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Volunteering

Spokane Edible Tree Project Hosts Food Forest Planting Event

10.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Annie Eberhardt, who serves with the Spokane Edible Tree Project, partnered with Friends of Polly Judd Food Forest to coordinate a food forest planting event.

Spokane Edible Tree Project envisions a thriving community that is educated on how to take proper care of their fruit and nut trees, and a community that harvests their fruit for the greater good of the community as a whole. In the past 2 years, Spokane Edible Tree Project has held multiple classes educating the public on how to care for their fruit trees in an effort to see this vision into a reality. In addition, SETP has gleaned over 70,000 pounds of produce in the past two years that would have otherwise gone to waste in an effort to address hunger and food insecurity in Spokane County.   

April and early May is the time for Spokane Gives Month in the beautiful city of Spokane. Spokane Gives Month presents an opportunity for community members to give back by participating in volunteer projects throughout the city. Ordinarily, with gleaning season starting in June, there is not a lot of opportunity for Spokane Edible Tree Project to host volunteer events to participate in the initiative.

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA member Annie Eberhardt saw an opportunity to get involved this year with Spokane Gives. For the past 5 years, Friends of Polly Judd has been slowly making an effort to work at building up Spokane’s first low income centered food forest, located in the heart of the lower south hill neighborhood at Polly Judd Park. This neighborhood has the highest population density in Spokane, along with the highest low income population in the city. The building of a Food Forest in a low income area at a public, well-loved park will provide an opportunity to help remedy food insecurity in an area that it is  greatly needed, as well as building gleaning capacity for Spokane Edible Tree Project in the future.

With the help of native shrub donations from the Spokane Conservation District, a Spokane Gives Initiative Grant from United Way, and the hard work of a volunteer crew, 14 edible trees and shrubs were added to the Polly Judd Food Forest. Two filbert, two apricot, five native elderberries and five native saskatoon serviceberries were planted.

HAH VISTA alum Nicki Thompson along with a young volunteer

The sod was cut from the ground as the first step, followed by the digging of holes at proper depth. This was not always easy. Rocks had to be broken, which were removed from the soil and repurposed as rock mulch for the Polly Judd native pollinator garden. The rocks were also used to begin creating a rock wall around the garden. When the holes were finally dug, the trees were placed in the earth, and wood chips were placed around the trees to act as a mulch.

 

 

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Earth Day Garden Cleanup

26.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida aimed to discover if there was any correlation between gardening as a child and eating habits as an adult. They surveyed 1,351 college students, asking them questions about their fruit and vegetable intake and whether they had participated in any sort of gardening early on in their lives. Their findings: people who gardened as children ate, on average, 15 percent more fruits and veggies than those who had not.

 

Reading about this study planted a seed in Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal’s head. Food for Others provides weekend packaged meals to Fairfax County elementary school students who are receiving free or reduced lunch during the week. One of these schools has a garden that was not being taken care of or utilized to its full potential. After a few weeks of planning and coordination, Grace and 5th-grade teacher Katie held the elementary school’s first annual Earth Day garden cleanup. Armed with seeds, shovels, and gloves specially made for smaller hands, the class of 24 got to work on the garden. At one station, a group focused on weeding the rain garden and learning about native plants. Another group prepared the soil for bee balm, vegetable seeds, and an Allegheny blackberry bush. The third cleared a bed of invasive mint and planted radishes, carrots, and lettuce in its place. Then, they all rotated so that they could experience the other stations.

 

 

A different class had previously planted strawberries that were just beginning to flower. Grace pointed out that the blooms would soon become fruit, and the class was floored. They had a much harder time envisioning their future blackberries, as one child said, “That’s going to have blackberries next year? It just looks like a stick!”

 

 

There was no way to know which of these kids were receiving the anonymous weekend “Power Packs,” which consist of two non-perishable breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks. But as of 2017, 70.4% of the school’s student population was receiving free or reduced lunch– meaning that a solid portion did not always know where their next meal would be coming from. As the ten and eleven-year-olds turned over the soil and read the directions on the back of the seed packets aloud, Grace envisioned a world in which every child had a bountiful harvest right in their backyard.

 

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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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Rokula Farms Potato Glean- A Collaborative Effort

29.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Kitsap Harvest capacity building Gleaning Coordinator, Paisley Gallagher, serves at the Kitsap Public Health Chronic Disease Prevention Department. Nutrition is directly linked to many of today’s preventable ailments related to food intake such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, mental health… although sometimes indirectly,  nutrition is just as much of the solution.  The department also works with SNAP, Youth Marijuana Prevention, Healthy Eating, Active Living, and a Farmers Market program called Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) which is responsible for Fresh Bucks.

The Kitsap Health Department applied for a HAH VISTA to work with community partners to help coordinate efforts and create a system to support local gardening. It is not the intention of Kitsap Public Health to house the future of the gleaning program but rather create a program and find partners willing to take on organized tasks while improving public access to information and participation.

