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National Site

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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Welcome, Maheyaar!

13.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is a recent graduate from Middlebury College that majored in Environmental Economics. His work experience following graduation includes food security research, hands-on food business experience, and translation, all in the greater DMV area. His work in this region continues as he begins his one year term with Food for Others in Fairfax, Virginia. Maheyaar will be serving as their third Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, and he is excited to be promoting food equity within Northern Virginia.

Food for Others is both a food bank and pantry that has been servicing Northern Virginia since 1995. The organization runs a variety of programs from weekend lunches for in-need elementary school kids to emergency food aid under the USDA. In order to increase their communities access to fresh and healthy produce, Food for Other paired up with Harvest Against Hunger in 2018 to start its Gleaning Program, diverting thousands of pounds of potentially wasted produce from both farms and farmers markets. Now in its third year, the program is partnering with 9 farms and 23 farmers markets!

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Nourishing Young Minds with Nutrition and Service Learning

07.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Community Food Share, 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.

Even though snow continues to come down on the Front Range in Colorado the growing season is fast approaching and preparations are well underway. As more people are getting antsier to start gardening outside the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Malik Salsberry, saw some of that same enthusiasm in the students at the Bixby School in Boulder, CO.

According to Laura Porpora, Bixby’s Gifted and Learning Specialist, “Bixby School is committed to educating the whole child, and that includes nourishing food from our own garden. Our school chef, Amber, incorporates freshly picked vegetables into wholesome meals for pre-school through fifth grade students. Our gardening coordinator, Nifer, tends to 3,000 square feet of garden beds with a variety of produce like tomatoes, squash, and beans.”

With the help of some teacher’s the students eagerly jumped into their service learning curriculum as well as the seed sorting activity that was explained to them by the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA. Teachers and students worked together to organize around 7,500 seed packets that were donated to Community Food Share from a local seed producer, Renee’s Garden and would go to benefit several vital programs and events. While the school still had class during the day to fuel the education of the 30 students that were involved many were able to take time to learn about the seed sorting activity, why they were sorting them, and who it would benefit overall.

The VISTA was excited to help work with the students and help facilitate along with the staff as the activity was explained and goals were set. The students organized the seeds by type of seeds, whether they were vegetables, fruit, herbs, or flowers, and sorted them by type of vegetable. The staff and students were even organizing down to the different kinds of beans, tomatoes, and kales that were donated. The Bixby students also worked with the bilingual seed packets that were donated that will be used to help Community Food Share’s bilingual and Spanish speaking participants. This part of the activity also gave the students a chance to learn the Spanish names of their favorite fruits and veggies.

The main use for the organized seeds is to use them for programs that encourage community members to get involved with their garden and give them some resources to start. The Harvest Against Hunger VISTA has worked with the Master Gardeners of Boulder County to find channels to give out the seed packets and spark interest in gardening, including a class for starting plants by seed, tabling events where we give out seeds to pantry participants, and giving out seeds to the community and non-profit gardens. Another function for some of the seeds is to help with the Bixby School gardens which are used as a teaching tool throughout their curriculum and to provide students with fresh produce for school lunches.

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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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As senior hunger rises, community members in Southern Georgia step-up to fight back

19.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest against Hunger Americorps Vista Taylor Rotsted is serving as a gleaning specialist in southern Georgia at her Host Site, the Society of Saint Andrew (SOSA). The Society of Saint Andrew in Georgia has provided people in need more than 15 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other produce through the Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in approximately 45 million servings of food going to Georgia’s hungry. SOSA works with both volunteers and farmers to grow the Georgia Gleaning Network and lean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.

Food insecurity in Georgia is a pervasive issue, but among that population is an even more venerable demographic – older adults 60 and up. A 2016 report ranks Georgia 9th in the nation for the prevalence of older adults facing food insecurity; currently numbered at 300,000 people. This group of individuals has a higher risk of health issues, lower standard of living, and high medication nonadherence when in a state of food insecurity and is projected to increase to 17% by 2032.

