County that day. All in all, it was a truly inspiring day – and one that she will remember for the rest of her life!

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Elk Run Farm Hosts King County Executive Dow Constantine

08.08.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm is a food bank farm in Maple Valley, WA that grows fresh produce for twelve food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. This is the third and final year of a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA project.

Harvest Against Hunger site Elk Run Farm celebrated its one year anniversary with a farm tour for their partners and King County Executive Dow Constantine. It was a very special opportunity for the team to show off all of their hard work to the partners that had supported them since the beginning and to Executive Constantine himself. Improvements includes a new office, a hoop house, a wash pack structure, an improved irrigation system and last but not least, all the beautiful produce growing strong in the fields.

It was also one of the first times that most of Elk Run’s supporters and funders gathered together at the farm. The tour was truly a celebration of partnership and the amazing work that can be done by a coalition of local food banks and nonprofits, Rotary clubs, city and county officials, Rotary First Harvest and community members.

 
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HAH VISTA Learns from Clallam County F2FB Community Champions

13.07.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Washington Site

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.

As part of her work as a Capacity VISTA, Rachel has the opportunity to travel to different regions throughout Washington to learn from community members involved in F2FP work. Rachel recently visited Clallam County, home to the Peninsula Food Coalition and to multiple food banks who are dedicated to increasing healthy options for their clients and to incentivizing healthy choices within their food banks. On her trip, Rachel visited both the Port Angeles and Sequim food banks, both of which have ample space for fresh fruit and vegetable storage and distribution.

While touring the Port Angeles Food Bank with Executive Director Jessica Hernandez, Rachel was excited to see the wooden bins she had set up for her fresh distribution; the bins are situated so that they tilt invitingly towards the clients and simulate a road-side fruit stand. In addition to the produce display, the Food Bank itself bursts with fresh produce excitement: carrots and broccoli jump off the walls from the “Life of Vegetables” mural that fills the entire length of the eastern wall. The mural went up in 2015 when Jimbo Cutler, a renowned tattoo artist, offered to spice up the Food Bank with his design skills. The space, once barren and uninviting, now creates and warm, educational environment for the Food Bank’s clients.

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Harvesting Veggies

A similar sprucing recently took place at the Sequim Food Bank, where Executive Director Andra Smith partnered with the local Rotary club to paint her outdoor produce distribution cases, which they had built for the Food Bank several years beforehand. The Rotary club decided to paint the walls of the cases red and white to simulate the feeling of a farm stand. This outdoor distribution case is one of the first things that clients see when they enter the Food Bank property, making the experience feel more agency-filled and enjoyable. The Sequim Food Bank also hosts summer Farm Stand Days, where local growers are invited to set up stands and talk with clients about their produce. Smith noted that interfacing with farmers has had an impact, both small and large, on many of her clients.

Both visits illustrated the importance of dedicated staff and volunteers, and of creative problem solving. Hernandez and Smith see the importance of increasing healthy options for their clients, but they also see the intensely human element that lies behind their work. They’ve demonstrated that inspiring adventurous eating and possibly changing habits can start with a simple, two-pronged process: make space for the dignity of choice and create warm, welcoming environments. Rachel is excited to see what these two women, and their food banks, will come up with next!

 

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Veggie Soup

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