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Moving Towards Food Sovereignty

12.09.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food for Others, Harvest VISTA, 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.

Many have heard the saying: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” The origin of this quote is hotly contested, but its validity is most certainly not. Self-sufficiency is a sure way to promote better health outcomes within a community, decreasing the need for the emergency band-aid solutions that are all too prevalent. But what happens when the person knows how to fish, but has no body of water nearby, or no bait or tackle? What then?

In Northern Virginia, land availability is both scarce and expensive. Community gardens have long waiting lists with high yearly fees, and limited public transport decreases the number of available options. This is bad news for the regions 148,850 food-insecure families, who have the cards stacked against them with high rent, low wages, and limited resources.

Through their VISTA program, Food for Others is looking to promote preventative measure in the fight against hunger and is making an active effort to open up land to hungry families. The organizations have two plots located at Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, and currently boast 16 raised beds, high fencing, and hand-painted designs. As of now, 5 families occupy 10 of beds, with the remainder being run by a partner, Food Uniting Neighbors. The families get to keep their beds as long they want and are able to choose the produce of their choice. Food for Others provides funding for seeds, soil, equipment, etc. as well as Master Gardeners in case there is a technical question. The gardens are in their 3rd year of operation and have grown over 414 lbs this summer.

The goal of this project is to give families the ability to make decisions for themselves, opting for a less paternalistic approach. The results include the growing of more culturally relevant foods, longer-term health benefits, and dignity. It also means five fewer families that will be coming to Food for Others for emergency aid.

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Earth’s Table Builds on Partnership with Community Food Share to Fight Food Insecurity

08.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Community Food Share, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Volunteering

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.

Although this year has been seen as one of Colorado’s most wet years on record, Harvest VISTA Malik Salsberry is still finding space and participants to help collect and distribute fresh produce this season. Harvest VISTA Malik spent time connecting Conga, a large digital technology company, with Earth’s Table, one of Community Food Share’s long-time partners, together for a week of garden work. These gardening tasks may include weeding, planting, harvesting and cleaning produce, and other activities found around these spaces.

Finding these gardens isn’t a difficult task as they are cultivated on donated properties from community members, which is a part of the non-profit’s design. Earth’s Table gardens are all volunteer-powered. They connect over 100 volunteers to their gardens to help with planting, harvesting and managing the gardens. Conga was able to bring those numbers in one week by bringing around 120 volunteers to help harvest produce as Colorado starts to move toward late fall.

These volunteers carpooled and gathered at several of the different gardens, which are scattered all around the city of Boulder, and worked on harvesting zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, pole beans, beets, and other produce. This produce is directly distributed to Community Food Share and other non-profits in the area and is usually distributed the same or next day.

Since 1999, Earth’s Table has served as a consistent partner and supporter of Community Food Share and our Boulder and Broomfield Counties service area by providing fresh produce to our neighbors in need. Earth’s Table is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is completely volunteer-run, including the management of the seven garden spaces that were donated for them to cultivate. Earth’s Table donates 100% of its produce to local non-profits, including over 42,000 pounds in 2018. Since their founding in 1999, Earth’s Table has donated nearly 250,000 pounds of produce to Community Food Share and several other non-profits within our service area.

The goal of the Garden Share Program is to help fight insecurity in Boulder and Broomfield counties by providing our participants with high-quality, locally grown produce.

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Southeast Produce Council Donates Fresh Produce in the Fight against Hunger

01.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Society of Saint Andrew, Volunteering

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.

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Combating Hunger Unites Veterans and Military Families

13.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Society of Saint Andrew

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.

Check out the news coverage about the event Crop gleaning helps to feed the hungry

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!

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Welcome, Mykevia

16.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Society of Saint Andrew

Mykevia Jones is a recent Florida International University graduate and she majored in Anthropology with a minor in Biology and Agroecology certificate. Mykevia is a native of South Florida and just recently relocated to Central Florida to work as an Americorp Vista in Orlando, Florida with Harvest against Hunger. Ms. Jones has spent the last two years interning in a variety of environmental related fields including community gardens, farms, and local grassroots agricultural nonprofit organizations. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, farming, working out, reading, and eating.

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 1,960,647 pounds of produce that have been distributed to 84 different agencies throughout the state of Florida.

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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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Welcome, Miracle!

08.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

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.

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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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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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