The Senior Hunger Regional Coalition is facilitated by Southern Georgia Area Agency on Aging in partnership with Society of St. Andrew, the host site for Americorp Vista, Taylor Rotsted, and seeks to improve the health and wellness of hungry seniors. The coalition, which now consists of wellness coordinators, farmers, meals on wheels representatives and many others with a dedication to improving the state of hungry older adults, met in a former warehouse turned community center that was supposedly used for dances back in the day. Reasonably, the building was structured to house large, lively groups. The coalition was well-suited to their surroundings as all 33+ cavorted and networked. This first meeting saw no shortage of passion or diversity in the participants which is the best recipe for a strong coalition that will create actionable change.

Taylor was tasked with facilitating the break out groups. The main focus areas were Food Access, Food Waste and Reclamations, Meeting the needs of the community, and Impact of Senior Hunger on Health. In all the meeting and events Taylor has assisted in – she has never had a break-out session that had to be cut short. Emails were exchanged within focus groups in order to keep the dialogue going. Although what gathered people in that refurbished dance hall is a terrible reality in our society, the group left with a sense of hope and empowerment through the new partnerships formed at the First Southern Regional Senior Hunger Coalition Meeting.

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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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Sweet Potatoes for Days in Mississippi

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

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Lindsey Shaw serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in Mississippi/Arkansas. In 2018, SoSA MS gleaned 2,751,580 pounds of fresh produce in 461 events, with 2,515 volunteers. Food donated by 74 farmers has been distributed to hungry people through 240 feeding agencies. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. 

Every year, Southern Miss University puts on an annual Crop Drop during homecoming week to help feed their neighbors on campus and the surrounding community. Not once has this event worked out as planned! Last year our driver cancelled at the last minute. So, when life throws a curb ball, don’t freak out! Ask your community partners how to adapt to make it successful.

We are so glad that there are so many dedicated organizations in Mississippi that are committed to feeding their neighbors and communities. At this event, one difficulty after another presented itself as a barrier to us doing the crop drop, but our partners were dedicated to making it happen.

Our volunteer drove an 18-wheeler full of 20,000 pounds of potatoes almost 4 hours across the state to deliver at the drop spot, but arrived 3.5 hours later than anticipated. Volunteers started to fall off since the truck was late and other homecoming activities were scheduled. What were we to do with 20K pounds? That’s #sweetpotatoes for days…

At that point, a volunteer named Jim drove his forklift, volunteers and pallets from across town to help move things. What ended up happening was awesome! We ended up bagging 20,000 sweet potatoes in 1.5 hours. Due to a lot of our partners that came together, it was fast! People were overwhelmed by the response they received from their partners. People from all over the state Facebook liked, shared, and wanted to be involved, asking how they could help.

This one event is helping other non-profits grow and potentially get more food to their community. The video showing the results gave publicity and community awareness to the issues of hunger and highlighted those doing the work. It was a motivating force because of the unique situation. Jim found out the adaptation. He stepped out of his routine and helped by driving his fork lift 12 miles per hour across town! This video reached 2,500 views in one day, which isn’t going viral, but for the town of Hattiesburg, that’s a lot of people!!! People everywhere saw and that one video was worth all the hiccups. Sometimes we have to step back and measure our success in a different way. Things don’t always work out perfectly or timely but touching people and impacting lives is our ultimate mission.

It looked like a terrible day, but what ended up happening is that more people were available to help! Takeaway: You can’t get too bogged down when some things go wrong. You have to have faith in your partners that there’s a plan in motion for every obstacle when we work together.

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The Long Haul: Produce Drops and Hurricane Relief

09.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Often times during a VISTA’s term, the capacity-building tasks can often seem like the boring ones. Crunching numbers, raising funds, logistics, and so on are critical to maintaining and creating programs but also far from entertaining. For SoSA Florida, some of this drudgery comes from produce drops.

A ‘drop’ is when a grower donates produce by the truck or pallet load, rather than a row in a field. Typically this product has already been harvested, and the task at hand is to facilitate transportation and placement. Bleh. However, powering through these doldrums can earn the highest reward.

HAH VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site, the Society of Saint Andrew, have coordinated several of these drops, each providing tons of produce and rewards. The Neena Eisenberg Potato Drop, for example, brought in over 10 thousand pounds of produce but also honored the memory of an ardent supporter and volunteer. In the wake of devastating hurricanes, traditional gleaning became obsolete. In response, SoSA Florida helped move 120 thousand pounds of produce to communities impacted by Florence. Forty-four thousand pounds of bottled water made it to the Panhandle in the wake of Michael, with another drop on the radar.  It is in times of crisis and joy that one must dig in her heels in and push. Working through seemingly humdrum tasks allowed Elise and her site to not only innovate, but expand their services for those who need it most.

