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.
Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Mykevia Jones serves at Society of Saint Andrew Florida, a nationwide, faith-based, ecumenical, nonprofit ministry operating a variety of programs that fight hunger in America. The Society of Saint Andrew’s gleaning network coordinates thousands of volunteers with local farmers to actually enter fields and groves after the harvest, and pick up the tons of good purchase left behind and distribute of these loads to large food banks. Thus far in 2019, our dedicated volunteers have collected 2,222,667 pounds of produce that have been distributed to 84 different agencies throughout the state of Florida.
As Society of St. Andrew Florida’s gleaning season comes to an end, Harvest VISTA Mykevia Jones gears up to coordinate the last fresh produce drop for the summer. While, Barbara Sayles, SOSA Florida’s Regional Director led a mission’s trip in Peru, Harvest VISTA, Mykevia handled the Fresh Harvest for Families event logistics which consisted of, multiple event location site visits, coordinate the produce truck delivery, volunteer correspondence, and produce distribution tracking.
A tractor-trailer load of grade A peaches, cucumbers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, and assorted mixed vegetables was donated by SOSA’s long-time partner, the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC). Twenty-three produce-filled pallets were delivered to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church parking lot. Over 300 youth from the Alliance Youth 2019 Life Conference came to volunteer and bag the fresh produce. The produce was then picked up and distributed by several food banks, including Second Harvest and Palm Beach Food Bank, local churches, and social service agencies.
In the last nine years, Society of St. Andrew’s partnership with SEPC has resulted in over 3.7 million servings of nutritious food distributed to hungry people across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. To date, the SEPC has become the largest distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables to food-insecure individuals in the Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Palm Beach areas, feeding over 600 families!
The goal of the Fresh
Harvest for Families event is notably to provide local food-insecure
residents with fresh and nutritious produce.
Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Lynsey Horne serves as program coordinator of Urban Abundance, a program of Slow Food SW WA in Vancouver, WA. Slow Food SW WA is an international organization that advocates for good, clean, fair food for all, and their program Urban Abundance’s mission is to engage neighbors in the maintenance, harvest, and creation of edible landscapes that are accessible to everyone. Urban Abundance is currently partnered with five fruit tree orchards in the Vancouver area to coordinate the seasonal maintenance, harvest, and donation of the fruit to the food bank, and holds workshops and other events throughout the year to engage community members in their food sovereignty.
Harvest VISTA Lynsey Horne got her first small gleans under her belt this spring with a 300 lb harvest of lettuce regrowth and about 100 extra tomato starts from a work party. Working with an organization that primarily gleans in the fall from several community orchard partners around Vancouver, Washington, fresh food donations mostly take place from August-October. That said, Urban Abundance has been shifting its focus from holding work parties and workshops in the orchards, teaching people about fruit tree care, community agriculture, and pollinators to preparing for harvest season and their biggest harvest event and fundraiser of the year Pick-a-Pear-a-thon.
In the five orchards that Urban Abundance has formed partnerships with throughout the past nine years, there are a variety of fruit trees ranging from Bartlett pears, quince, persimmon, and several different apple varieties. Pick-a-Pear-a-thon, the biggest and one of the first harvest events that will take place at the start of the harvest season, happens when the two biggest orchards ripen at the same time. Between the two, there are about 400 Bartlett pear trees, and Urban Abundance’s volunteers have two weeks to pick as many as possible before they start to rot in the middle. They will be harvesting two times a day during those two weeks – it’s all hands on deck!
