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AmeriCorps VISTA

Clallam Group Loganberry Glean is a Smash!

02.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Last Wednesday, AmeriCorps VISTA Sharah Truett hosted a raspberry and loganberry group glean.

“What exactly is a loganberry?” was the question of the day.  Gleaners got to taste for themselves that loganberries are a delightful dark purple cross between a raspberry and a blackberry.

The homeowner had an immaculate garden, all organically grown, with not a weed in sight.  It was surrounded by a lush native forest and a rippling creek. The group picked diligently for about 2 hours and got to taste five different kinds of berries.  New gleaners were able to socialize, make friends, and meet others with similar interests.  After the gleaners ate their fill and took a bit home for their own freezers and pie making experiments, the rest of the fruit was transported to different emergency food organizations in the community. Some went to senior nutrition programs, some to the food banks and some to the Boys and Girls Club.  The children at the Boys and Girls Club surrounded the berries like wild hyenas cornering a herd of antelope, with a special hungry gleam in their eyes for the golden raspberries.

Overall it was a stellar day, with much fun had by everyone, and many purple-stained hands and faces all around.  However, one small mishap occurred on the drive to the food bank.  An unexpected pedestrian stumbled out in front of the gleaning van, causing the driver to brake suddenly to avoid them, and a box of luscious, ripe, sun-warmed loganberries spilled to the carpeted floor. Now no longer able to donate these berries due to the large amount of carpet fur clinging to them, yet unwilling to throw them into the compost like a normal person, Sharah took the berries home.  She washed them as best she could, and lovingly served them to her husband as “Hairy-Berry pie”, which he ate with gusto, despite having to stop periodically and pick out bits of carpet fuzz.

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Master Gardeners at Community Food Share in CO

26.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Brianna Nash serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Servicing the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, equal to 22,500 meals a day. Along with 41 partner agencies, Community Food Share distributes food with an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna works as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

In efforts to bolster community engagement with the Garden Share program, and offer more garden support to food bank shoppers, Brianna coordinated two Master Gardener events this summer. Piloting Q&A days, Brianna measured how the general public and food bank shoppers engaged with Master Gardeners that were hosted at the food bank. After organizing a very successful Spring Plant Day in early June – where food bank shoppers were able to take home free plant starts and soil – Brianna wanted to continue building garden resources for food-insecure individuals.

The first event, held in June, hosted two Master Gardeners outside the food bank pantry main doors. The Master Gardeners answered questions and provided input about plant pests, and the inevitable challenges of gardening in Colorado. They also had garden print resources in English and Spanish, which Brianna found through the Los Angeles Master Gardener Extension. Luckily this event was a “test,” and while less than 15 people showed up for questions, Brianna received feedback from the Master Gardeners and planned for the second event.

For the second Q&A, Brianna worked on securing donated seeds – as an incentive and interactive piece for visitor engagement. Last week, with more than 300 seed packets on hand, Brianna and the Master Gardeners set up for a busy morning. The flow of visitors was steady to the Master Gardener table, and people were excited. With signs around the warehouse advertising the event and the seeds (in English and Spanish), many more individuals stopped by the table. Over three hours the two ladies talked to more than 25 food bank shoppers, handing away literally hundreds of seeds in the process! More than 250 seed packets went home with individuals. The Master Gardeners were incredibly helpful in showing people varieties they could plant now and next year.


Not only were many seeds distributed, but specific questions answered as well. Brianna created flyers promoting the event around the food bank shopping area – encouraging participants to visit the Master Gardeners if they had questions. One young boy came prepared. He showed up to the table with a red flower in a small pot, wanting to know what it was. He had seen this flower at a lake near his home, which is quite far from the food bank, and brought it with him on the families’ next visit to Community Food Share. Along with his brother, this young gardener also brought home many seeds for his garden, incredibly excited after a visit with the Master Gardeners.

One of the dedicated gardening volunteers with the Garden Share program, also turns out to be a Master Gardener, and helps with many events at the food bank. The volunteer, Carol, reported back to Brianna that at least 10 people had mentioned the plants that they had received from a Spring Plant giveaway day on June 1st. The Spring Plant Day was the first event Brianna had organized (continuing on with first-year VISTA’s event) with Master Gardeners, and wanted to continue providing their wonderful resources to the gardeners that visit the food bank. After piloting two Q&A days this summer, Brianna is excited to work on a framework for the year-three VISTA, suggesting further partnerships with the Master Gardeners next year, and for many years to come!

