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Volunteering

Sweet Potatoes for Days in Mississippi

30.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Lindsey Shaw serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in Mississippi/Arkansas. In 2018, SoSA MS gleaned 2,751,580 pounds of fresh produce in 461 events, with 2,515 volunteers. Food donated by 74 farmers has been distributed to hungry people through 240 feeding agencies. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. 

Every year, Southern Miss University puts on an annual Crop Drop during homecoming week to help feed their neighbors on campus and the surrounding community. Not once has this event worked out as planned! Last year our driver cancelled at the last minute. So, when life throws a curb ball, don’t freak out! Ask your community partners how to adapt to make it successful.

We are so glad that there are so many dedicated organizations in Mississippi that are committed to feeding their neighbors and communities. At this event, one difficulty after another presented itself as a barrier to us doing the crop drop, but our partners were dedicated to making it happen.

Our volunteer drove an 18-wheeler full of 20,000 pounds of potatoes almost 4 hours across the state to deliver at the drop spot, but arrived 3.5 hours later than anticipated. Volunteers started to fall off since the truck was late and other homecoming activities were scheduled. What were we to do with 20K pounds? That’s #sweetpotatoes for days…

At that point, a volunteer named Jim drove his forklift, volunteers and pallets from across town to help move things. What ended up happening was awesome! We ended up bagging 20,000 sweet potatoes in 1.5 hours. Due to a lot of our partners that came together, it was fast! People were overwhelmed by the response they received from their partners. People from all over the state Facebook liked, shared, and wanted to be involved, asking how they could help.

This one event is helping other non-profits grow and potentially get more food to their community. The video showing the results gave publicity and community awareness to the issues of hunger and highlighted those doing the work. It was a motivating force because of the unique situation. Jim found out the adaptation. He stepped out of his routine and helped by driving his fork lift 12 miles per hour across town! This video reached 2,500 views in one day, which isn’t going viral, but for the town of Hattiesburg, that’s a lot of people!!! People everywhere saw and that one video was worth all the hiccups. Sometimes we have to step back and measure our success in a different way. Things don’t always work out perfectly or timely but touching people and impacting lives is our ultimate mission.

It looked like a terrible day, but what ended up happening is that more people were available to help! Takeaway: You can’t get too bogged down when some things go wrong. You have to have faith in your partners that there’s a plan in motion for every obstacle when we work together.

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The Long Haul: Produce Drops and Hurricane Relief

09.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Often times during a VISTA’s term, the capacity-building tasks can often seem like the boring ones. Crunching numbers, raising funds, logistics, and so on are critical to maintaining and creating programs but also far from entertaining. For SoSA Florida, some of this drudgery comes from produce drops.

A ‘drop’ is when a grower donates produce by the truck or pallet load, rather than a row in a field. Typically this product has already been harvested, and the task at hand is to facilitate transportation and placement. Bleh. However, powering through these doldrums can earn the highest reward.

HAH VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site, the Society of Saint Andrew, have coordinated several of these drops, each providing tons of produce and rewards. The Neena Eisenberg Potato Drop, for example, brought in over 10 thousand pounds of produce but also honored the memory of an ardent supporter and volunteer. In the wake of devastating hurricanes, traditional gleaning became obsolete. In response, SoSA Florida helped move 120 thousand pounds of produce to communities impacted by Florence. Forty-four thousand pounds of bottled water made it to the Panhandle in the wake of Michael, with another drop on the radar.  It is in times of crisis and joy that one must dig in her heels in and push. Working through seemingly humdrum tasks allowed Elise and her site to not only innovate, but expand their services for those who need it most.

 

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Four Months of Gleaning at Hollin Farms in Fairfax, VA

01.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest 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.

Approximately 55 miles west of Washington, D.C., there sits a small, quiet town nestled in the rolling hills of Fauquier County, Virginia. Signs for wineries and orchards flank the long expanse of highway that eventually leads to Hollin Farms. The pick-your-own farm, though off the beaten path, is a destination that many city-dwelling families make the pilgrimage to every fall. In the summer, various creatures can be spotted stealing berries off of the bushes and drinking from the brook that runs through the hills. In the fall, the canopy of trees are set ablaze with crimson and gold.

