Harvest VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.
Approximately 55 miles west of Washington, D.C., there sits a small, quiet town nestled in the rolling hills of Fauquier County, Virginia. Signs for wineries and orchards flank the long expanse of highway that eventually leads to Hollin Farms. The pick-your-own farm, though off the beaten path, is a destination that many city-dwelling families make the pilgrimage to every fall. In the summer, various creatures can be spotted stealing berries off of the bushes and drinking from the brook that runs through the hills. In the fall, the canopy of trees are set ablaze with crimson and gold.
Hollin Farms has been in the Davenport family for four generations. Matt, who is the primary farmer, boasts an agricultural degree from Cornell. He was also the recipient of both the Young Farmer Achievement Award and the Harry Jones Conservation Farmer Award. Food for Others was connected with Hollin Farms when both groups attended a food justice conference in Delaplane. The Davenports had always welcomed gleaning volunteers to the farm, but groups they had in the past were inconsistent at best and disrespectful at worst. After guidelines were set, Matt agreed that if Food for Others was able to provide dedicated, passionate volunteers, he would allow the food bank to glean on a consistent basis.
Roughly twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Food for Others would bring in a group of 15-25 volunteers to glean apples, peaches, corn and more. Community and corporate groups enjoyed their time on a gorgeous farm not far from home while helping a non-profit organization. Expectations and rules were clear; the golden rule given to the volunteers was to respect the farm. Often, these volunteers would pick and purchase their own fruits and vegetables after the gleaning was finished. This created a mutually beneficial relationship between Hollin Farms and Food for Others.
The last gleaning of the year was held on October 28 in conjunction with VolunteerFest, an annual event put on by Northern Virginia area community organization Volunteer Fairfax. The 25 participants who signed up harvested 1,419 pounds of apples between 11AM and 1PM, and learned about food waste and hunger in the process.
Four months, six gleans and 6,549 pounds later, the season has finally come to an end. As a first and important priority, Food for Others was able to feed hundreds of families with the produce Hollin Farms provided. However, the greatest gift of all was not just the produce… it was forging a great relationship between the farm and the food bank that will continue for years to come.