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Washington Site

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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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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Train-the-Trainer in Clallam County

16.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, 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.

The Growing Connections team, in partnership with WSU Extension King County, visited Port Angeles on November 9th to present a train-the-trainer workshop to members of the Clallam County community. Clallam has been one of Growing Connections focus regions for the past eight months, and this was the third workshop that the Team has organized in the region. Clallam is also the home of the Peninsula Food Coalition, another Harvest Against Hunger VISTA (Juliann Finn), and an innovative WSU Extension office. The Peninsula Food Coalition, founded in 2016, works to increase healthy food access across Clallam County, where most residents live in food deserts. One of the areas the Coalition and previous Growing Connections workshop attendees are focusing on is increasing the knowledge of and access to fresh fruits and vegetables at community food banks – something with which the Growing Connections team was able to assist!

     

One benefit of Growing Connectionspartnerships across Washington is the ability of the program to collect and pass along best practices, innovative ideas, and new resources to interested partners. One of the recent developments they’d been following was an exciting new workshop being developed by the South King County Food Coalition and WSU Extension King County. This workshop focuses specifically on arming community volunteers with the information they need to get a food demonstration program started at their local food banks. 12 participants attended the November 9th workshop, including food bank staff and volunteers, WSU Extension staff, and staff from various civic-minded community organizations.

The training was dynamic and involved two recipe tastings: a green smoothie and a three-bean salad, both of which were received well by the group. Since the workshop last week, Juliann Finn, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA stationed in Clallam, has reported that volunteers from two of the participating food banks are moving on the momentum of the workshop to start their own food demonstration programs. This is welcome news, especially considering workshop attendees will be receiving free demonstration starter kits in December from Growing Connections. The Growing Connections team has their fingers crossed that Clallam food bank clients will be ringing in the holidays Grinch-style with green smoothies while they shop at their neighborhood pantries!

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HAH VISTAs Attend National Conference on Hunger

13.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, National Site, Washington Site

Harvest VISTAs

Harvest VISTAs from Washington and Virginia attended the Closing the Hunger Gap Conference in Tacoma on September 12 & 13. The conference, held every two years, brings together national and local leaders in hunger relief and social justice to share ideas, learn, and develop strategies to reduce hunger and improve racial and economic equity. The conference theme for 2017 was “From Charity to Solidarity.”

Keynote speaker Malik Yakini, founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, opened the conference with an inspiring and challenging speech, suggesting that solidarity means that each of us must do our part to liberate ourselves, as we’re all in this movement together. Keynote speaker Beatriz Beckford, campaign director of MomsRising and longtime grassroots organizer, closed the conference with a call to action: service without a movement toward change is not social justice, and a challenge: are we doing enough to abolish hunger?

In addition to attending sessions and hearing keynotes, Harvest VISTAs networked and ideas-shared with hunger relief organizations staff from across the country. They also assisted in facilitating a conference session titled “A Fresh Approach to Farm to Food Pantry,” which convened a panel of innovators from across Washington to share ideas and best practices with conference participants.

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HAH VISTA with Volunteers of America Celebrates “Day of Caring”

03.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Stephanie Aubert had heard the buzz phrase “Day of Caring” many times throughout her VISTA service at Volunteers of America Western Washington, which began November 2016. It wasn’t until September 15th 2017 that she witnessed what this special day was about.

Stephanie arrived at the Food Bank Farm in Snohomish at 9:45am that morning to meet a group of 7 volunteers from Fluke Corporation to guide them through harvesting and packing a long, dense row of carrots. She was informed by farmer Jim Eichner that several groups would be volunteering on the farm that day, but it wasn’t until her arrival that she saw the hundreds of volunteers happy to greet her as she drove the Volunteers of America Isuzu box truck to a designated parking spot. Volunteers clapped and cheered as they cleared to road to let the truck through. . . She had never been the recipient of such a grand entrance!

When Stephanie found the group of Fluke employees, she was delighted to see that they each wore a pair of rabbit ears – excited to harvest carrots for their hungry neighbors!

