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.
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!