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Washington Site

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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The Palouse Tables Project Uses ArcGIS Story Mapping to Communicate Findings

15.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, 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.

The Palouse Tables Project is approaching the “Dissemination of Information Phase” of the project. A draft of the assessment and planning project has been completed and is undergoing formatting and editing. However, most people either do not have the time or patience to read a whole assessment and planning report. To make the project findings and results more communicable, the HAH VISTA has used ArcGIS Story Mapping to share those results. The story mapping interface has the advantage of being interactive, short, concise, incorporating major highlights of the report without getting too much into detail, and it illustrates information spatially or geographically which usually resonates with the public.

In order to use GIS software, the VISTA had to coordinate and leverage partnerships for the Palouse Tables Project. At the current HAH site, Community Action Center, GIS software is unavailable and because it usually takes some basic skill level to work GIS, applying for the program seemed unsustainable. However, the University of Idaho Extension, which supports a partnering agency, the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition (PCFC), was willing to host the Palouse Tables Project Story Map on their domain. This domain also hosts other community food projects for the PCFC so it was a more fitting place for the project to live. Additionally, it bolsters the relationship between the Community Action Center, PCFC, and the University of Idaho Extension. It also is far more sustainable in terms of the life of the project. Where there are some experienced GIS users on the UI Extension side that can work on the project after the HAH VISTA leaves, the Community Action Center does not have that capacity. This partnership and shared programing took a couple months to develop and really took affect after an initial workshop with the University of Idaho system

The first year HAH VISTA is currently working on a small group that is willing to work on the project after she leaves. A couple of Washington State University students have shown interest in the PTP Story Mapping Project and have decided to volunteer some of their time to learn the program and work on it.

For the sake of sustainability, the HAH VISTA is also working on hosting an ArcGIS workshop for employees at the Community Action Center so that they can take on the PTP Story Mapping Project, edit as they see fit, and use it to communicate to the public more easily. Should the Community Action Center ever decide to adopt ArcGIS, then they will have some basic skills to work the program.

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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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Gleaning with Refugee Connections

27.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, 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 coordinating volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste.

 

This September, HAHA VISTA Annie made a special partnership in the community. Dedicated to mobilizing volunteers to harvest fruit from unwanted trees, SETP aided in mobilizing refugee citizens to share in the bounty of fresh produce that would have otherwise gone to waste by partnering with Refugee Connections.

 

Refugee Connections is an organization committed to empowering refugee citizens to thrive in the Spokane community. One way of doing this is to see that these community members can get outside to harvest fruits and vegetables, bringing them back to their own communities. Together, SETP and Refugee Connections gleaned 243 pounds of apples and 246 pounds of plums. With buckets, crates, and boxes filled to the brim with the abundant fruit, the produce was taken back to the homes of the refugees. Upon arrival, the community members bagged up the produce for each of the 28 apartment units, feeding approximately 80 people who lived in the community. The volunteers were able to enjoy a sunny morning of harvesting, time spent with friends, and the satisfaction of contributing wholesome food to their loved ones.
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Community Outreach at the Island County Fair

30.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

 

One of the hardest but most rewarding parts of serving as a VISTA member is finding new volunteers, especially for someone with no prior experience in community outreach! In a relatively small, rural community like South Whidbey Island, where most news travels by word-of-mouth and networking is done through friends and family, it takes time to build a solid group of regular volunteers.

 

As part of the 2nd year VISTA project at Good Cheer Food Bank & Thrift Stores, VISTA members Brandi and Izzy set up an information table at the Island County Fair in Langley, held at the end of July. Because information booths can easily become overlooked background noise to fair-goers, they decided to add an interactive component – tasting samples! Using products made in the Good Cheer kitchen, including fruit leather, herb salt, and kale chips, along with a simple, informative display that included recipes, coloring sheets for the kids, and lots of photos, the two VISTA members got to spend three days talking to visitors and island residents – young and old – about Good Cheer and the Gleaning Program. Many people were familiar with Good Cheer’s thrift stores, an island mainstay, but not as many people knew about the food bank and the fruit tree gleaning program.