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Farm Appreciation Potluck

19.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. Sam hosted a potluck for a network of farm apprentices on Vashon Island last week in an effort to create a space to discuss food justice and hunger in the Vashon community. The event went wonderfully, and Sam hopes to host another event soon!

It was a warm, clear Thursday evening and Mount Rainier was out in full view from atop the hill where the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank sits, a perfect time for a farm apprentice potluck. Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Sam Carp was busy reviewing the questions he had written down to discuss at the picnic tables outside of the Food Bank garden when farm interns and WWOOFers began to show up, dishes in hand.

Vashon Island has many small farms, each that contributes to the community in its own special, niche way. For a while, it had been Sam’s goal to bring people from each farm together to discuss food justice and how small-scale agriculture can impact hunger in nearby communities. Hosting an event where young farmers-in-training can learn about the Food Bank and its own involvement in local growing was a perfect opportunity to do just that.

 

 

The event was hosted as part of the CRAFT network, or Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. It is a program that has been started in many communities throughout the world to try to enhance educational opportunities for farm apprentices who only receive small cash stipends or room and board as payment. Apprentices visit other farms, producers, food justice organizations, and culinary operations to learn more about the food system as a whole, and to recognize from different lenses the ways the world is impacted by food and agriculture.

During the potluck, apprentices were given the opportunity to meet one another, engage in meaningful conversation, discuss the different agricultural and hunger issues facing society today, and receive a tour of the Food Bank. The tour was then followed by a short work party in the Food Bank garden where apprentices helped to weed between beds of summer squash, lettuce, cucumbers, and peppers.

Opportunities to come together over food to discuss the major issues facing not only small communities, but larger cities, states, or even the world as a whole are vital in helping to unite community members over a common goal. It is Sam’s hope that he can host events like this more often throughout the rest of his time as a VISTA. Not only was he able to learn a great deal about the farms in his community and connect with young adults interested in food justice, but the food shared around the table was delicious!

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Pea Pickin’ Party in Canton, Mississippi

12.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Mississippi

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Andrew Frank serves in the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, faith-based gleaning network that aims to provide food-insecure individuals with healthy produce. Society of St. Andrew was founded in 1979 in Big Island, Virginia and has offices in more than eight states across the southern United States. In 2017, the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew gleaned more than 1.9 million pounds of produce. During the rest of 2018, the Mississippi office hopes to increase its gleaning efforts and further develop itsfresh food drives” at farmersmarkets across the state.

 

On an early July morning, Society of St. Andrew’s Harvest  Against Hunger VISTA, Andrew Frank, pulled into the parking lot of a small Methodist church in downtown Canton, a small Mississippi town just north of Jackson. Unlike most mornings, the parking lot was filled with more than half a dozen trucks and SUVs full of volunteers. After signing waivers and stocking up with water and snacks, volunteers hopped back in their cars, ready to go. It was time for a pea pickin’ party.

Although not far from the church where the volunteers convened, the farm for the Canton Pea Pickin’ Party can be difficult to find for the uninitiated. Five minutes down a state highway, 10 minutes down an old country road, a left on a gravel road in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere, and then, suddenly, a pea patch.

Growing in green and purple pods that hang off knee-high plants, purple hull peas are a variant of the more commonly known black-eyed pea. The peas to be picked that morning had been specifically planted by Dr. Weems, the farm proprietor, under the condition that they are donated to feeding agencies.

 

 

After arriving at the farm, volunteers quickly got to work. With a bucket in hand, each volunteer began plucking up 8-inch long pods and clearing the plants. After the volunteers had harvested about half of the peas, Dr. Weems made a surprise appearance, pulling up to the patch in his mule utility vehicle to offer some words of encouragement, and remind the volunteers of the fresh watermelon awaiting them.

As anyone who has picked peas would understand, picking is only half the work. Removing the peas from their pods, or shelling the peas, is just as if not more labor intensive. Resolving to take the peas to a nearby co-op where the peas could be processed in a pea sheller on Monday, Dr. Weems and the volunteers lugged crates of peas into his air-conditioned house where they were laid on to bed sheets to avoid spoilage.

With all the work done, everyone dashed back outside to the front of the house where whole watermelons sat in containers of ice water. As it was already nearing 10 o’clock in the morning, the watermelon was quickly devoured, with stomach aches ensuing not long after.

