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Food Bank

Lessons Learned from August Gleaning Season on an Island

28.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest VISTA, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.

Harvest for Vashon Program Coordinator Cassidy Berlin has wasted no time in taking extra produce off of growers’ hands this month. From tiny raspberry patches to scorching greenhouses overflowing with tomatoes, Cassidy and a team of volunteers have gleaned over 1,000lbs of fruits and vegetables from the properties of gardeners and farmers. One bewildered community member reached out with a plea for help. She moved her family to Vashon island this Spring and was aghast at how many plums the tree in her new backyard was producing. “We are eating, dehydrating, and canning as many as we can, and it hasn’t made a dent! Can you come (to glean) twice this week?”

The Vashon Food Bank faces the same challenge as many local gardeners: at one point during the season, the produce section is overflowing with ripe tomatoes, plums, squash, and greens. Not all produce leftover after a week of distribution will maintain its freshness until next week. Is there an alternative to donating it to local pig farmers? An August field trip to Food Lifeline’s warehouse provided an answer.

Beginning this September, the Vashon Food Bank will start sending extra island produce to Food Lifeline to redistribute to other food banks in the area; specifically, food banks that don’t currently have access to untreated, locally grown tree fruit. Cases of yellow plums, seckel pears, and snacking-variety apples will be redistributed to food insecure populations in greater King County. In the same spirit as national “Sneak Some Zucchini onto your Neighbor’s Porch Day” (celebrated August 8th), Harvest for Vashon promotes the adage that sharing is caring. 

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Growing winter crops for the Food Bank

21.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

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.

Good Cheer is fortunate to have many generous gardeners on the south end who regularly donate fresh produce throughout the summer, but fresh produce donations in the winter are less common. Gardening during the winter is challenging, but it can be done! And, it’s a great way to have fresh produce for your table in the winter. This year, Island County is promoting the Grow A Row program to encourage donations of fresh produce to Whidbey Island Food Banks.

If you feel like a challenge, try planting some winter crops! Leeks, parsnips, and brussel sprouts are good choices for this climate, along with kale and cauliflower. Now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests – check out the Tilth guide for tips and information on planting and extending the harvest season.

Our intrepid garden manager, Stephanie, kept one of the Good Cheer Garden kale beds going last winter, mainly by just letting it do its thing. She also grew some beautiful overwintered cauliflower, and our produce manager Lissa reports that her compost pile was warm enough to grow tiny but tasty new potatoes that she harvested early this spring. I let a few radishes hang around last fall (okay, let’s be honest – I planted them in an old ammo box and forgot about them till the spring) and they surprised me by not only surviving but flourishing; they flowered and then put out radish pods around the beginning of May. If you haven’t tried radish pods, they’re delicious, sort of spicy and just the thing for spring salads.

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Growing Food Security in our Community

31.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, South King County, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.

The island of Vashon is home to 10,000 year-round residents, two large grocery stores, and dozens of tiny farms trying to keep up with the ravenous demand for local produce. In a community where a good head of napa cabbage can retail for over $10, getting summer produce in low-income houses requires multiple avenues of work and collaboration. In addition to gleaning fruit from unpicked trees and encouraging local gardeners to donate extra harvests, starts have been provided to food bank customers to grow a bit of their own food.

“This is really great, I just dug up my yard yesterday. What kind of lettuce is that?” asks one customer before his weekly shop at the food bank. By providing a variety of starts for customers to choose from, families who are interested in gardening can supplement their weekly food budget with homegrown kale, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and bush beans. People with reliable access to resources such as food, employment, childcare, and health insurance frequently misconceive the ability for food insecure individuals to grow their own food. Born of the “bootstraps” mentality, it’s easy to task resource-strapped families with the responsibility of starting and maintaining a garden.

In a community where family gardens are ubiquitous, growing advice is abundant. Most impoverished community members juggle the lack of affordable health insurance, housing, and childcare in addition to multiple jobs. Foodbank customers who have the time, energy, and space to grow their own food are delighted to be supplied starts. Harvest for Vashon proudly continues crafting different solutions to make healthy, local produce accessible for all.

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Presentation is Key

15.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.

As the Farmers’ Markets season begins, the streets abound with wicker baskets, colorful displays of fruits and vegetables, and smiling faces. The uncharacteristically heavy rain has done little to dampen the excitement, and both farmers and shoppers gear up for the over twenty-two markets the region has to offer. A similar process begins over at Food for Others, where VISTA Maheyaar Barron and the rest of the team make place for the thousands of pounds of fresh produce soon to come through the warehouse doors. Space is cleared in the food banks walk-through Choice Section, the primary distribution point for the new gleanings.