 

The fruit leather and kale chips were a huge hit, along with the printed recipes for each that were available for folks to take home. The fair was also a success as a community outreach campaign with more than a dozen new volunteers and tree donors signing up to join the gleaning program. Many local residents also took information about donating to Good Cheer; in-kind donations of fruit and veggies from home gardens, dropped off at the food bank by generous community members, accounts for a large part of the fresh produce offered at the food bank during the growing season.

 

More meaningful than the number of volunteers and donors who signed up were the many conversations with people who stopped to visit the Good Cheer booth. Kids trying fruit leather (like a fruit roll-up without the added sugar), long-time island residents expressing their love for Good Cheer as a part of the South Whidbey community, home gardeners and fruit tree owners who shared experience or knowledge about tree care and pest prevention, island visitors who stopped to chat and share their excitement at visiting Whidbey, all showed the importance of putting community into community outreach. Building connections with the people around us makes us all stronger in the end.

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The Palouse Tables Project Collects Feedback on Regional Vision for Food Security

23.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, 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 Hungers AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas and Joe Astorino of the Community Action Center took shifts reaching out to Pullman Community members at the Annual National Lentil Festival to gather feedback on a regional vision for food security.

 

On Friday, August 17, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project tabled at the Annual National Lentil Festival in Pullman, WA. The HAH VISTA collected community input from about 50 individuals that ranged from high school and university students to families and the elderly.

 

Earlier this year, a community food security meeting took place in Pullman that engaged the public on what worked well in the community and what were the dreams the community had for the future of food and food security. Because the Palouse Tables Project is a regional assessment and planning project, the dreams collected from all the communities across Whitman and Latah County went through a consistent process of coding and theming. These dreams were coded and themed into two systems:

System 1

System 2

Growing Food

Food System Education and Heritage Appreciation

Sharing and Selling Food

Community Engagement and Leadership
Cooking and Eating Food

Communication and Coordination

Food Waste

Inclusion, Connection, and Community Identity

Transporting and Storing Food

 

A regional vision was then drafted to unite all the coded and themed dreams. This vision concept was called “Regeneration,” to try to capture the diverse nature of these dreams and projects. It was meant to capture everything from restoring the quality of our soil and water, to reconciling our relationship with heritage food, skills, and knowledge, to addressing our stigma against food bank clients and those who rely on food assistance, and many more. These dreams that stemmed from all over the region had a common core theme of regenerating, or restoring and growing in a healthy direction from where we currently are.

 

 

Pullman community members that stopped by the Palouse Tables Project table indicated what part of the food system needed the most “Regeneration.” In the first hour and half, about 50 people participated, shared their point of views, and commented on the concept of “Regeneration.”

 

The next steps in this phase of the project is to replicate this outreach effort at the Palouse Empire Fair, the Latah County Fair, the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition Meeting, the Poverty on Palouse Forum, the Pullman and Moscow Farmer’s Markets, several of the food pantry distribution sites across the region, and governing bodies and community stakeholders who would potentially be interested in partnering and working with the community to make these food security dreams come true.

 

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Gleaning with Urban Abundance

17.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Allie Van Nostran serves with Urban Abundance, a project of Slow Food Southwest Washington in Vancouver. Slow Food International seeks to rescue local food traditions and promote “clean, fair food for all.” To this end, Urban Abundance engages volunteers in harvest and stewardship of four community orchards across Clark County. The fresh fruit is rescued from the waste stream and shared with hungry neighbors who need it most.