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Corn Glean Brings Community Together

05.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Gleaning, National Site

Harvest against Hunger Americorps Vista Taylor Rotsted is serving as a gleaning specialist in southern Georgia at her Host Site, the Society of Saint Andrew (SOSA). The Society of Saint Andrew in Georgia has provided people in need more than 15 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other produce through the Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in approximately 45 million servings of food going to Georgia’s hungry. SOSA works with both volunteers and farmers to grow the Georgia Gleaning Network and lean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.

 

 

Hunger in America is an issue that evokes altruism regardless of political affiliation, economic status, or any other identifier that defines and separates us. It is an achievement in itself to assemble diverse groups with the intent of collaboration. But, when those groups – which on the surface would seem to be separated by an ocean of different opinions – work together to glean almost 15000lbs of produce together, it is a testament to divisiveness and that goodwill is intrinsically in the American people. The gleaning on June 30th was a five-hour event in Sumner, GA, and volunteers came from all over southern Georgia, to alleviate hunger together.

 

 

Society of Saint Andrew, an organization originally started by Methodist ministers, in collaboration with Concrete Jungle, a fruit gleaner and urban agriculture advocate based out of Atlanta, worked in unison to put on this colossal gleaning event on the common goal of fighting hunger. Concrete Jungle made the connection with the farmer a couple of years ago but was unable to facilitate distribution and setup for a row crop gleaning of this size due to the distance and required resources. Which is where Society of Saint Andrews was able to step up and contribute.

 

 

Groups that showed up to glean included religious institutions, Georgia Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, Colquitt Food Bank, Urban Elevation out of Tifton and even a group of TSA agents looking to give back and connect with their community. Even though the gleaning was a success and saw many new faces, the event faced its challenges. Three times trailers loaded with corn and other produce got caught in the soft sandy dirt. And three times, members from all groups worked together to free the trailers so the food could make it to the hands that needed it. The assembly of groups distributed the equivalent of 5000 meals that day. When all is said and done, teamwork really does make the dream work.

 

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CSAs Provide Additional Sources of Fresh Produce

29.06.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Americorps 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.

 

A few years ago, Food for Others implemented a new choice program for recipients of emergency food. Rather than giving clients a pre-packed box, they now allow them to “shop” for foods of their choice through a sectioned-off area of the warehouse. Depending on the family size, clients get to pick a predetermined number of items based off of groups of the food pyramid. Since the previous VISTA began, the produce section has been overflowing with an abundance of fresh and healthy treats. Last week, huge bundles of leafy chard lined the top shelf, while delicacies like fennel and garlic scapes sat below. This week, summer squash, Pattypan, and green and yellow zucchini were a popular favorite. The best part? Almost all of it came from a local farm.

 

Fresh summer squash, zucchini, and pattypan

 

This summer, Food for Others began an official partnership with Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Virginia. Waterpenny will be providing 19 weeks of CSA shares to clients. This initiative began in mid-June and will continue through the fall. A CSA or community shared agriculture, is a way for members of the community to support local farms by pledging money for a share of the farm, and receiving fresh produce in return. Through an online campaign, Food for Others and Waterpenny Farm raised $5,823– enough for 15 shares for clients. The new initiative has not been without its struggles. Periodically, clients will see items on the produce shelf that may be unfamiliar to them, or that they may not know how to cook. Because of this, they might choose to skip the produce section entirely.

 

Innovative ways to get produce off the shelf

 

This is where the food demonstrations come in. A few weeks ago, VISTA Grace Plihal cooked kale chips and had the clients sample them. By the end of the day, all the locally grown kale had flown off the shelf. Zucchini bread is up next week, and it promises to be a hit with kids. Additionally, trained “shopper” volunteers will give clients suggestions on new and innovative ways to use the produce, such as bacon-wrapped garlic scapes and stuffed pattypan squash. Through the partnership with Waterpenny, Food For Others hopes that clients will choose to experiment with local fruits and vegetables they may have never seen before. And maybe someday down the line, they’ll be moved to plant their own garden, full of kale, chard, and garlic scapes.