There have been lots of great opportunities to promote this upcoming harvest season in Vancouver, too. Lynsey has had a presence at multiple days of downtown Vancouver’s awesome weekend markets, and the annual Recycled Arts Festival, which drew a huge crowd and took up the entirety of Esther Short Park for the whole weekend. Urban Abundance is also planning a Pick-a-Pear-a-thon kickoff party at a local restaurant/bar called Brickhouse. This event will have a few special menu items made with Clark County, Washington sourced produce, a pear cider on special, and live music from 3-8. Hopefully, this will be a successful fundraiser, as the non-profit will receive the proceeds from the local menu items and the pear cider on tap. In all, the activities have very much shifted for VISTA Lynsey Horne, from orchard maintenance work parties and workshops to marketing, doing outreach, and recruiting harvest volunteers, but this harvest season is looking like it’s going to be a great one!
Against Hunger Capacity Vista Mykevia Jones serves at Society of Saint
Andrew Florida, a nationwide, faith-based, ecumenical, nonprofit ministry
operating a variety of programs that fight hunger in America. The Society of
Saint Andrew’s gleaning network coordinates thousands of volunteers with local
farmers to actually enter fields and groves after the harvest, and pick up the
tons of good purchase left behind and distribute of these loads to large food
banks. Thus far in 2019, our dedicated volunteers have collected 2,222,667
pounds of produce that have been distributed to 84 different agencies
throughout the state of Florida.
On June 11, 2019, SoSA Florida teamed up with Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Humana to raise awareness of food insecurity in Central Florida. Despite their sacrifices, veterans still struggle to provide food for their families. In reality, 25 percent of veterans struggle to provide food for their families and have reported low food security in the past year. The Uniting to Combat Hunger campaign is a supportive collaborative effort to alleviate hunger in Central Florida.
The goal of Uniting to Combat Hunger campaign is to provide 100,000 meals by organizing food drives across Florida to help meet their goal. This collaborative glean is one of the numerous solutions that will make a positive impact in the lives of veterans and military families across the state of Florida. “Over the past year, Humana and VFW have identified a number of areas where we can strengthen our partnership,” VFW Foundation Director Richard Potter said. “The issue of food insecurity among veterans quickly rose to the top of the list. By working together, we believe we can implement solutions that will make a positive difference in the lives of veterans and military families across the country.”
The gleaning took place at Long & Scott Farms in Lake County, Florida. Humana and VFW volunteers were also joined by a wonderful group of high school students from Washington, DC on mission camp with Hope Community Center in Apopka, FL, approximately 150 volunteers. The volunteers spent 3 hours hand-picking corn that would have otherwise gone remained in field and gone to waste. Together, they picked about 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of delicious Zellwood triple-sweet corn — enough for about 4,000 meals which was donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, where it will go to families who don’t have access to enough nutritious food.
Thanks again to SoSA Florida’s long-time family farm partner Long & Scott Farms!
Miracle Wilson is a recent graduate from the University of South Carolina who earned her B.S. in Environmental Science. During her undergrad, she had volunteered for environmental events in her school and Midlands County. Miracle has always had a passion for the environment and environmental justice since middle school. After college, she moved to Georgia where she later accepted a position to join Society of St. Andrew as a VISTA. She has expressed her passion and determination in feeding her community.
Society of St. Andrew is a nonprofit organization that serves its community by providing free fresh produce and getting the community involved. All food is accepted however, one of the focal points is bringing freshness to people’s diet with produce that are gleaned by their volunteers from farms and markets. Going into a new area, metro Atlanta, they seek to bring the community together and bring awareness to fighting hunger for themselves, their neighbors, and for the state of Georgia.
Mary Pearl Ivy is a recent Earlham College graduate and she majored in Environmental Science with a Biology focus. Mary Pearl was born and raised in Indiana and has just made her way westward to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Yakima, Washington with Harvest Against Hunger. Mary Pearl has spent her last four summers working alongside community members, gardens, college farms and environmental centers to source and grow fresh local foods to provide bellies of all ages and backgrounds with warm meals and healthy groceries. She loves gardening, baking, cooking, hiking and meeting new people.