The Farmers’ Market experience is one that is hard to replicate at the food bank. Limited funds mean that the picturesque wicker baskets are replaced with plastic or cardboard containers. Instead of sunshine, the fresh produce is framed with canned goods, grey flooring, and harsh, white lighting. The mood of shoppers also differs, as their presence in the space is out of necessity rather than choice.

Maheyaar has been trying to research and brainstorm ways to make the space more inviting, building on the work of his predecessors. Grace, last year’s VISTA, had added her own flair, marking the days produce on small chalkboard signs, including recipes and nutrition facts, etc. So what’s next? Luckily, Food for Others is moving forward with a long-awaited building project and will be constructing a whole new room for the Choice Section. With better lighting, temperature control, and display, the hope is to increase not only the volume of produce taken but also the number of shoppers moving through the space at one time. With all this in place, Maheyaar’s focus can shift to nutrition knowledge dissemination, making sure the shopper knows the what and why of what they are taking home.

Ambiance is essential in making the families feel comfortable, supported, and respected. It is also a way to incentivize healthy choices. Supermarkets spend large sums of time and money sprucing up their produce displays, and while their goals may be different, the strategies are the same. Learning from and reaching out to local stores may be the next step.

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Building True Accessibility

27.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.

As the Food for Others gleaning program enters its third year, summer fruits and vegetables have become commonplace at all levels of distribution. The 2018 season brought in over 43,000 pounds of produce, giving clients fresh and nutritious options to take home to their families. The donations are distributed through the choice section, where referrals can shop for their food, as well as through neighborhood site distribution. Using these methods, Food for Others is working to increase food equity within its service region.

 As the supply side of the equation is slowly improved, demand is still very complicated. Client preferences do not always align with available items, and some donations stay on the shelf, untouched. These inclinations are due to a variety of factors: Need for culturally appropriate food, lack of cooking skills or time to cook, nutrition education, the unfamiliarity of the produce, etc.

Efforts to provide more culturally relevant produce through the gleaning program are currently underway– the emphasis on community gardens. Belvedere Elementary School, which boasts multiple green spaces, has been looking for opportunities to further educate its students on social service. Using a produce preference survey conducted by the first VISTA, Amy Reagan, Belvedere will soon be growing high demand produce for the food bank. Local fifth grade girl scouts are taking similar measures by looking to cultivate a plot at their own school. As more and more gardens sign up to be a part of the Grow a Row program, Food for Others will be able to more optimally target its clients’ needs and decrease the amount of food left on the shelf.

To mitigate other factors preventing equal access to fresh produce, Food for Others is offering two eight week cooking courses in partnership with both a nearby low-income housing unit and the Virginia Extension office. The classes will be held at the housing unit, and will promote nutritious foods, cooking skills, food budgeting, and safe food handling. Through its connection with a local CSA, Waterpenny Farm, Food for Others will provide each attendee with a share of fresh produce. Recipes will center around the items in each weekly basket, with the intention of increasing participants’ knowledge of the different fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them. Upon completion of the course Virginia Extension will provide each member with an eighteen piece set of cooking pots, removing a high cost up-front barrier.

Access to healthy produce has many layers. Food for Others is attempting to balance meeting clients’ preferences with recognizing and combatting the systemic way in which marginalized communities have been primed to reject healthy options. This will require both time and a multifaceted approach.

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Surviving the ‘Snowpocalypse’

14.02.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

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.

In a place known for mild winters and an idyllic climate, a real snowstorm can be a treat…at first. Snowball fights! Sledding! Everything shuts down and we all get to stay home and drink cocoa!

Then reality sets in – the roads are icy, propane runs out and can’t be refilled if delivery trucks can’t make the rounds, grocery stores can’t restock if trucks can’t deliver. Often only the main roads get plowed or sanded, public transit stops running, and many people don’t have vehicles that can handle icy road conditions. Even people who do have AWD or 4WD sometimes forget that they still have to compensate for the conditions. Chains or snow tires aren’t always enough, and the best equipped vehicle in the world won’t save you from the poor driving of other people on the road.

It’s easy to tell people they should stock up on supplies when they know a storm is coming, but that’s not always feasible when funds are short. Winter is often a time of ‘heat or eat’ choices for folks with limited incomes, and this is often exacerbated by the sub-freezing temperatures and power outages that come with winter storms. The most recent storm cycle to hit the PNW served to highlight the difficulties faced by vulnerable members of the community; seniors and those facing food insecurity in particular.

With road conditions preventing most of the staff from getting to the Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island, there were several days of snow closures or shortened hours over the first two weeks of February. This affected many people in the community who depend on the food bank; even if Good Cheer was open, if families couldn’t make it due to road conditions they faced the prospect of going hungry.