 

Sauteed chard from a share

 

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Elk Run Farm and Rotary First Harvest Celebrates 2nd Annual AmeriCorps Action Day

21.06.2018 in Action Day, AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Tina White, is serving as the third year VISTA at Elk Run Farm. The farm sits on a former golf course in the heart of the suburbs near Seattle, WA where the land would otherwise go unused. The farm helps to increase the availability of healthy foods for families that visit the food banks while promoting sustainable urban agriculture.

 

National service members and the work they do has played a major role in the story of Elk Run Farm. On June 13th, 2018, Elk Run Farm and Rotary First Harvest hosted elected officials, community partners, and other Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps members for the 2nd annual AmeriCorps Action Day. Attendees reflected on that piece of the farm’s story while celebrating the impacts of national service members in communities all across Washington state.

 

 

The afternoon began with some storytelling from AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) Green Two member, Kate Steele, Harvest Against Hunger VISTA alum, Rachel Ryan, and current Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Sam Carp. Each service member shared their experience working in the communities they were placed and the impacts that national service had on their life. Their stories highlighted the breadth of work that national service members provide for organizations like Elk Run Farm and the insights that each individual gained throughout their term. One member talked about how their service helped them realize their commitment to food justice, while another spoke on the various skills they’ve gained during their term. Hearing their stories gave Tina a moment to reflect on her term as a VISTA and the impacts it had on her professional goals.

 


Storytelling was followed by a farm tour and a food forest planting, all led by NCCC Green Two. Event attendees learned about the mission of Elk Run Farm and participated in service of their own by planting various fruit trees, chives, bee balm, borage, yarrow, chamomile, rosemary, fireweed, berry bushes, and more in Elk Run Farm’s new growing space. As Harvest Against Hunger Program Director, Beth Baker, pointed out, the food forest serves as a fitting metaphor for national service. The forest is planted in units, called guilds, that are made up of plants that work together to create a thriving (and edible!) mini-ecosystem that continues to bear fruit years after it’s been planted.

 

To this date, Elk Run Farm has hosted three AmeriCorps VISTA members, a Summer Associate, and three NCCC teams through the Harvest Against Hunger program. Their direct service and capacity building has supported Elk Run Farm since its inception and has made the farm what it is today.

 


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AmeriCorps NCCC Team Improves Elk Run Farm

15.06.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, NCCC, Volunteering

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is made up of young adults 18 to 24 years of age who commit to 10 months of service within 3 different project rounds sponsored by nonprofits throughout the United States.

Pictured above: AmeriCorps NCCC team Green 2 serving at Elk Run Farm, a partner of Rotary First Harvest. Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. Top Row (left to right): Jessica Monnette, Brian Beagan, Samantha Ard, Shelby Collins, Quinn Farnell, Aidan Sulak, Cheyenne Stanley, Mohamad Akhbari Bottom Row: Zachary Owens, Katherine Steele and Kesigh White.

 

Green 2 AmeriCorps NCCC members Zack Owens (Left) and Brian Beagan (Right) harvesting radishes at Elk Run Farm with the help of farm hand Mindy.

 

After their first project round in the gulf bend region of Texas aiding in disaster relief from Hurricane Harvey and just over a month after working tirelessly in the hot desert of Coachella Valley, California building homes for low-income families, team Green 2 of AmeriCorps NCCC planted their boots on the ground at Elk Run Farm in Maple Valley, Washington for their third and final project round.

During their time volunteering at Elk Run Farm, the team learned about the growing and harvesting practices of the many different vegetables (over 30 different varieties) on the farm. Green 2 also assisted in enhancing the infrastructure of the farm by assembling more raspberry and grape trellises, digging vegetable beds, and building worm bins to compost all food waste and organic matter on the farm.

 

The newly constructed and lined raspberry trellises mulched to ward off weeds and provide adequate walking space between plants to protect them from trampling.

Team Green 2’s biggest accomplishment occurred on AmeriCorps Action Day alongside other service members and members of the Maple Valley community. What originally started as a rocky, naked space sprouted into a beautiful food forest, King County of Washington State’s first public food forest! Over 30 fruit trees were planted and over 250 plants aiding in the health and well-being of the trees now call Elk Run Farm home.

Although Green 2 will not be around when Elk Run Farms receives water and electric on the property, they will continue their adventure and volunteerism on Whidbey Island helping Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift in Langley, WA.