 

Hundreds of Microsoft volunteers were hard at work harvesting several thousand pounds of winter squash across the field, and across the field, the Bellevue College softball team harvested the final crop of cabbage. The team began to load up the Isuzu with full boxes. Before long, about 30 banana boxes of cabbages were packed and ready to distribute!  Stephanie couldn’t believe how fast a large box truck was filling up with fresh produce!

At the end of the day, she returned to the Snohomish County Food Bank Distribution Center with over 5,500 lbs. of carrots and cabbage to be distributed to VOAWW’s 21 partner food banks. Project Harvest was also able to secure another 3,400 lbs. of cabbage and green beans for 12 additional food banks in Skagit County that day. All in all, it was a truly inspiring day – and one that she will remember for the rest of her life!

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Elk Run Farm Hosts King County Executive Dow Constantine

08.08.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm is a food bank farm in Maple Valley, WA that grows fresh produce for twelve food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. This is the third and final year of a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA project.

Harvest Against Hunger site Elk Run Farm celebrated its one year anniversary with a farm tour for their partners and King County Executive Dow Constantine. It was a very special opportunity for the team to show off all of their hard work to the partners that had supported them since the beginning and to Executive Constantine himself. Improvements includes a new office, a hoop house, a wash pack structure, an improved irrigation system and last but not least, all the beautiful produce growing strong in the fields.

It was also one of the first times that most of Elk Run’s supporters and funders gathered together at the farm. The tour was truly a celebration of partnership and the amazing work that can be done by a coalition of local food banks and nonprofits, Rotary clubs, city and county officials, Rotary First Harvest and community members.

 
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HAH VISTA Learns from Clallam County F2FB Community Champions

13.07.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, 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.

As part of her work as a Capacity VISTA, Rachel has the opportunity to travel to different regions throughout Washington to learn from community members involved in F2FP work. Rachel recently visited Clallam County, home to the Peninsula Food Coalition and to multiple food banks who are dedicated to increasing healthy options for their clients and to incentivizing healthy choices within their food banks. On her trip, Rachel visited both the Port Angeles and Sequim food banks, both of which have ample space for fresh fruit and vegetable storage and distribution.

While touring the Port Angeles Food Bank with Executive Director Jessica Hernandez, Rachel was excited to see the wooden bins she had set up for her fresh distribution; the bins are situated so that they tilt invitingly towards the clients and simulate a road-side fruit stand. In addition to the produce display, the Food Bank itself bursts with fresh produce excitement: carrots and broccoli jump off the walls from the “Life of Vegetables” mural that fills the entire length of the eastern wall. The mural went up in 2015 when Jimbo Cutler, a renowned tattoo artist, offered to spice up the Food Bank with his design skills. The space, once barren and uninviting, now creates and warm, educational environment for the Food Bank’s clients.

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Harvesting Veggies

A similar sprucing recently took place at the Sequim Food Bank, where Executive Director Andra Smith partnered with the local Rotary club to paint her outdoor produce distribution cases, which they had built for the Food Bank several years beforehand. The Rotary club decided to paint the walls of the cases red and white to simulate the feeling of a farm stand. This outdoor distribution case is one of the first things that clients see when they enter the Food Bank property, making the experience feel more agency-filled and enjoyable. The Sequim Food Bank also hosts summer Farm Stand Days, where local growers are invited to set up stands and talk with clients about their produce. Smith noted that interfacing with farmers has had an impact, both small and large, on many of her clients.

Both visits illustrated the importance of dedicated staff and volunteers, and of creative problem solving. Hernandez and Smith see the importance of increasing healthy options for their clients, but they also see the intensely human element that lies behind their work. They’ve demonstrated that inspiring adventurous eating and possibly changing habits can start with a simple, two-pronged process: make space for the dignity of choice and create warm, welcoming environments. Rachel is excited to see what these two women, and their food banks, will come up with next!

 

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Veggie Soup

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