 

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Four Months of Gleaning at Hollin Farms in Fairfax, VA

01.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest 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.

Approximately 55 miles west of Washington, D.C., there sits a small, quiet town nestled in the rolling hills of Fauquier County, Virginia. Signs for wineries and orchards flank the long expanse of highway that eventually leads to Hollin Farms. The pick-your-own farm, though off the beaten path, is a destination that many city-dwelling families make the pilgrimage to every fall. In the summer, various creatures can be spotted stealing berries off of the bushes and drinking from the brook that runs through the hills. In the fall, the canopy of trees are set ablaze with crimson and gold.

Hollin Farms has been in the Davenport family for four generations. Matt, who is the primary farmer, boasts an agricultural degree from Cornell. He was also the recipient of both the Young Farmer Achievement Award and the Harry Jones Conservation Farmer Award. Food for Others was connected with Hollin Farms when both groups attended a food justice conference in Delaplane. The Davenports had always welcomed gleaning volunteers to the farm, but groups they had in the past were inconsistent at best and disrespectful at worst. After guidelines were set, Matt agreed that if Food for Others was able to provide dedicated, passionate volunteers, he would allow the food bank to glean on a consistent basis.

Roughly twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Food for Others would bring in a group of 15-25 volunteers to glean apples, peaches, corn and more. Community and corporate groups enjoyed their time on a gorgeous farm not far from home while helping a non-profit organization. Expectations and rules were clear; the golden rule given to the volunteers was to respect the farm. Often, these volunteers would pick and purchase their own fruits and vegetables after the gleaning was finished. This created a mutually beneficial relationship between Hollin Farms and Food for Others.

 

 

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

The last gleaning of the year was held on October 28 in conjunction with VolunteerFest, an annual event put on by Northern Virginia area community organization Volunteer Fairfax. The 25 participants who signed up harvested 1,419 pounds of apples between 11AM and 1PM, and learned about food waste and hunger in the process.

Four months, six gleans and 6,549 pounds later, the season has finally come to an end. As a first and important priority, Food for Others was able to feed hundreds of families with the produce Hollin Farms provided. However, the greatest gift of all was not just the produce… it was forging a great relationship between the farm and the food bank that will continue for years to come.

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

 

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Food Bank Staff Offers Many Hands in Harvest

04.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, 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.

“Many hands make light work.”  VISTA Brianna has seen a great deal of volunteer groups make their way through the fields and gardens this season, and this phrase always rings true at the end of a day spent harvesting. In September, Brianna organized many hands from Community Food Share to volunteer at the food bank’s partner gardens – benefiting grower, harvester, and receiver along the way.

Community Food Share’s garden partner, Earth’s Table, grows 100% of its produce –from six large gardens – entirely for Community Food Share and  partner agencies of the food bank. The operation is also 100% volunteer-powered by hardworking garden managers, and a large network of volunteers throughout the community. So far this year the gardens have donated more than 27,000 pounds of food to Community Food Share and its partners.

The first VISTA at Community Food Share thought a great way to give back to these gardens would be to organize a food bank staff volunteer event. In keeping this tradition, VISTA Brianna organized the 2018 staff garden day for an afternoon in September.  During the normally scheduled staff meeting, all available employees made their way out to the garden and got to work! Garden Manager Michele had everyone doing a variety of activities, everything from pulling old squash and cucumber plants to harvesting tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and green beans. 

Not only was this a perfect way to have fun outside with fellow coworkers, but it was also necessary time spent connecting to the core of Community Food Share’s mission in providing healthy and nutritious food.  These kinds of events drive home the message of farm to food bank, plant to plate, garden to grocery (however you’d like to call it) – Community Food Share’s staff walked away with plenty of smiles and (hopefully!) very happy hearts. At the end of the day 13 staff members dedicated 24 hours of time in harvesting 424 pounds of squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and beans to be distributed the next three days at the food bank pantry. Many hands made light work!

 

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