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Food Bank

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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New Year, New You

01.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, National Site

For many people living in poverty, eating healthy is a luxury. Eating healthy has been marketed to the masses in America as something that costs a lot of money through purchases such as gym memberships, exercise equipment, and expensive dietary foods and supplements. That is why Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Amy Reagan located in Fairfax, VA; teamed up with a Virginia Cooperative Extension SNAP-ED Program Assistant to instruct a nutrition course for the clients of Food for Others. The participating clients are learning how to eat healthy on a budget. All the recipes they learn contain food they can receive from the Food for Others pantry, including a plethora of wonderful produce. Once the 2018 gleaning season gets back into full swing, the extension agent will be able to incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables for our clients to take home with them.

 

Food for Others staff members with apples

 

In order to set a good example for their clients; the Food for Others staff is participating in a produce consumption challenge, created by Amy. Over the course of her VISTA year, Amy has noticed that there would be produce donated that the staff at Food for Others had either never seen before or had never tried. For example, one client was asking about what an acorn squash was and how to prepare it. None of the staff the client talked to knew, so she left without taking an acorn squash. When a staff member told Amy the next day about what had happened; she realized there was a great training opportunity. She created a list of 42 pictures of different fruits and vegetables that farmers had donated to Food for Others through the Virginia Food Crop Donation Tax Credit. Amy then met with each staff member to review the different produce, identify what they did not like, and note what they have not tried. This challenge will last from February 1, 2018 until December 1, 2018, to ensure that staff members try produce from Virginia’s spring, summer, and fall growing seasons.

 

Food For Others staff member eating a carrot

 

The rules to this challenge are simple:

1) You get 1 point for each item of produce you eat.
2) You can get 1 bonus point for trying a fruit or vegetable you did not already know the name of.
3) You can get 2 points for trying a fruit or vegetable you didn’t like before.
4) You can get 5 points for bringing in a client-friendly recipe for any of the produce you try.
5) Once a week you will record your total points will be recorded.

The staff member with the most points will win a $100 gift card to a grocery store.

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Repurposed Plums in Beer

25.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning

In the summer of 2017, Spokane Edible Tree Project received a call from a tree owner whose plums had been damaged by hail. Though still perfectly edible, the cosmetic damage made the fruit undesirable by food banks.

 

Plums damaged by hail, a few weeks before they were harvested by SETP volunteers.

 

Wanting to find a way to save more plums from waste, SETP approached a local brewery and asked if they would like to try making beer with the plums. Soon after, 226 pounds of gleaned golden plums were delivered to Bellwether Brewing Company. Their head brewer, Thomas, created a Belgian-style tripel with the plums, then blended it with a wine barrel-aged imperial rye. Each pour of the ale would benefit SETP.

On a Thursday evening in January, they celebrated the release of their ale. Community members were invited to try the beer and learn about the partnership. Local musician Drew Blincow provided entertainment. It was a unique opportunity for SETP to introduce themselves to more community members, raise some funds, and promote their gleaning program. $1 from every beer sold will be donated back to Spokane Edible Tree Project.

 

Drew Blincow plays music at the plum ale release party.

 

A second collaborative brew is underway. Apples from a November glean were dried and delivered to Bellwether. Now their brewers are working their magic, and a release is expected later in the year. This collaboration was also featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting, though the amount of plums gleaned was 234 not 30 as the article mentions here.

 

A brewery staff member holds bags of dried apples delivered by Spokane Edible Tree Project.

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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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