 

On a foggy March Saturday, over 50 local volunteers showed up to glean potatoes at Rokula Farms.  This glean was a collaborative effort from the Farmers, Gleaning Coordinator, community groups, and the South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank. By immersing in the culture of farming and growing in South Kitsap, Paisley Gallagher, the Rotary First Harvest Gleaning Coordinator, met Bob and Donna of Rokula Farms. These two farmers have 27 acres as a hobby farm and CSA opportunity for local residents.  Bob reached out to with a need to get potatoes out of the ground that had wintered over.  Unsure of the quality of the potatoes, the Gleaning Coordinator used her partnership with the South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank to connect with them about the quality and quantity of the potatoes.  South Kitsap was very interested in the potatoes and took their personal time to go out to the farm prior to the glean to approve the quality.

Bob and Donna from Rokula Farms

 

Once the connection was made, it took less than a week to round up the volunteers using online social media with the tagline, “Community Service You Can Eat!” Kitsap Harvest believes if a volunteer shows up to glean we are going to send you home with food, and donate the rest.  Social media delivered an all organic, non-paid reach to over 8,500 people, with 500 unique views, 168 people interested or going, and 55 shares as well as a connection to two other community groups:   My Sustainable City and Positive Olalla Projects.   The event organizers thought maybe 10 volunteers show up based on the 26 who said for sure they would, but boy was Paisley surprised when they kept flowing in for a family fun day picking potato gold from the ground!

 

 

Gleaning Volunteers

 

The glean was a success with 750 pounds of potatoes gleaned, lots of smiles, happy farmers, and happy food bank staff.  The gleaning coordinator realized that the successful glean was a by-product of months of collaborative efforts with farmers, food banks and community groups.  Without being a trusted community member, the glean would not have been so effective.

In the future, Kitsap Harvest will work with low-income housing groups to target people who may live in apartments, but not have room to grow food, this opportunity to do a little work in trade for access to fresh produce.

Gleaned Potatoes

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First Week In Tifton, GA

22.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest against Hunger Americorps Vista Taylor Rotsted is serving as a gleaning specialist in southern Georgia at her Host Site, the Society of Saint Andrew (SOSA). The Society of Saint Andrew in Georgia has provided people in need more than 15 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other produce through the Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in approximately 45 million servings of food going to Georgia’s hungry. SOSA works with both volunteers and farmers to grow the Georgia Gleaning Network and glean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.

 

Getting your hands dirty takes on a new meaning when you’re gleaning. The work isn’t ‘romantic’, good photo ops are far and few between and volunteers are difficult to assemble (especially at 8 am on a weekday). Recruiting volunteers to glean is not like coordinating other community events. There are last minute changes and a degree of flexibility needed from volunteers that makes it difficult to coordinate with larger groups and organizations. Thankfully, Taylor discovered a good source of volunteers early on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taylor’s first week of service took her through the whole cycle of ‘feeding America’s hungry’. She harvested food from the field, distributed to agencies, distributed hand to hand, and worked at the soup kitchen to cook for and serve the hungry. She enjoyed helping people in need but the experience was also beneficial for connecting with potential volunteers and leads on new farmer donors. It’s similar to finding good workers in the private industry; if you can’t hiring within – see who your competitors have. Even though those organizations aren’t exactly competitors – sharing volunteers has been a beneficial practice. As they say ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’. Also, Taylor realized that many of the more involved volunteers are also the ones that Harvest against Hunger and the Society of Saint Andrews serve. With a unique volunteer opportunity like gleaning, recruiting in unique places is only logical.   

 

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Regional Food Summit 2018 Features the Palouse Tables Project

08.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food Summit, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Michelle Blankas serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and community food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and SNAP. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas, Joe Astorino, and Ashley Vaughan of the Community Action Center presented at the Regional Food Summit in Pullman, WA to launch a regional community food security assessment, the Palouse Tables Project.

 

 

On January 27, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project was invited to talk to the community about food insecurity on the Palouse. The HAH VISTA and the site team built a case for why the food insecurity assessment was necessary and how interested people could help with that effort. One hundred and thirty community members were present and included people from two food coalitions, food pantry managers, farmers, volunteers, non-profit organizations, the media, and more. They were asked to share the values they brought to the table, which would then inform the project and, ultimately, a regional food plan based on community input.

 

A slide created by the HAH VISTA in the Palouse Tables Project.

 

The next steps in the food assessment include holding focus groups with people who use food assistance programs, household food security and shopping patterns, and local food producers. Retail food surveys will be conducted to understand what the quality and cost of foods are at food retailers and community meetings will be held to coordinate community visioning for a secure, local, healthy, and sustainable foodshed.