Harvest Against Hunger Gleaning Coordinator VISTA Mary Pearl Ivy serves at OIC of Washington, a non-profit organization providing community services through federal, state and local funding sources. Mary Pearl’s focus is with the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which aims to supplement the diets of low-income Americans including the elderly by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost. OIC’s Food Bank is also the central distribution agency for Yakima County which distributes food commodities to other food banks through Yakima Valley. In addition to farm to table communications for the food bank, Mary Pearl has plans to recruit volunteers to work within a community garden, in hopes of providing accessibility to knowledge and resources for individuals to grow their own fresh foods.
Spokane Edible Tree Project (SETP), a site of Harvest Against Hunger, mobilizes volunteers to glean fruit from backyard trees and commercial orchards that would otherwise go to waste. Annie Eberhardt is serving as the third AmeriCorps VISTA for SETP, and worked to continue a partnership with a brewery by providing damaged fruit for a brew to benefit SETP.
Although winter is afoot in Spokane, there is still a little slice of the summer harvest fermenting here in town. At Bellwether Brewing Company, a local brewery in the heart of the city, there is a special Spokane Edible Tree Project concoction working to transform into a tasty beverage.
All summer, Annie Eberhardt, the third Harvest Against Hunger VISTA for SETP, has been mobilizing volunteers to glean fruit from going to waste in Spokane County. The majority of the fruit collected is impeccable in quality, easily able to be donated to food pantries and impoverished communities.
However, every now and again, there would be a backyard tree with hail damaged fruit, or even a crop that was just a little too overripe to reasonably donate due to shelf life storage. Annie made it her mission to give this perfectly good fruit a home whenever possible. Luckily, SETP has an existing partnership with Bellwether Brewing Company.
The partnership started in 2017, when SETP gave Bellwether hail damaged plums to concoct plum beer. For the life of the batch, SETP received $1 per pint of the brew served to the public.
The partnership continued this harvest season with more than just plums. This year, there was a peck of slightly too-ripe peaches, a bunch of slightly damaged cherries, and even some organic apples with nicks and dings. Using the changing fruits as a creative opportunity, Bellwether gladly accepted the fruit donation and is continuing to make a partner brew with SETP. The cherry, peach, honey-barley beer with dried apples for added flavor is to be released in the Spring of 2019. Again, $1 from each pint served will be donated to SETP for the life of the batch.
Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Projectin Spokane, Washington, a branch of Harvest Against Hunger. SETP focuses on mobilizing volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste, sending it out to those in need.
When it comes to gleaning season, there is only one thing that can truly be relied on: unexpected circumstances. From the hustle and bustle of coordinating with tree owners, farmers, and individual volunteers, there is no surefire formula for gleaning coordination.
To help alleviate the challenges of this, and further work toward gaining a good formula, HAH AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt adopted a new gleaning schedule model for Spokane Edible Tree Project to help with the recruitment of a consistent volunteer base. Starting in July 2018, SETP began conducting weekly scheduled gleans in an effort to provide a dependable time frame for volunteers and tree owners alike. Thus, Thursday Night Gleans and Saturday Morning Gleans were born. There was also space for a third floater glean during the work week to include employee volunteer groups who wished to help during work hours.
Even with this new model, there was no perfect formula. Week to week, gleaning sites ranged from large commercial orchards to small backyard trees, which meant that marketing and promotion for each of the gleans had to be adjusted accordingly. It was not desirable to have 15 volunteers show up to glean one backyard tree, nor was it desirable to have 5 volunteers show up to glean a large cherry orchard. This meant that gleans had to occasionally be rescheduled or cancelled to adjust to the varying scope of gleaning sites – every week was an adventure.
One such unexpected scheduling change occurred during the coordination of the very last Saturday Morning Glean of the 2018 season. The last Saturday Morning Glean for SETP is a tale of cancellation, pest management issues, frantic coordination, magic, and heartwarming conclusions.
It was mid-October. The last weeks were upon SETP, and there was an energetic rush for the VISTA to gather and unite the community to harvest the last apples of the season. Most of the gleans were scheduled, saved for the last October glean.
