Rotary First Harvest | Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank
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Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank

Growing Food Security in our Community

31.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, South King County, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

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.

The island of Vashon is home to 10,000 year-round residents, two large grocery stores, and dozens of tiny farms trying to keep up with the ravenous demand for local produce. In a community where a good head of napa cabbage can retail for over $10, getting summer produce in low-income houses requires multiple avenues of work and collaboration. In addition to gleaning fruit from unpicked trees and encouraging local gardeners to donate extra harvests, starts have been provided to food bank customers to grow a bit of their own food.

“This is really great, I just dug up my yard yesterday. What kind of lettuce is that?” asks one customer before his weekly shop at the food bank. By providing a variety of starts for customers to choose from, families who are interested in gardening can supplement their weekly food budget with homegrown kale, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and bush beans. People with reliable access to resources such as food, employment, childcare, and health insurance frequently misconceive the ability for food insecure individuals to grow their own food. Born of the “bootstraps” mentality, it’s easy to task resource-strapped families with the responsibility of starting and maintaining a garden.

In a community where family gardens are ubiquitous, growing advice is abundant. Most impoverished community members juggle the lack of affordable health insurance, housing, and childcare in addition to multiple jobs. Foodbank customers who have the time, energy, and space to grow their own food are delighted to be supplied starts. Harvest for Vashon proudly continues crafting different solutions to make healthy, local produce accessible for all.

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Get Growing with the Vashon Island Growers’ Association

01.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

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.

The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) has been an island community cornerstone for over 30 years. The organization’s mission, to promote farming, access to healthy food, and a sustainable agricultural economy on Vashon Island through education, advocacy, and a vibrant farmers market, strives to create an equitable food system by and for islanders. As stated in the mission, educational initiatives are an excellent resource for promoting community growing efforts. VIGA is comprised of island farmers, orchardists, and gardeners, and a series of free, educational classes in the summer offers learning and community-building opportunities for new and established growers alike.

The educational series is aptly named Get Growing and covers a variety of topics. Each class is held at a different local farm or garden. Questions from all topics run abound as a mixed group of attendees tours the local scene and learns about a particular aspect of growing. The focus of the first 2019 Get Growing events was Grow a Row, a Harvest for Vashon-sponsored program to encourage local gardeners to plant an extra row of food to donate to the food bank. Participation among beginner gardeners was especially promoted, and attendees learned about gardening basics. After a local tour of Alli Lanphear Vineyard and Winery, the group learned about local food insecurity and opportunities to help.

Rotary First Harvest VISTA Cassidy Berlin emphasized that fresh, organic produce needs to be treated as a dietary right instead of a privilege. Several levels of collaboration and education built capacity for this food equity project. Pacific Crest Farm grew and donated over 300 tomato starts, which were potted up by fifth graders at Chautauqua elementary school. Students engaged in group discussions on food prices, health, and food bank stigma before eagerly transplanting and sniffing the aromatic starts. Participants in the Get Growing class took notes on advice given by Master Gardeners and Food Access Partnership volunteers at the event. They also took home starts to grow for the food bank, and remaining starts will be given to food bank clients to grow their own produce. The Harvest for Vashon program continues to strengthen food security through one conversation, one tomato start, and one extra row at a time.

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Creating Community Partnerships

13.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

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 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 stale in 1 in 7 island homes.

All across Vashon Island, farmers and gardeners alike are preparing for the upcoming season. With longer days and snow-free forecasts ahead, local growers are starting seed, repairing damaged beds and greenhouses, and are reviewing lessons gleaned from the previous season. Harvest for Vashon will soon begin promoting participation in a Grow a Row program, and AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin recently toured two local farms who are preparing to support the effort.


Soon-to-sprout beet starts at Pacific Crest

Pacific Crest Farm serves as a natural extension of the Montessori School classrooms. A true farm in its own right, Pacific Crest is the largest farm on Vashon Island and supplies the local community with organic produce. Jen Keller manages the operation and committed to donating hundreds of started tomato seeds to Harvest for Vashon, which will distribute them to local gardeners eager to donate the yields to the food bank. While speaking with VISTA Cassidy Berlin, Keller also considered the logistics of growing a row of food to donate in Pacific Crest’s sizable greenhouse.

Michelle Crawford has been running Pacific Potager, her south-end island growing operation, for close to three decades. Her primary business is selling starts at her farmstand, and she will seed over 800 varieties this Spring. Beds overflowing with cover crops fill her four large greenhouses. In addition to donating several flats of starts to the food bank’s garden, Crawford has offered to donate unsold starts to Harvest for Vashon, which will be given freely to food bank clients with growing instructions.

Collaborating with local businesses provides Harvest for Vashon the opportunity to have a greater impact on the community. As Winter transitions into Spring, islanders feverishly anticipate the return of locally grown produce and chilly morning gatherings at the market. Partnerships with Pacific Crest and Pacific Potager are an exciting opportunity that hint at more community generosity to come.

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Empowering Customers: Importance of Produce at Food Banks

30.01.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

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.

The New Year is a typically hectic time for food banks across the country as they annually update client files. Unusual circumstances caused by the partial government shutdown combined with this “re-upping” process helped Vashon Maury Community Food Bank realize that several questions not included in the client database needed answers. Harvest for Vashon VISTA Cassidy Berlin wrote and administered three weekly surveys to food bank customers to identify common dietary restrictions, local food insecurity and produce consumption rates, and participation in federal food assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC.

98-200 responses were garnered for each survey, which represents 23-48% of January food bank customers. Of the surveyed customers, over 75% worried that food would run out before more could be bought in the last year, and over half involuntarily ate less than what they needed. The most surprising statistic: 91% of surveyed customers said they would eat more fruits and veggies if price were not a concern. Hunger has yet to be eradicated on Vashon, but that hasn’t stopped food insecure families from wanting access to fresh and healthy produce.

The partial government shutdown ended the day after the SNAP/WIC survey was completed; 50% of surveyed customers were recipients of federal food assistance programs, and are likely facing eight weeks between the distribution of benefits, which on average cover less than 50% of their monthly grocery bill. Food distribution centers across the nation began to anticipate or experience a surge in demand due to furloughed employees and SNAP/WIC recipients. During a conference call with Food Lifeline, a nonprofit that distributes food to Washington food banks, one participant stated that their food bank was going to prepare by using money allotted for fresh produce to purchase shelf stable, calorically dense foods instead.

Anti-hunger institutions balance a delicate conundrum: do hunger prevention efforts stop at getting clients enough calories? Prioritizing a full belly over a balanced plate is par for the course among food insecure individuals. The Food Access Partnership believes no family should choose between eating healthily and eating enough, and that food equity is just as important as hunger prevention. This will be achieved when the local bounty of healthy, disease-preventing fruits and vegetables is fairly distributed to all islanders, regardless of income. January survey efforts confirm that food bank customers want more than to go without hunger, they also want access to healthy options for themselves and their families. In light of the gratitude millions of Americans are feeling at the end of the government shutdown, local Harvest for Hunger efforts illuminate how grateful islanders are for the growing season ahead.

Photo: Volunteers reap a late summer harvest in the food bank garden, PC Emma Cassidy

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