 

Elk Run Farm’s new food forest planted on June 13, 2018

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The “Tangled Hairball”: The First Annual End Hunger Conference

31.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

The work of the non-profit can often be lonesome. Small offices, even smaller budgets, single subject focus, and massive projects can put an activist into a microcosm. This phenomenon is just a fraction of what makes events like the first End Hunger Conference so special. On a drizzling, dreary Saturday morning approximately 140 activists, ministers, and community members gathered at Saint Luke’s to discuss our common goal: ending hunger, from charity to empowerment.

 

 

Elise, a HAH AmeriCorps VISTA serving at SoSA, and her supervisor Barbara, the state director for SoSA Florida and Bread for the World member, attended the first annual End Hunger Conference. Elise ran a table for SoSA, recruiting volunteers and educating attendees about SoSA and gleaning while also participating in workshops. Barbara helped plan the event and participated in workshops of her own. Although the conference was based on eradicating poverty and hunger, the panels ran the spectrum from mass-incarceration to predatory loan practices, all factors leading to hunger.

Perhaps most noteworthy of these exercises was the opening activity. Bread for the World, a co-sponsor of the conference, provided each table with a simulation. From the Reconstruction era (1860s-70s) to now, each table member played as either a Euro- or African American. One by one, the table went through the legislation such as the Social Security Act of 1935, gaining or losing money, land, and opportunity not by their own merit, but legislative whims. By the final and most recent act, the ‘black’ players were left impoverished and food-insecure. This exercise opened the door to a crucial conversation that often goes unsaid and ignored. As the keynote speaker put it, “the tangled hairball” of poverty and hunger.

 

 

The End Hunger Conference, by framing hunger through legislative oppression, serves as a stark reminder that hunger does not exist in a vacuum. Race, gender, geography, and education weigh in on why people go hungry. Approaching hunger relief without acknowledging these factors is to ignore the issue entirely. The “tangled hairball” route is not the easy one, but without it, hunger cannot be solved. As noted in Circles (a financial assistance non-profit) in their workshop, feeding the hungry is only step one in ending food-insecurity.

Without addressing how or why a person is hungry, little can be done to help.  Also critical is the acceptance that these acts are not blights of the past, but are alive and well in the present day. The legacy of slavery and oppressive legislation are still having an impact on our society, and leading some towards food-insecurity. By educating ourselves and others, we can endeavor to solve the “tangled hairball” of hunger and poverty, one hair at a time.

 

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Jackson State University Sweet Potato Crop Drop

24.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Mississippi, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Andrew Frank serves in the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, faith-based gleaning network that aims to provide food-insecure individuals with healthy produce. Society of St. Andrew was founded in 1979 in Big Island, Virginia and has offices in more than eight states across the southern United States. In 2017, the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew gleaned more than 1.9 million pounds of produce. During the rest of 2018, the Mississippi office hopes to increase its gleaning efforts and further develop its “fresh food drives” at farmers’ markets across the state.

 

In the early hours of April 10th, a dump truck pulled into a parking lot adjacent to Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, Mississippi and dumped its payload of over 15,000 sweet potatoes onto the concrete. These sweet potatoes, grown in Vardaman, Mississippi (“The Sweet Potato Capital of the World”), were the main attraction of the Jackson State University Crop Drop, a bi-annual event sponsored by Society of St. Andrew, Jackson State University and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi during which free produce is distributed to those in need.

As early as 8:30 in the morning, cars began lining up near the entrance to the parking lot to receive one bag of sweet potatoes and one head of iceberg lettuce, which Society of St. Andrew had fortuitously gleaned and saved for the event the evening before. Meanwhile, over 75 JSU volunteers, clad in sweatpants and t-shirts, began assembling near the 30-ft. long pile of sweet potatoes to listen to directions from event organizers.

 

 

As cars were waved in to drive up to the curb to receive their free produce, volunteers worked as quickly as they could to fill their 34-inch red nylon bags with sweet potatoes. Although some cars only had one or two passengers, many others were filled to capacity with four or five adults, ostensibly because they lacked cars of their own, but could not afford to pass up on the opportunity for free produce. In a humbling display, some older local residents approached the pile of sweet potatoes on foot with their own bags, inquiring how they could receive their own portion.

In sum, 976 people received food during the event, including 206 who walked to the drop. In other words, over 1% of the food-insecure population in Hinds and Rankin counties (which contain the vast majority of the Jackson metropolitan area) received food from this three-hour crop drop.

The next JSU Crop Drop will be held in mid-August.

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