Hollin Farms has been in the Davenport family for four generations. Matt, who is the primary farmer, boasts an agricultural degree from Cornell. He was also the recipient of both the Young Farmer Achievement Award and the Harry Jones Conservation Farmer Award. Food for Others was connected with Hollin Farms when both groups attended a food justice conference in Delaplane. The Davenports had always welcomed gleaning volunteers to the farm, but groups they had in the past were inconsistent at best and disrespectful at worst. After guidelines were set, Matt agreed that if Food for Others was able to provide dedicated, passionate volunteers, he would allow the food bank to glean on a consistent basis.

Roughly twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Food for Others would bring in a group of 15-25 volunteers to glean apples, peaches, corn and more. Community and corporate groups enjoyed their time on a gorgeous farm not far from home while helping a non-profit organization. Expectations and rules were clear; the golden rule given to the volunteers was to respect the farm. Often, these volunteers would pick and purchase their own fruits and vegetables after the gleaning was finished. This created a mutually beneficial relationship between Hollin Farms and Food for Others.

 

 

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

The last gleaning of the year was held on October 28 in conjunction with VolunteerFest, an annual event put on by Northern Virginia area community organization Volunteer Fairfax. The 25 participants who signed up harvested 1,419 pounds of apples between 11AM and 1PM, and learned about food waste and hunger in the process.

Four months, six gleans and 6,549 pounds later, the season has finally come to an end. As a first and important priority, Food for Others was able to feed hundreds of families with the produce Hollin Farms provided. However, the greatest gift of all was not just the produce… it was forging a great relationship between the farm and the food bank that will continue for years to come.

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

 

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The Community Action Center in Pullman, WA Hosts Volunteer Appreciation Month for October

24.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, 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 Basic Food. 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 Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. One of the topics brought up throughout the Palouse Region, in the Palouse Tables Project, is how to engage and maintain volunteers throughout the year. One way to engage is through volunteer appreciation.

 

The AmeriCorps VISTA organized an Ice Cream and Coffee Social Hour for Volunteer Appreciation Month at the Community Action Center in Pullman.

For the month of October, the VISTA organized ways to appreciate the work that Community Action Center volunteers do. The last event planned for volunteer appreciation was in 2015 and was received with mixed emotions. Many of the long term volunteers did not feel the need to be outwardly appreciated or hold appreciation events at the same time as orientation events. It was about time to do something special for them again but with their added input.

 

The Volunteer Appreciation Bulletin Board

The VISTA organized October as Volunteer Appreciation Month which included a bulletin in the lobby showcasing some of the volunteers and their reason for volunteering, soliciting donations for volunteer t-shirts and food items such as local pizza. The VISTA also coordinated a Coffee and Ice Cream Social Hour with long-term volunteers where they reflected on their experiences as volunteers and spent time with Community Food workers from the Community Action Center. This allowed for unstructured conversation with a small token of appreciation for all the hard work long-term volunteers do in a way that did not single any one person out.

Short-term volunteers that show up a few times a month were invited to participate in the Volunteer Bulletin Board and to wear Community Action Center Volunteer SWAG. These t-shirts were provided through donations from the community that the VISTA organized. This allowed for the food bank and the Whitman County community to recognize the work of volunteers.

These smaller actions of appreciation are easy to replicate and satisfy volunteers of different backgrounds and age groups in the future. These can be replicated throughout the year or once a year depending on the capacity of the agency and allow for creativity and flexibility.

 

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Cider Pressing Preserves Fall Apples on Vashon

11.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, Sam works with a range of programs to bring in more island grown food to offer Food Bank customers.

