in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, 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.
In efforts to bolster community engagement with the Garden Share program, and offer more garden support to food bank shoppers, Brianna coordinated two Master Gardener events this summer. Piloting Q&A days, Brianna measured how the general public and food bank shoppers engaged with Master Gardeners that were hosted at the food bank. After organizing a very successful Spring Plant Day in early June – where food bank shoppers were able to take home free plant starts and soil – Brianna wanted to continue building garden resources for food-insecure individuals.
The first event, held in June, hosted two Master Gardeners outside the food bank pantry main doors. The Master Gardeners answered questions and provided input about plant pests, and the inevitable challenges of gardening in Colorado. They also had garden print resources in English and Spanish, which Brianna found through the Los Angeles Master Gardener Extension. Luckily this event was a “test,” and while less than 15 people showed up for questions, Brianna received feedback from the Master Gardeners and planned for the second event.
For the second Q&A, Brianna worked on securing donated seeds – as an incentive and interactive piece for visitor engagement. Last week, with more than 300 seed packets on hand, Brianna and the Master Gardeners set up for a busy morning. The flow of visitors was steady to the Master Gardener table, and people were excited. With signs around the warehouse advertising the event and the seeds (in English and Spanish), many more individuals stopped by the table. Over three hours the two ladies talked to more than 25 food bank shoppers, handing away literally hundreds of seeds in the process! More than 250 seed packets went home with individuals. The Master Gardeners were incredibly helpful in showing people varieties they could plant now and next year.
Not only were many seeds distributed, but specific questions answered as well. Brianna created flyers promoting the event around the food bank shopping area – encouraging participants to visit the Master Gardeners if they had questions. One young boy came prepared. He showed up to the table with a red flower in a small pot, wanting to know what it was. He had seen this flower at a lake near his home, which is quite far from the food bank, and brought it with him on the families’ next visit to Community Food Share. Along with his brother, this young gardener also brought home many seeds for his garden, incredibly excited after a visit with the Master Gardeners.
One of the dedicated gardening volunteers with the Garden Share program, also turns out to be a Master Gardener, and helps with many events at the food bank. The volunteer, Carol, reported back to Brianna that at least 10 people had mentioned the plants that they had received from a Spring Plant giveaway day on June 1st. The Spring Plant Day was the first event Brianna had organized (continuing on with first-year VISTA’s event) with Master Gardeners, and wanted to continue providing their wonderful resources to the gardeners that visit the food bank. After piloting two Q&A days this summer, Brianna is excited to work on a framework for the year-three VISTA, suggesting further partnerships with the Master Gardeners next year, and for many years to come!