Fortunately, as the winter storm cycle drug on, quickly wearing out its welcome, the community of South Whidbey banded together. Local Facebook pages served as means to update road conditions and check on neighbors. Offers of help were made daily, along with offers of rides for those stuck or without 4WD vehicles, deliveries of supplies, and warnings about particularly bad areas. Several local good samaritans regularly offered to deliver supplies to folks who were stranded. An inspiring example of community spirit was a post on a local page asking for help in getting food to a family that was snowbound and running low – multiple people responded with offers to deliver food, asking what was needed and where to bring it.

As we face the real evidence of climate change and its effects on not just our environment but our food supply, honest conversations and practical measures to prepare for the ‘new normal’ will be key to adapting. There is still hope for slowing down the effects, but it seems unrealistic to believe that we can avoid the looming drastic changes altogether. But if the latest ‘Snowpocalypse’ taught us anything, it is that we are stronger together.

“My message to you all is of hope, courage and confidence. Let us mobilize all our resources in a systematic and organized way and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline worthy of a great nation.”  Muhammad Ali Jinnah

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Family Ties Stay Strong with Giving

23.01.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Malik Salsberry serves at Community Food Share, a nonprofit located in Louisville, CO. This nonprofit is one of the five Feeding America food banks that help to serve all of Colorado and Wyoming, with Community Food Share’s focus being Boulder and Broomfield counties. This nonprofit makes its distinction from other food banks in the area by having a major focus on fresh produce and protein, with goals of 75% being fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, and protein sources, like fresh milk, eggs, beans, and meat. Community Food Share supports other area food pantries as well as their own programs which serve different populations like children and the elderly.

While snow continues to fall in the foothills of Boulder, CO, that hasn’t slowed down any of the planning that’s going into next seasons farms and gardens, especially regarding plans to host new gleaning opportunities. As the planning stage intensifies, plans for hosting gleans has turned into a family tradition for a long time Boulder family; the Munson’s.

This family tradition of two-fold giving, donating fresh produce to food banks and pantries while hosting gleaning opportunities for local nonprofits, was first started by the co-owners’ father, Robert Munson. Although Bob was an electrical engineer by trade and built a long and successful career, his childhood of working on his family’s farm in Illinois grew into a new found love for raising crops.

Bob started Munson Farms in 1976 with the help of his wife and children, cultivating not only his passion for farming but also his passion for giving back to the community, as he planted extra crops just for these donation efforts. Bob and his sons, Mike and Chris, would continue growth by building their own farm stands to help bring in additional income to the farm. Bob continued to give annually to Community Food Share and other local nonprofits whose missions involved helping their fellow neighbor, giving over one million pounds of produce to Community Food Share since 1982 and providing a variety of gleans to community members.

Like father like son, even building his own career in electrical engineering, Mike has made it a personal mission to continue with his father’s work on the farm and giving back to Community Food Share and other local nonprofits.

The partnership between Munson Farms and Community Food Share continues and plans are being made for donations and gleaning opportunities this season, including donations of their famous sweet corn, squash, pumpkins, peas, and other produce. Mike is excited to continue providing the same opportunities that his father did; providing nutritious produce for community members in need and gleaning opportunities for volunteers.

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Welcome Cassidy, Food Equity on Vashon Island

12.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as a coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. The goal of this collaboration is to connect surplus island harvests with consumers in order to combat the economic obstacles that historically prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in food-insecure communities.

New AmeriCorps VISTA member Cassidy Berlin is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Northern Michigan University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, which explored the ways in which geography and human systems influence each other.  She dedicated her undergraduate thesis to the politicization of the environmental movement and found inspiration in the founding principles of the National Park Service. Since graduating she has worked as a seasonal park ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Acadia National Parks, and also interned seasonally with a New York-based nonprofit. She credits an outstanding network of educators, peers, and coworkers with encouraging her to pursue these adventurous opportunities. She is driven and excited to help develop an equitable food system in the Vashon community.

One short ferry ride away from Seattle’s bustling downtown district brings locals and visitors alike to Vashon Island, the largest island in the Puget Sound. The island sits halfway between West Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula and is home to over 10,000 permanent residents. The proximity to Seattle and Tacoma is part of Vashon’s appeal; the community maintains an easygoing, small-town charm while being able to partake in the innumerable resources and services usually reserved to urban areas.

The local population is economically diverse. With no designated low-income housing available, islanders face a housing crisis. There’s a saying on Vashon, though, that represents the spirit and resilience of this small community: the island provides. Dozens of farms and hundreds of personal gardens dot the island’s 37 mi². Like many Washington communities, Vashon is home to a popular farmer’s market, one with produce prices that are historically inaccessible to low-income households. The Food Access Partnership and the food bank are trying to change that.

 

A portion of the produce selection available during Thanksgiving week distribution.

