Rotary First Harvest | Farm to Food Pantry
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Farm to Food Pantry

Partnering with Rotary

05.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. The farm believes that residents of South King County should have equal access to local, sustainably grown, and nutritious produce regardless of income. 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.

 

Elk Run Farm is currently in its third year with a Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) VISTA. There is one thing that all three AmeriCorps VISTAs have had a chance to participate in developing relationships with the Rotary clubs in South King County. Rotary First Harvest, with its many Rotary connections, did what it does best and connected the first Elk Run Farm VISTA and current farm manager to key Rotarians in its service area. This was the tiny seed of partnership that was handed to the farm and has continued to be cultivated by the second and third-year VISTAs, to this day.

When the first year VISTA came onboard, Elk Run Farm was not a farm. The land was still covered in golf course greens and had no infrastructure to distinguish it from the rest of the use-to-be golf course property. Tasked with the ambitious goal of starting a farm literally from the ground up, the initial VISTA and the farm manager approached the south King County Rotary clubs with a request for funds to build Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure. This baton was then passed to the second year VISTA. Together, they met with all twelve Rotary clubs in the service area of Elk Run Farm. After seeing how Elk Run Farm aligned with their motto, “Service Above Self” and the potential it could have to help the communities they live in, Rotarians stepped up and 11 Rotary clubs made a donation. The first and second VISTA collectively raised $36,500 through this outreach and relationship building.

 

Rotary Farm Sign

 

These funds were used to build Elk Run Farm’s irrigation system, hoop house, washing and packing station, and farm office. The farm manager always says, “This infrastructure is what really separates us from a garden.” They allow the farm staff and volunteers to efficiently grow and harvest produce at a level that brings in over 100 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a week during the height of the growing season.

There are also other funding streams that Rotary provides to their community that Elk Run Farm has received. On top of the initial funds that were raised, the first and second-year VISTAs both applied for and received the Rotary’s Assistant Governor’s, Express Grant. This grant is meant to have a quick turnaround that gets financial assistance to the recipient promptly. $5,000 was raised from this method adding more support to Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure.

 

Receiving AG Express Grant

 

Individual Rotarians have also stepped up and used their personal networks to leverage resources for the farm. On behalf of the farm, Rotary First Harvest made a call to the South King County Rotary clubs to see if there was anyone that could provide a solution to Elk Run Farm’s deer and elk problem. The farm sits under high voltage power lines where all the vegetation is kept low for miles and miles on either side. This gives the deer and elk that live in the surrounding forests an easy way to browse and travel across the land. It also meant that the farm’s vegetables were fair game to these animals. A need for a barricade was made very clear one fall when a population of deer and elk ate all the produce in the ground before it was harvested. After hearing this dilemma, Mickey Kimmerlee, an Auburn Rotary member that works for Quality Fence Builders, was able to build and donate the labor and materials for a double-layer fence that protects the farm’s main vegetable field.

The third-year HAH VISTA continues to cultivate the Rotary relationship and is presently meeting with the clubs that donated in the past to update them on how their gifts were used. She emphasizes the impact their funds have had in jump-starting the farm, as well as how the food banks have benefited from the additional fresh produce they can now offer to families in their communities. The third VISTA is also pursuing a district match for the gifts that have been generated from the Rotary clubs in partnership with a Rotary First Harvest board member. She hopes that this match could provide one of the last critical infrastructure pieces to Elk Run Farm: electricity.

 

Mindy in trench

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Harvest VISTAs Observe MLK Jr Day

19.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Food Bank, Volunteering, Washington Site

On January 15th, 2018, in communities across the country, Harvest Against Hunger VISTAs coordinated service events to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights activism, speeches, and books help us imagine a path towards a more perfect union. Here are a few examples of events Harvest VISTAs were involved in:

Harvest VISTA Kelly Pinkley, placed at Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island, WA, wrote about her site’s MLK Day events:

Today at the Good Cheer Garden, volunteers new and old joined forces to help prepare the Garden for the rapidly approaching spring season. This work could take hours, even days, if it all fell on our Garden Manager, but with the help of many hands, the entire garden was flipped. Hundreds of pounds of rescued produce, including a significant amount of winter produce from the Good Cheer Garden, was bagged for our food bank shoppers to take home.

We are so thankful for our volunteers, and could never be thankful enough to Martin Luther King Jr. for the changes he made in this country and the fight he fought for civil rights. We hope you take the time today to remember his life as we have on this day of service.

 

Harvest VISTA Tina White, who is placed at Elk Run Farm in Maple Valley, wrote about her site’s service event:

Elk Run Farm hosted 72 volunteers for a work party remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to service. Since it was January, the volunteers worked on “back-end” farm work preparing for the upcoming growing season. A new asparagus patch was born, sinks were installed in the washing and packing station, tiny bok choy starts were transplanted to the hoop house, spinach and beets were covered with re-may fabric to protect them from critters searching for food, and invasive blackberry brambles were pushed back even further, opening up potential growing space. The VISTA was excited to see volunteers of all ages working together on the farm, including a couple of professional partners (one being Harvest Against Hunger’s very own Program Director!), celebrating the legacy of Dr. King.

 

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AmeriCorps VISTA Harvest Against Hunger Program

05.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Food Bank, Gleaning, National Site, Volunteering

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.

 

Rachel created and edited this short film that explains the Harvest Against Hunger program from those who serve and support it directly. The footage comes from Harvest Against Hunger’s training from this past fall. Click the link below to learn more about this unique program and the impact it has in communities across the country.

 


 

 

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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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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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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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