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Food Bank

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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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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Springing into action at the Bayview Farmers Market

03.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

 

After the teaser of sunshine and warm days last week, the rain came back just in time for the first Farmers Market at Bayview Corner just south of Langley WA, but that didn’t keep anyone away. A local group of marimba players were cheering up shoppers as they browsed through the first offerings from farmers and crafters from around South Whidbey Island.

 

The current crop of garden apprentices – Annie, Tran, and Kathryn (minus Grayson who was visiting family in Denver) – and the new AmeriCorps VISTA member – Brandi Blais – met with Lissa Firor, Produce manager for the Good Cheer Food Bank, to learn the process for gleaning produce from the Bayview Farmers Market. After going over the general procedure for checking in (for Kathryn and Tran, apprentices at the South Whidbey School Garden, who don’t get over to Good Cheer very often) the first step was to grab the cart and a few sturdy plastic totes.

 

Checking in and grabbing the cart from the Good Cheer Garden shed

 

Next, the crew headed over to the market, about a 5-minute walk through the Good Cheer garden and past the historic Bayview building. Aiming to arrive just before the market closed, so that farmers and shoppers wouldn’t feel crowded by the gleaners, the crew made their way through the market, with Lissa providing introductions to the some of the farm partners as they wound down from a fun and successful first market of the season.

 

Heading through the garden and off to market

 

Good Cheer has many long-term partners in the local farming community, and the warm relationship is evident in the welcoming smiles and cheerful hellos from folks like Bill from Bur Oak Acres and Arwen from Skyroot Farm. Annie and Nathan from Deep Harvest and Foxtail donated kohlrabi, kale, and radishes, along with a few early season herbs. Other gleanings included bok choy, salad mix, and collards.

 

Stopping by Deep Harvest’s farm stand to visit Annie

 

As the cart and crew made their way through the market, a few generous farmers stepped out from behind their tables to drop kale, herbs, or (what else did we get) into the cart.

After a quick stop at Lesedi Farm and African Food for samosas and a detour past the tiny free library, the gleaners made the short walk back to Good Cheer to weigh in and record the day’s catch. In the end, 24 pounds of produce was collected. Donations are tracked, bins labeled, and produce stored in the walk-in cooler for repacking and distribution on the Monday morning following the Saturday market. Produce from the farmer’s market has its own special spot in the cooler, and the entire cooler is organized in a way that keeps things circulating, making sure that customers get the freshest possible produce.

 

Not a bad haul for the first market of the year!

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Produce Sorting 101

13.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Brianna Nash, serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Serving the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, enough for 22,500 meals a day. Along with 43 partner agencies by which food is distributed, Community Food Share has 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 serves as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

 

There are a couple things that make Community Food Share different than some of the other sites in the Harvest Against Hunger cohort. While Community Food Share is part of the Feeding America network, the organization also resides in a state where the growing season is quite short. Fresh fruits and veggies can only grow outdoors in Colorado from late-May through mid-September. This reality may be inescapable, but Community Food Share strives to provide fresh produce all year round to all that utilize the food bank. The produce comes from all over the country every week – mangoes from Mexico, oranges from Texas, apples from Washington, and potatoes from Southern Colorado.

Bulk 2,000lb pallets of carrots. Volunteers usually sort these and put into cardboard boxes.

 

Large pallet of mangoes. One of five that came in a shipment.

 

With a well-established volunteer network, Community Food Share sees thousands of volunteers come through the doors every year. Almost every day, volunteers are engaged in produce sorting activities. Usually, volunteers are sorting large 1,500+ pound totes and pallets of produce into smaller boxes or into red mesh bags for easy takeaway. Sometimes the produce is in perfect shape, sometimes it isn’t. The trickiest part of our operation here is figuring out how to empower volunteers to make the correct decisions in “isolating” or composting produce. A carrot might have three legs, but that doesn’t mean it’s inedible!

 

Volunteers working on bagging apples from large tote in produce sorting area.

 

The AmeriCorps VISTA is currently working on signage and a standard operating procedure for volunteer produce sorting. This process has been interesting and has delved into the realms of food safety, food bank warehouse protocol, and produce research. The Feeding America network has many standards by which sorting occurs; it’s been up to Brianna to translate that information into volunteer-accessible instruction.

A few examples are:

  • A slightly bruised apple is not a bad apple
  • Onions skins sometimes have strange discoloration and its ok to peel a few layers back to check if it’s ok
  • Soft produce (like oranges and tomatoes) is much more likely to harvest mold internally than hard produce (like onions and potatoes)
  • Weird shapes are almost always ok!

 

Orange bagging by volunteer in warehouse.

With her supervisor, Brianna decided on creating large visuals that exemplify the above bullet points. Large magnetic signs will be made for the produce sorting area at Community Food Share. These signs will be attached to the wall above the sorting tables and will include visual “bad” and “good” photos of apples, citrus, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Since they will be magnetic, staff will also be able to move around the warehouse, if volunteers are sorting in another area. Additionally, the VISTA will create a Community Food Share produce sorting SOP by the end of her term. This will allow staff members to reference sorting protocol and provide that information to volunteers in an accurate manner.

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AmeriCorps Week With Good Cheer Food Bank

15.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Washington Site

This week (March March 11 – 17, 2018)  is AmeriCorps week. It’s also Good Cheer Food Banks Harvest Against Hunger’s VISTA’s second year serving in AmeriCorps.