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Harvest VISTAs Observe MLK Jr Day

19.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Food Bank, Volunteering, Washington Site

On January 15th, 2018, in communities across the country, Harvest Against Hunger VISTAs coordinated service events to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights activism, speeches, and books help us imagine a path towards a more perfect union. Here are a few examples of events Harvest VISTAs were involved in:

Harvest VISTA Kelly Pinkley, placed at Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island, WA, wrote about her site’s MLK Day events:

Today at the Good Cheer Garden, volunteers new and old joined forces to help prepare the Garden for the rapidly approaching spring season. This work could take hours, even days, if it all fell on our Garden Manager, but with the help of many hands, the entire garden was flipped. Hundreds of pounds of rescued produce, including a significant amount of winter produce from the Good Cheer Garden, was bagged for our food bank shoppers to take home.

We are so thankful for our volunteers, and could never be thankful enough to Martin Luther King Jr. for the changes he made in this country and the fight he fought for civil rights. We hope you take the time today to remember his life as we have on this day of service.

 

Harvest VISTA Tina White, who is placed at Elk Run Farm in Maple Valley, wrote about her site’s service event:

Elk Run Farm hosted 72 volunteers for a work party remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to service. Since it was January, the volunteers worked on “back-end” farm work preparing for the upcoming growing season. A new asparagus patch was born, sinks were installed in the washing and packing station, tiny bok choy starts were transplanted to the hoop house, spinach and beets were covered with re-may fabric to protect them from critters searching for food, and invasive blackberry brambles were pushed back even further, opening up potential growing space. The VISTA was excited to see volunteers of all ages working together on the farm, including a couple of professional partners (one being Harvest Against Hunger’s very own Program Director!), celebrating the legacy of Dr. King.

 

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AmeriCorps VISTA Harvest Against Hunger Program

05.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Food Bank, Gleaning, National Site, Volunteering

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.

 

Rachel created and edited this short film that explains the Harvest Against Hunger program from those who serve and support it directly. The footage comes from Harvest Against Hunger’s training from this past fall. Click the link below to learn more about this unique program and the impact it has in communities across the country.

 


 

 

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Spokane Edible Tree Project Gleans Apples at Resurrection Orchard

07.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Nicki Thompson, who serves with the Spokane Edible Tree Project, coordinated a series of gleans at Resurrection Orchard in the Spokane Valley this autumn. 

The history of the orchard is something of a mystery to its current caretakers, who guess that the trees might have been planted in the 1940s or 1950s. Around two dozen large trees — mostly apple, with some crabapple and pear trees among them — produce varieties of fruit that predate the familiar varieties of today. One variety is presumed to be a predecessor of the common Red Delicious, bearing fruits that are smaller and more concentrated in flavor than the ubiquitous modern-day apples.

 

This year, three gleans were hosted at the orchard. Spokane Edible Tree Project’s newest distribution partner, Northwest Harvest, joined them for the first two. 3,385 pounds were taken to Northwest Harvest’s Spokane Valley warehouse for distribution to food banks and high need schools in Eastern Washington.

During the third glean, volunteers picked an additional 1,500 pounds. The apples were split between three organizations bringing food to low-income community members: 2nd Harvest, Blessings Under the Bridge, and Food For All. This season, about 4,900 pounds of apples were gleaned at the orchard with the help of roughly 50 volunteers.

Spokane Edible Tree Project continues to build strong ties with the caretakers of Resurrection Orchard. In March, they plan to co-host a grafting workshop and a scion wood exchange so community members can try growing different varieties of fruit suited to the Inland Northwest climate.

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Engaging Rural Communities in Okanogan County

20.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Volunteering, 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.

On October 30th the Growing Connections team headed to Omak, a small town of 4,833 nestled in the desert hills of north-central Washington. The purpose of their trip was to conduct an action planning workshop with the community. Growing Connections has been working in Okanogan County since 2015, and has witnessed the Farm-to-Food Bank (F2FB) movement expand to include new organizations, backyard gardeners, and passionate community members.

Attendance at the October 30th meeting was the highest it has been in the large, rural county and the distances some attendees traveled illustrated their dedication to F2FB work. With 22 community members in attendance, the group got straight to work. They spent three hours brainstorming various ways their community could unite and tackle some pressing coordination barriers that were interfering with their ability to move F2FB work forward. Based on previous work within Okanogan, and conversation with the regional planning team, the workshop focused on action-planning around three main barriers: storage; collaboration with markets; and fundraising.

As the groups got together to strategize around the current barriers, the energy in the room was palpable, and the solutions offered were original, innovative, and inclusive. For the first time, the group considered what it would mean if they formed a strong coalition that worked towards becoming a 501(c)(3) – also known as a nonprofit – organization. They also addressed who was missing from the discussion and were hopeful to bring in members from the health care community to help tackle the barriers to healthy food access. As the workshop came to a close, many attendees left with smiles on their faces, eager to get started with the work cut out and excitedly anticipating the next meeting.  

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