 

 

Harvest season is well underway in Clark County, Washington! Urban Abundance is hard at work connecting with tree owners, recruiting volunteers and organizing harvest parties to harvest and share fresh fruit. In just two weeks, Urban Abundance has held three harvest events, drawing 25 volunteers altogether. All in all, Urban Abundance has harvested over 800 pounds of fruit, donating over 600 pounds to the Clark County Food Bank and other local pantries. Volunteers are invited to share in the harvest, and buggy/scabby/damaged fruit that can’t be donated is given away, left for wildlife, composted, or donated to the WSU Extension for fruit pest research!

 

 

Volunteers and tree owners have been enthusiastic and appreciative. After a recent harvest event, one volunteer recommended Urban Abundance on Facebook, saying, “What a great concept! Reduce food waste while providing much-needed nutrition to families in Clark County. Can’t say enough about how awesome Urban Abundance is!”

 

 

Another said, “It’s a win-win: good stuff gets donated to food banks and you get to take some home.” 

 

 

One tree owner, who works the graveyard shift, was inside asleep while Urban Abundance volunteers harvested her apple tree. The next day, she texted, “I got off early this morning – still dark – so couldn’t see much, but it *looked* like a lot of apples had been picked. Jaw dropped when I took a look when it got light. Wow! 200 lbs! You guys did a great job, and no, I didn’t hear a thing!”

 

 

Volunteer registration and calls and emails about local fruit trees are pouring in. Pear harvest is in full swing at this point, and Urban Abundance will be holding double daily harvests for the next two weeks to thoroughly harvest two large Bartlett pear orchards in the area. They anticipate many dozens of volunteers and multiple tons of pears for the Food Bank by the time all is said and done! With the support of Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance continues to build community awareness and support for this important project and increase access to fresh, local fruit in Clark County.

 

 

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SETP Learns Surprise Lessons about Gleaning and Golden Plums

09.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

In Spokane, Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt has fully welcomed in the presence of plums. All over town, tree owners have been reaching out to Spokane Edible Tree Project with the intention of not seeing their beautiful little stone fruits go to waste. Spokane Edible Tree Project mobilizes volunteers to glean produce from fruit and nut trees that would otherwise go to waste in Spokane county. There are over 140 backyard tree owners and 28 farmers who are registered with the project, all hoping to share the bounty of excess produce with their neighbors who need it most.

Just two weeks ago, a long time registered tree owner of SETP hastily called Annie at SETP Headquarters, urging the SETP Glean Team to come harvest her lush, golden plums – to resuce them from the fate of rotting in her backyard, uneaten. “I have golden plums coming out of my ears,” she insisted. “They are just about to be at perfect ripeness within a couple of days; please come harvest as soon as you can, Glean Team!”

Rushing to diligently make sure these golden plums could find homes with hungry community members in need, Annie quickly banded together a group of employees from a local Spokane office. With the heat wave that has been encompassing the area lately and the significance of tone from the tree owner, there was a sense of needing to hurry.

 

 

The Glean Team met on a sunny morning at the gleaning site, just north of Spokane. They were excited to give back to their community and to take a refreshing break from the office. There was just one problem – most of the plums were not yet close to being ripe! The situation was looked upon by the SETP Glean Team with some humor and some good laughs, as the rushing had become a silly notion for the plums that were still a bit green and firm, with pointed tips at the bottom of the fruit signifying the need for further development. The team gleaned what small amount they could, and left back to the office to await the natural ripening to occur.

Puzzled, Annie researched into this phenomenon, and busted a long-time myth she had always believed – extreme heat does not always mean that fruit will ripen faster! In fact, with most stone fruit, extreme heat causes the fruit to slow down its ripening process in an effort to save the fruit from dropping its seeds in conditions that are not suited to seed germination.   

In the end, the same small group of local volunteers came back a week later with SETP, helping to glean 500 pounds of golden plums from the trees! There was no sense of rushing this time – only the zen satisfaction of being up in a tree, tasting the fresh sweetness of golden fruit, and the sense of peace that comes from participating in work that truly makes a difference.

 

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