Kelly’s first term was a year spent volunteering with American Youthworks; an Austin non-profit that builds out tiny homes at Community First, an initiative to house the homeless. They also work on home repairs through the city of Austin to fight gentrification!


This past year she joined AmeriCorps VISTA to leverage program management skills and dive deep into the food waste problem and inequities in our society that are at the root causes of hunger. Through this year at Good Cheer Food Bank she has been working as the gleaning program coordinator under a sponsorship through Harvest Against Hunger, a Rotary First created program, that places AmeriCorps members across the nation to connect local growers, and missing connections to their local food banks to see less food wasted nationally and get fresh, local produce to those experiencing food insecurities.

If you ever have questions about Kelly’s AmeriCorps experiences and are thinking of joining AmeriCorps, or just want to learn more contact Good Cheer Food Bank.  In 2018 alone, there are 75,000 members serving across America!

 
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Harvest For Vashon’s First Glean

07.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, 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. As such, the Food Bank and FAP have teamed up to start three new programs on Vashon Island, all designed to increase food security and decrease food waste: a Gleaning Program, a Grow A Row Program, and a donation station at the farmer’s market. As the first year VISTA for these two organizations, Sam will facilitate the primary development of these programs, all of which are designed to increase the community’s access to locally grown, organic produce.

 

On Saturday, February 24th, Sam Carp, an Americorps VISTA and the Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator, organized a glean of Northbourne Farm, a small, organic vegetable farm on Vashon Island. This was the first gleaning event of the Harvest For Vashon Campaign, and it was a great success! The gleaning team (Sam and four volunteers) was able to harvest almost 100 pounds of kale, chard, and salad greens within just a couple of hours! The produce was then brought to the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for distribution that week. Some of it was also given to Island churches for their community dinners, which are hosted every night.

 

 

As the programs continue the transition into spring, it becomes increasingly evident how much opportunity there is to discover sites of wasted produce on Vashon. Although it is a community that is well known for supporting smallscale, sustainable agriculture, a countless amount of fresh produce goes to waste for a number of reasons, just like in many other farming communities. With help, gleaning can be just one of many approaches that can be utilized to decrease the footprint of waste Vashon residents leave behind. This waste can then be used to support the food security of those very same people.

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Whidbey Island Community Collaboration

23.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Kelly Pinkley serves at Good Cheer Food Bank a nonprofit located on Whidbey Island. This nonprofit is really innovative in that it gets it’s funding from a variety of different things but mostly sustains on the funds they get from their thrift stores making a profit off clothing, housewares, and furniture that their community members donate to them. This sustainable funding has allowed for them to become quite the model food bank, hosting their own garden, apprenticeships, and gleaning programs. The gleaning program along side the garden efforts brings in nearly 30,000+ pounds of fresh produce into Good Cheer. As the first of a set of three sponsored HAH VISTA’s to be placed at Good Cheer; Kelly’s year as their Gleaning Program Coordinator has consisted of a lot of capacity building, community collaborations, new partnerships, educational awareness, and program marketing. 

Langley, WA is a really tight-knit community that is always looking for creative ways to bring everyone together, especially when it’s for a good cause. Good Cheer Food Bank has been a big part of the community for over 50 years starting out as a volunteer group providing “good cheer” to families that couldn’t afford to do so around the holiday season. It has since grown into a thrift store which then allowed them to afford the funds to provide a local Food Bank, Good Cheer Food Bank.

The HAH VISTA collaborated with different community partners to throw an event that raised up to 300 dollars for the food bank and had some 20 plus people in attendance which is pretty successful for a first-time event. Because Good Cheer has their thrift stores, the volunteers in the distribution center that sort the clothes out and price them set aside clothing they thought qualified as wacky, vintage, or just plain cool for 2 months prior to the event. This allowed for 3 racks of clothing available to choose from at the fundraiser.

The event was called Dress and Date. Community members were encouraged to bring a friend to dress up for the cost of 25.00 per couple which provided a fun new outfit for each to go home in. With the generous partnerships made in Langley: Prima Bistro & Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar offered 30% off dinner for the participants, Flying Bear Farm a local florist offered 25% off wearable flowers, and the local Arcade offered a percentage off Virtual Reality games and stayed open late. A lot of the participants were very excited for such a creative event that was for a good cause and fun was had by all.

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Regional Food Summit 2018 Features the Palouse Tables Project

08.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food Summit, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Michelle Blankas serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and community food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and SNAP. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas, Joe Astorino, and Ashley Vaughan of the Community Action Center presented at the Regional Food Summit in Pullman, WA to launch a regional community food security assessment, the Palouse Tables Project.

 

 

On January 27, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project was invited to talk to the community about food insecurity on the Palouse. The HAH VISTA and the site team built a case for why the food insecurity assessment was necessary and how interested people could help with that effort. One hundred and thirty community members were present and included people from two food coalitions, food pantry managers, farmers, volunteers, non-profit organizations, the media, and more. They were asked to share the values they brought to the table, which would then inform the project and, ultimately, a regional food plan based on community input.

 

A slide created by the HAH VISTA in the Palouse Tables Project.

 

The next steps in the food assessment include holding focus groups with people who use food assistance programs, household food security and shopping patterns, and local food producers. Retail food surveys will be conducted to understand what the quality and cost of foods are at food retailers and community meetings will be held to coordinate community visioning for a secure, local, healthy, and sustainable foodshed.

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