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Partnering with Rotary

05.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. The farm believes that residents of South King County should have equal access to local, sustainably grown, and nutritious produce regardless of income. The farm sits on a former golf course in the heart of the suburbs near Seattle, WA where the land would otherwise go unused. The farm helps to increase the availability of healthy foods for families that visit the food banks while promoting sustainable urban agriculture.

 

Elk Run Farm is currently in its third year with a Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) VISTA. There is one thing that all three AmeriCorps VISTAs have had a chance to participate in developing relationships with the Rotary clubs in South King County. Rotary First Harvest, with its many Rotary connections, did what it does best and connected the first Elk Run Farm VISTA and current farm manager to key Rotarians in its service area. This was the tiny seed of partnership that was handed to the farm and has continued to be cultivated by the second and third-year VISTAs, to this day.

When the first year VISTA came onboard, Elk Run Farm was not a farm. The land was still covered in golf course greens and had no infrastructure to distinguish it from the rest of the use-to-be golf course property. Tasked with the ambitious goal of starting a farm literally from the ground up, the initial VISTA and the farm manager approached the south King County Rotary clubs with a request for funds to build Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure. This baton was then passed to the second year VISTA. Together, they met with all twelve Rotary clubs in the service area of Elk Run Farm. After seeing how Elk Run Farm aligned with their motto, “Service Above Self” and the potential it could have to help the communities they live in, Rotarians stepped up and 11 Rotary clubs made a donation. The first and second VISTA collectively raised $36,500 through this outreach and relationship building.

 

Rotary Farm Sign

 

These funds were used to build Elk Run Farm’s irrigation system, hoop house, washing and packing station, and farm office. The farm manager always says, “This infrastructure is what really separates us from a garden.” They allow the farm staff and volunteers to efficiently grow and harvest produce at a level that brings in over 100 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a week during the height of the growing season.

There are also other funding streams that Rotary provides to their community that Elk Run Farm has received. On top of the initial funds that were raised, the first and second-year VISTAs both applied for and received the Rotary’s Assistant Governor’s, Express Grant. This grant is meant to have a quick turnaround that gets financial assistance to the recipient promptly. $5,000 was raised from this method adding more support to Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure.

 

Receiving AG Express Grant

 

Individual Rotarians have also stepped up and used their personal networks to leverage resources for the farm. On behalf of the farm, Rotary First Harvest made a call to the South King County Rotary clubs to see if there was anyone that could provide a solution to Elk Run Farm’s deer and elk problem. The farm sits under high voltage power lines where all the vegetation is kept low for miles and miles on either side. This gives the deer and elk that live in the surrounding forests an easy way to browse and travel across the land. It also meant that the farm’s vegetables were fair game to these animals. A need for a barricade was made very clear one fall when a population of deer and elk ate all the produce in the ground before it was harvested. After hearing this dilemma, Mickey Kimmerlee, an Auburn Rotary member that works for Quality Fence Builders, was able to build and donate the labor and materials for a double-layer fence that protects the farm’s main vegetable field.

The third-year HAH VISTA continues to cultivate the Rotary relationship and is presently meeting with the clubs that donated in the past to update them on how their gifts were used. She emphasizes the impact their funds have had in jump-starting the farm, as well as how the food banks have benefited from the additional fresh produce they can now offer to families in their communities. The third VISTA is also pursuing a district match for the gifts that have been generated from the Rotary clubs in partnership with a Rotary First Harvest board member. She hopes that this match could provide one of the last critical infrastructure pieces to Elk Run Farm: electricity.

 

Mindy in trench

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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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RFH & UV MEND Organize Cashmere Apple Glean

25.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Graduated Site, Rotary, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger has placed Harvest VISTAS with host sites around Washington since 2008, and graduated sites are still active in many parts of the state. Upper Valley MEND hosted a Harvest VISTA project to build and strengthen its Community Harvest gleaning program, which continues to thrive to this day.

