Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as a coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. The goal of this collaboration is to connect surplus island harvests with consumers in order to combat the economic obstacles that historically prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in food-insecure communities.
New AmeriCorps VISTA member Cassidy Berlin is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Northern Michigan University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, which explored the ways in which geography and human systems influence each other. She dedicated her undergraduate thesis to the politicization of the environmental movement and found inspiration in the founding principles of the National Park Service. Since graduating she has worked as a seasonal park ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Acadia National Parks, and also interned seasonally with a New York-based nonprofit. She credits an outstanding network of educators, peers, and coworkers with encouraging her to pursue these adventurous opportunities. She is driven and excited to help develop an equitable food system in the Vashon community.
One short ferry ride away from Seattle’s bustling downtown district brings locals and visitors alike to Vashon Island, the largest island in the Puget Sound. The island sits halfway between West Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula and is home to over 10,000 permanent residents. The proximity to Seattle and Tacoma is part of Vashon’s appeal; the community maintains an easygoing, small-town charm while being able to partake in the innumerable resources and services usually reserved to urban areas.
The local population is economically diverse. With no designated low-income housing available, islanders face a housing crisis. There’s a saying on Vashon, though, that represents the spirit and resilience of this small community: the island provides. Dozens of farms and hundreds of personal gardens dot the island’s 37 mi². Like many Washington communities, Vashon is home to a popular farmer’s market, one with produce prices that are historically inaccessible to low-income households. The Food Access Partnership and the food bank are trying to change that.
The previous VISTA service member created a volunteer-based gleaning effort, which collected surplus harvests from island farms and gardens and donated them to the food bank and successfully developed sustainable relationships in the local growing community. The second year of this collaboration will continue facilitating local gleaning efforts and will further develop the Grow A Row program, which encourages island gardeners to designate a row of their harvest to the food bank. Empowering community customers during distribution hours will be made possible through a volunteer-run stand with education materials on alternative payment options for local food. Finally, this year will provide the opportunity to increase year-round access to healthy foods through food preservation efforts, such as canning and dehydrating.
In what is expected to be a fruitful year of community engagement, the VISTA collaboration will increase access to locally grown abundance by, as one FAP member said, “serving the unserved in our community.”no comment