Ahh it’s finally fall, a time many would call the most wonderful season of the year. The air is turning crisp, pumpkins, squash, and garlic abound, the leaves are changing colors, and… apples are everywhere! This has been an especially fruitful (pun intended) year for Washington fruit trees, and on Vashon Island it’s difficult to drive down a street without noticing an apple tree burdened with the weight of beautiful red and green fruit.

As a result of the abundance of fruit on the island, the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank has a received a plethora of fresh, island-grown fruit throughout the late summer and fall. While it’s a special thing for a hunger relief organization to be able to offer so much locally grown produce, the organization has found that it cannot distribute the fruit-mainly apples, pears, and plums-as fast as they are coming in. One way many residents of the island, as well as folks all across Washington, deal with this issue is by pressing the fruit into juice, and that is exactly what Harvest VISTA Sam Carp sought to do with the 30+ crates of apples the Food Bank had waiting in storage.

Working with one of the local cub scout troops, Sam and the Food Bank warehouse manager organized a cider pressing event to be hosted in front of the Food Bank garden. They worked with the Vashon Fruit Club to purchase half-gallon plastic jugs to store the cider, and were able to borrow a Meadow Creature cider press from Dragonshead Cider, a local cidery. With the help of the 10,000 lbs of pressing force supplied by the cider press, and the labor power of the cub scouts and their parents, the team was able to press all of the apples within about an hour and a half. It was a wonderful event, complete with music, snacks, and a view of Mount Rainier, and it will most certainly become a tradition at the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for years to come.

 

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Food Bank Staff Offers Many Hands in Harvest

04.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, 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.

“Many hands make light work.”  VISTA Brianna has seen a great deal of volunteer groups make their way through the fields and gardens this season, and this phrase always rings true at the end of a day spent harvesting. In September, Brianna organized many hands from Community Food Share to volunteer at the food bank’s partner gardens – benefiting grower, harvester, and receiver along the way.

Community Food Share’s garden partner, Earth’s Table, grows 100% of its produce –from six large gardens – entirely for Community Food Share and  partner agencies of the food bank. The operation is also 100% volunteer-powered by hardworking garden managers, and a large network of volunteers throughout the community. So far this year the gardens have donated more than 27,000 pounds of food to Community Food Share and its partners.

The first VISTA at Community Food Share thought a great way to give back to these gardens would be to organize a food bank staff volunteer event. In keeping this tradition, VISTA Brianna organized the 2018 staff garden day for an afternoon in September.  During the normally scheduled staff meeting, all available employees made their way out to the garden and got to work! Garden Manager Michele had everyone doing a variety of activities, everything from pulling old squash and cucumber plants to harvesting tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and green beans. 

Not only was this a perfect way to have fun outside with fellow coworkers, but it was also necessary time spent connecting to the core of Community Food Share’s mission in providing healthy and nutritious food.  These kinds of events drive home the message of farm to food bank, plant to plate, garden to grocery (however you’d like to call it) – Community Food Share’s staff walked away with plenty of smiles and (hopefully!) very happy hearts. At the end of the day 13 staff members dedicated 24 hours of time in harvesting 424 pounds of squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and beans to be distributed the next three days at the food bank pantry. Many hands made light work!

 

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Egg-citing News from Florida: Growing community relationships in local schools

06.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Sowing the seeds of change starts at the roots of society. If we seek to end hunger and poverty, arming our youth is the first step. Fostering these relationships can sprout new ones, and introduce positive change into an otherwise challenging system.

An example of this cultivation is East Ridge High school. Located in Clermont, Florida on the outskirts of Orlando, East Ridge has approximately 3,000 students. At first glance, nothing immediately strikes the passerby as remarkable. But past the soccer fields and outbuildings lies a 10,000 square foot garden and classroom. Here teachers, students, and community members work to not only teach, but empower and feed.

Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site the Society of Saint Andrew have joined that mission, caring for the garden in the summer months. Students and staff grow organic produce such as eggplant and tomato, in addition to caring for cattle at the facility. Not only do students learn on the field first-hand, but the produce grown goes back into their community. During the school year, East Ridge pupils take home the fruits of their labors free of charge. However, during breaks there are no students to tend the fields, and the crops went to waste. So over the summer months, SoSA took the helm to distribute over 2 thousand pounds food for the needy at local agencies. This collaboration culminated in a local news story, and continues to this day.