On October 21, Rotary First Harvest collaborated with Upper Valley MEND’s Community Harvest gleaning project and Northwest Harvest to convene Rotarians and Interacters from Seattle, Leavenworth, and Cashmere for an apple glean at the Ringsrud Orchard in Cashmere. Despite snow in the passes, volunteers drove from Seattle and surrounding communities to glean beautiful cameo apples in a steady rain. Volunteer spirits remained high though no one stayed dry, and by noon, over 10,000 pounds of fresh apples had been picked. Northwest Harvest supplied bins and the transportation, and the apples are being distributed throughout Washington to families experiencing food insecurity. Orchard owner Chris Ringsrud said that it would have broken her heart to have put so much time and love into growing her cameo apples, only to see them go uneaten. She thanked the volunteers for coming out to pick apples on a cold, rainy day, so that families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, can have apples to eat.

 

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Elk Run Farm Hosts King County Executive Dow Constantine

08.08.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm is a food bank farm in Maple Valley, WA that grows fresh produce for twelve food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. This is the third and final year of a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA project.

Harvest Against Hunger site Elk Run Farm celebrated its one year anniversary with a farm tour for their partners and King County Executive Dow Constantine. It was a very special opportunity for the team to show off all of their hard work to the partners that had supported them since the beginning and to Executive Constantine himself. Improvements includes a new office, a hoop house, a wash pack structure, an improved irrigation system and last but not least, all the beautiful produce growing strong in the fields.

It was also one of the first times that most of Elk Run’s supporters and funders gathered together at the farm. The tour was truly a celebration of partnership and the amazing work that can be done by a coalition of local food banks and nonprofits, Rotary clubs, city and county officials, Rotary First Harvest and community members.

 
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HAH VISTA Learns from Clallam County F2FB Community Champions

13.07.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Washington Site

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.

As part of her work as a Capacity VISTA, Rachel has the opportunity to travel to different regions throughout Washington to learn from community members involved in F2FP work. Rachel recently visited Clallam County, home to the Peninsula Food Coalition and to multiple food banks who are dedicated to increasing healthy options for their clients and to incentivizing healthy choices within their food banks. On her trip, Rachel visited both the Port Angeles and Sequim food banks, both of which have ample space for fresh fruit and vegetable storage and distribution.

While touring the Port Angeles Food Bank with Executive Director Jessica Hernandez, Rachel was excited to see the wooden bins she had set up for her fresh distribution; the bins are situated so that they tilt invitingly towards the clients and simulate a road-side fruit stand. In addition to the produce display, the Food Bank itself bursts with fresh produce excitement: carrots and broccoli jump off the walls from the “Life of Vegetables” mural that fills the entire length of the eastern wall. The mural went up in 2015 when Jimbo Cutler, a renowned tattoo artist, offered to spice up the Food Bank with his design skills. The space, once barren and uninviting, now creates and warm, educational environment for the Food Bank’s clients.

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Harvesting Veggies

A similar sprucing recently took place at the Sequim Food Bank, where Executive Director Andra Smith partnered with the local Rotary club to paint her outdoor produce distribution cases, which they had built for the Food Bank several years beforehand. The Rotary club decided to paint the walls of the cases red and white to simulate the feeling of a farm stand. This outdoor distribution case is one of the first things that clients see when they enter the Food Bank property, making the experience feel more agency-filled and enjoyable. The Sequim Food Bank also hosts summer Farm Stand Days, where local growers are invited to set up stands and talk with clients about their produce. Smith noted that interfacing with farmers has had an impact, both small and large, on many of her clients.

Both visits illustrated the importance of dedicated staff and volunteers, and of creative problem solving. Hernandez and Smith see the importance of increasing healthy options for their clients, but they also see the intensely human element that lies behind their work. They’ve demonstrated that inspiring adventurous eating and possibly changing habits can start with a simple, two-pronged process: make space for the dignity of choice and create warm, welcoming environments. Rachel is excited to see what these two women, and their food banks, will come up with next!

 

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Veggie Soup

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