The previous VISTA service member created a volunteer-based gleaning effort, which collected surplus harvests from island farms and gardens and donated them to the food bank and successfully developed sustainable relationships in the local growing community. The second year of this collaboration will continue facilitating local gleaning efforts and will further develop the Grow A Row program, which encourages island gardeners to designate a row of their harvest to the food bank. Empowering community customers during distribution hours will be made possible through a volunteer-run stand with education materials on alternative payment options for local food. Finally, this year will provide the opportunity to increase year-round access to healthy foods through food preservation efforts, such as canning and dehydrating.

 

In what is expected to be a fruitful year of community engagement, the VISTA collaboration will increase access to locally grown abundance by, as one FAP member said, “serving the unserved in our community.”

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Why do you glean?

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Sharah Truett is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the WSU Extension office in Port Angeles, WA.

VISTA member Sharah Truett interviewed several gleaning volunteers during the 2018 harvest season to find out what personally motivated them to glean.  Here is what they had to say:

“It doesn’t take much to end up in a predicament,” acknowledged gleaner Cindy Schrader.  She’s speaking from experience from a brief period in her life when she didn’t have enough food to eat. “I was a single mom living in Nebraska, living paycheck to paycheck.  My co-workers came to my rescue…they bailed me out with sacks of groceries when I was going through some really rough times.”

Now, as a gleaning volunteer, Cindy has the ability to help others get healthy food on their table.

Karlena Brailey, a long time gleaner with the program, participates in order to “personally have a connection to the food system and to give her daughter a connection to the land.” During a time in her life when her cost of living exceeded her income, she says gleaning “was like a gift…”  She loved feeling like she “didn’t have to ration seasonal produce”.  Nowadays Karlena donates a great deal of gleaned produce to the food banks because “it benefits community health in a significant way.”

Another enthusiastic supporter of the gleaning program is Forks resident Jody Schroeder, who even organized a gleaning event on his own this year. When asked what motivates him, he says, ” As a young father in the military, I had, on occasion, needed to go visit my local food bank for help through the government commodities program. If I can help another father with food for his kids, I will. There is nothing worse, I feel, than seeing food go to waste in someone’s garden when it could benefit some family with hungry children.”

Over and over again, the gleaners whom Sharah interviewed spoke of the importance of giving back.  They remembered times in their own lives when they were food insecure and friends, family, and even strangers stepped in to help them out.  Now they glean in order to bring healthy food to others who are struggling.

Jody Schroeder is now the president of a local food bank and loves seeing those shelves stocked with local produce. He says, “If people have extra food from their gardens, by all means, DONATE IT!  If you can’t pick it, call the gleaners.  Don’t let it rot on the vine when you can help feed the hungry…Nobody should go hungry.”

 

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Welcome, Malik!

30.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Hello y’all,

I’m very excited to give some information on Community Food Share and the Garden Share Program that I will be coordinating this year. Community Food Share is a non-profit organization that looks to eliminate poverty in Boulder and Broomfield counties of Colorado, a problem that is faced by every 1 in 8 people here. With a major emphasis on fresh produce and protein, Community Food Share has been working with local food companies, private and public donors, and independent and corporate food volunteers since 1981 to help our neighbors in need. We also serve as one of the few national food banks that don’t charge our participants or food pantries for food, which is something we take great pride in. We do this while also managing to provide food, over 75% of which is fresh produce and protein including milk, beef, chicken, and eggs. Within Community Food Share is the Garden Share Program, which helps coordinate with local farmers, gardeners, and green-thumbers to help bring in fresh, locally grown produce. A major component of Garden Share is the gleaning program that happens, where volunteers come to a local garden or farm and help to pick the produce that may otherwise be thrown away or not bought at the store, or as we generally call them, “the seconds”. With this program in the past two years we have helped to save over 40,000 pounds in gleans alone, with another over 200,000 pounds coming from local farmer donations, and I can’t wait to build on those numbers!

Some background info about me: I’m a recent spring 2018 graduate from the University of Iowa with a degree in Enterprise Leadership and a minor in Psychology. The major areas of focus for my degree were entrepreneurial, social, and leadership studies paired with practical business skills and etiquette. My previous position before coming to Community Food Share was an apprentice with Grow: Johnson County, a non-profit, organic farm that harvests and donates all of the crops from about 4.5 acres to local area food missions, such as broccoli, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, okra, and some 70 other crops. This past harvest season we donated over 40,000 pounds of organic produce to community partners in the Johnson County area to help distribute to our neighbors in need of good food. While working with Grow, I developed the strong belief that good food is a human right, and I full-heartedly believe that mantra and love supporting organizations and people pushing for that same right for all. Some passions and hobbies of mine include gardening, cooking, reading, writing, traveling, and being involved with almost anything outdoors.

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