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Clallam Group Loganberry Glean is a Smash!

02.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Last Wednesday, AmeriCorps VISTA Sharah Truett hosted a raspberry and loganberry group glean.

“What exactly is a loganberry?” was the question of the day.  Gleaners got to taste for themselves that loganberries are a delightful dark purple cross between a raspberry and a blackberry.

The homeowner had an immaculate garden, all organically grown, with not a weed in sight.  It was surrounded by a lush native forest and a rippling creek. The group picked diligently for about 2 hours and got to taste five different kinds of berries.  New gleaners were able to socialize, make friends, and meet others with similar interests.  After the gleaners ate their fill and took a bit home for their own freezers and pie making experiments, the rest of the fruit was transported to different emergency food organizations in the community. Some went to senior nutrition programs, some to the food banks and some to the Boys and Girls Club.  The children at the Boys and Girls Club surrounded the berries like wild hyenas cornering a herd of antelope, with a special hungry gleam in their eyes for the golden raspberries.

Overall it was a stellar day, with much fun had by everyone, and many purple-stained hands and faces all around.  However, one small mishap occurred on the drive to the food bank.  An unexpected pedestrian stumbled out in front of the gleaning van, causing the driver to brake suddenly to avoid them, and a box of luscious, ripe, sun-warmed loganberries spilled to the carpeted floor. Now no longer able to donate these berries due to the large amount of carpet fur clinging to them, yet unwilling to throw them into the compost like a normal person, Sharah took the berries home.  She washed them as best she could, and lovingly served them to her husband as “Hairy-Berry pie”, which he ate with gusto, despite having to stop periodically and pick out bits of carpet fuzz.

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Master Gardeners at Community Food Share in CO

26.07.2018 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!

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Elk Run Farm and Rotary First Harvest Celebrates 2nd Annual AmeriCorps Action Day

21.06.2018 in Action Day, AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Tina White, is serving as the third year VISTA at Elk Run Farm. 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.

 

National service members and the work they do has played a major role in the story of Elk Run Farm. On June 13th, 2018, Elk Run Farm and Rotary First Harvest hosted elected officials, community partners, and other Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps members for the 2nd annual AmeriCorps Action Day. Attendees reflected on that piece of the farm’s story while celebrating the impacts of national service members in communities all across Washington state.

 

 

The afternoon began with some storytelling from AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) Green Two member, Kate Steele, Harvest Against Hunger VISTA alum, Rachel Ryan, and current Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Sam Carp. Each service member shared their experience working in the communities they were placed and the impacts that national service had on their life. Their stories highlighted the breadth of work that national service members provide for organizations like Elk Run Farm and the insights that each individual gained throughout their term. One member talked about how their service helped them realize their commitment to food justice, while another spoke on the various skills they’ve gained during their term. Hearing their stories gave Tina a moment to reflect on her term as a VISTA and the impacts it had on her professional goals.

 


Storytelling was followed by a farm tour and a food forest planting, all led by NCCC Green Two. Event attendees learned about the mission of Elk Run Farm and participated in service of their own by planting various fruit trees, chives, bee balm, borage, yarrow, chamomile, rosemary, fireweed, berry bushes, and more in Elk Run Farm’s new growing space. As Harvest Against Hunger Program Director, Beth Baker, pointed out, the food forest serves as a fitting metaphor for national service. The forest is planted in units, called guilds, that are made up of plants that work together to create a thriving (and edible!) mini-ecosystem that continues to bear fruit years after it’s been planted.

 

To this date, Elk Run Farm has hosted three AmeriCorps VISTA members, a Summer Associate, and three NCCC teams through the Harvest Against Hunger program. Their direct service and capacity building has supported Elk Run Farm since its inception and has made the farm what it is today.

 


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