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Volunteering

Filling in the Gaps: Building A Refugee Community Garden

21.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest VISTA, IRC, Volunteering, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

A rainy morning greeted Harvest VISTA Hailey Baker on the morning of August 10th, a day destined to be dirty and tiring. She and her team at the International Rescue Committee had been putting in long hours at St. James Episcopal Church in Kent, WA, the site of the IRC’s newest refugee community garden. Over 600 feet of irrigation lines had been installed at the site the week before, and the open trenches in which they sat waited patiently to be refilled.

Hailey had organized one final work party to finish the trench refill, reaching out to the IRC’s long list of on-call volunteers to come out and help. When Hailey drove up to the site with a van full of tools at 9:30am, the rain was just starting to ease, the sun poking its way through the clouds inch by inch. She half expected the rain to scare away the 17 volunteers who had signed up to help.

She needn’t have worried. By quarter past 10am, 15 of the 17 volunteers had shown up, eager to work. They all grabbed shovels and pickaxes and jumped right in, slinging dirt from nearby piles into the gaping irrigation trenches. As they worked, they chatted and laughed, amazed at how much they all had in common. Stories of travel, jobs, hometowns, and politics floated around the site. Strangers only hours before, by the end of the work party everyone had made at least one new friend while toiling in the dirt. During the mid-day break, Hailey led the group over to a nearby patch of blackberry bushes, where some volunteers picked fresh blackberries for the very first time.

By the end of the work party, nearly all of the remaining open trenches had been filled. Hailey was pleased to see all the work they had put in, but she was even more pleased by the moment of community they had all shared that morning. How better to build a community garden than in community?

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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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Discovering Food Justice: Under the Overgrown Garden

25.07.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, OIC of Washington, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest VISTA 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 food and nutrition assistance at no cost. In addition to the farm to table communications for the food bank, Mary Pearl recruit’s volunteers to work within a community garden, in hopes of providing access to knowledge and resources for individuals to grow their own fresh foods.

Within the first couple weeks of her service, Mary Pearl hosted three large groups of volunteers to revive the completely grass encroached community garden; and the results were mind-blowing. What started as a hands-on volunteer opportunity, with some games and a snack turned into a dialogue about food justice and social justice! The three groups of students with Quo’s Discovery Washington program visited OIC in addition to local orchards and organizations in the community. They were introduced to the concept of migrant workers in the field and wanted to know more about where their food comes from and what it means for a community to have food insecurity. The VISTA asked one of her colleagues that works with the National Farm Workers Association to come in and speak on the opportunities that they provide, as well as his own experiences in the field. The attentive observations and inputs that these seventh graders had to share were inspiring. One of the teachers even mentioned that the world was not giving youth enough credit.

The VISTA was especially touched when the students asked to stay and work in the garden longer. The students were plotting ways to help fundraise, stop food insecurity, and misconceptions in this community and their own. After all their hard work in the garden, it is now open enough to host younger groups of volunteers as well as community members. Thanks, Que for connecting us to these amazing, hardworking students and teachers!

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Gleaning as Magic and Empowerment

02.01.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Spokane, Volunteering, Washington Site

Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Project in 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.  

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The Unexpected Benefits of Gleaning

19.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

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.

 

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Welcome Cassidy, Food Equity on Vashon Island

12.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as a 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. The goal of this collaboration is to connect surplus island harvests with consumers in order to combat the economic obstacles that historically prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in food-insecure communities.

New AmeriCorps VISTA member Cassidy Berlin is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Northern Michigan University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, which explored the ways in which geography and human systems influence each other.  She dedicated her undergraduate thesis to the politicization of the environmental movement and found inspiration in the founding principles of the National Park Service. Since graduating she has worked as a seasonal park ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Acadia National Parks, and also interned seasonally with a New York-based nonprofit. She credits an outstanding network of educators, peers, and coworkers with encouraging her to pursue these adventurous opportunities. She is driven and excited to help develop an equitable food system in the Vashon community.

One short ferry ride away from Seattle’s bustling downtown district brings locals and visitors alike to Vashon Island, the largest island in the Puget Sound. The island sits halfway between West Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula and is home to over 10,000 permanent residents. The proximity to Seattle and Tacoma is part of Vashon’s appeal; the community maintains an easygoing, small-town charm while being able to partake in the innumerable resources and services usually reserved to urban areas.

The local population is economically diverse. With no designated low-income housing available, islanders face a housing crisis. There’s a saying on Vashon, though, that represents the spirit and resilience of this small community: the island provides. Dozens of farms and hundreds of personal gardens dot the island’s 37 mi². Like many Washington communities, Vashon is home to a popular farmer’s market, one with produce prices that are historically inaccessible to low-income households. The Food Access Partnership and the food bank are trying to change that.

 

A portion of the produce selection available during Thanksgiving week distribution.

The previous VISTA service member created a volunteer-based gleaning effort, which collected surplus harvests from island farms and gardens and donated them to the food bank and successfully developed sustainable relationships in the local growing community. The second year of this collaboration will continue facilitating local gleaning efforts and will further develop the Grow A Row program, which encourages island gardeners to designate a row of their harvest to the food bank. Empowering community customers during distribution hours will be made possible through a volunteer-run stand with education materials on alternative payment options for local food. Finally, this year will provide the opportunity to increase year-round access to healthy foods through food preservation efforts, such as canning and dehydrating.

 

In what is expected to be a fruitful year of community engagement, the VISTA collaboration will increase access to locally grown abundance by, as one FAP member said, “serving the unserved in our community.”

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Why do you glean?

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

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.”

 

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Welcome, Robyn!

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Robyn Glessner was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She went to school in Seattle for a short time after high school before returning to Idaho to pursue a degree in International Business and French at the University of Idaho. She received her degree in December of 2017 after returning from a semester abroad in Pau, France. She had continued to work at a former college job as a barista in small local coffee shop before she started to explore what other avenues there were in the community for her to use to start developing professional skills as a working adult. Drawing on the values learned in a prior United Nations course from her undergrad, she knew that she wanted to do something that would benefit the health and sustainability of human practices and the earth’s resources. She began working at a privately owned, organic vineyard in the Snake River Valley, pruning grape vines. After that season ended she began working the spring growing season with a local, organic vegetable farm and a sustainable farming education non-profit in Moscow, Idaho. Through work with the farming non-profit, she was connected with this VISTA position in Pullman, Washington at the Community Action Center. She owes her success in finding this amazing opportunities in the community to the new acquaintances that were made who were so well integrated in the sustainable farming movement in the Palouse region. She is continually inspired with the collaboration, teamwork, support and resources that are created by the amazing community of farmers, educators, non-profit leaders, and university resources to make up this amazing team of sustainable farming cheerleaders. These people inspired her to serve in this field of local hunger awareness and relief.

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their moto’s is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

 

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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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