Like magic, an orchard, just north of Spokane, was ripe and ready for a large group to glean during the last weekend. It opened up just in time for the VISTA to recruit a large group of youth volunteers who were available to glean on the Sunday of October 28th. With the recruitment of a small group of regular SETP volunteers to glean the day before, on the 27th, the gleaning formula was turning out to be just about as perfect as it could be.
Fast forward to a week later. The orchard owner reached out to the VISTA to inform SETP that the apples were wormy. Since the apple orchard had been gleaned by SETP many times before in previous years, the VISTA had not thought it necessary to arrange a tree scout. Since wormy apples would not be accepted by food banks, the VISTA was now put in a position to try to find a new orchard for the volunteer groups to glean. Again, the energetic rush was back, and the possibility of cancellation was in the air.
Again, the magic acted up. On October 23rd, five days before the gleans, three very synchronistic things happened: the original youth group suddenly had to cancel, a new apple orchard reached out to the VISTA in hopes of scheduling a glean, and a new volunteer group reached out to the VISTA in hopes of helping with a glean on Sunday. The formula was back on track, and the beginning of building new relationships was on the horizon.
The volunteer group who came to the farm to glean on Sunday, October 28th, was a group of women and children from a local shelter. The women were in recovery from drugs and alcohol, getting back on their feet with their families in a safe environment. Most of them had never seen an orchard before and were excited to get outside and be a part of the glean. As the VISTA spent time with them, it was learned that their shelter lived entirely on donated food. The original plan was to donate the gleaned apples to one of SETP’s other community distribution partners. However, upon learning of the circumstances, the VISTA decided to donate all the fruit to the women and children who gleaned them.
The women took the apples back to their home, all 442 pounds of them. They shared the apples with the residents, eating the fruit fresh, as well as making a big apple crisp to share with the shelter. It was heartwarming to see community members in need becoming empowered, taking action to feed their families and neighbors. Sure, there is no perfect gleaning formula. There is no absolute way to provide certainty for how a gleaning event will go, or how a harvest season will be. During that weekend, the VISTA learned that unexpected circumstances are the perfect formula. It’s where the magic lives.
Sharah Truett is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the WSU Extension office in Port Angeles, WA.
The WSU Extension Gleaning Program links homeowners who have extra produce in their yard with volunteers who will pick it and take it to those in need. It’s a kind of fruit and vegetable classified ad service: “Desperately seeking plums,” and “Have fruit, will donate.”
More than 200 homeowners have signed up on the glean site list. Collectively, they donate thousands of pounds of produce each year. But what do they get in return? Gleaning Coordinator Sharah Truett believes, quite a lot.
The homeowners enrolled in the program are often in their 80’s and 90’s and no longer able to pick produce themselves due to age or disability. They call the WSU Extension Office anxious about all the fruit going to waste on their trees, but also just to chat. Many homeowners are fairly housebound and enjoy the company of the gleaner and the connection to the outside community. They request the same gleaning volunteer year after year because they are excited about seeing a friendly face. Sometimes gleaners bring gifts: a small bouquet, or produce to exchange from their own yard. Sometimes they sit down with the homeowner over a cup of tea and shared pictures of grandchildren. Often the gleaners will pick a box of fruit to leave for the homeowner if the homeowner can’t pick their own.
The benefits of a program like this go far beyond what can be measured with a produce scale. There is an additional harvest of neighborliness, companionship, and a sense of purpose. One homeowner battling terminal cancer seemed more concerned about his cherries going to waste. Gleaners assured him that they would take a load of cherries to the Boys and Girls Club, and the homeowner seemed visibly relieved. “Make sure they come and pick next summer too,” he implored his wife from his armchair.
Many benefits of the gleaning program cannot be weighed or quantified or entered into an excel sheet, but they are still important: Like the quiet smile of a dying gardener, knowing that he is helping others.
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.”