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AmeriCorps VISTA Tag

Broadening the Scope

11.04.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, King County Farmer's Share initiative, Rotary First Harvest, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Gayle Lautenschlager serves at Rotary First Harvest on the King County Farmers Share Program. By developing direct purchasing agreements between farmers and food banks, the program aims to increase access to healthy fresh foods in high need populations.

As the farmers and food banks in King County gear up for the upcoming growing season, King County Farmer’s Share VISTA, Gayle Lautenschlager, saw an opportunity to expand her program in a new direction. During a Transportation Round Table for Food Rescue, Gayle met Chef Tom French, the Director of Food & Nutrition Services at Mary’s Place. At Mary’s Place all meals are provided to the women, children, and families who stay with one of their nine shelters. The meals for the shelters are cooked at the main kitchen under Chef Tom’s supervision. Based on the initial conversation with Chef Tom, Gayle and Rotary First Harvest Executive Director, David Bobanick, decided to visit the main Cooking facilities of Mary’s Place in Burien. Chef Tom provided a tour and discussed some of the challenges of producing large volumes of food in a relatively small facility.

After the tour, they also sat down to discuss the King County Farmer’s Share Program and how the two agencies can collaborate. Chef Tom explained that they currently purchase from a wholesale distributor and while he prefers local produce, he has not yet formed any working relationships with local growers. Chef Tom also explained the challenge of incorporating local produce into his program where ingredients may not be able to be identified as readily as they are before they are processed or incorporated into cooking. A possible solution was proposed where a weekly meal highlighting local produce as well as an information and recipe sheet were suggested as ways to increase awareness about local foods that are often available at farmer’s markets.

As a follow up, a meeting between Chef Tom and a King County grower was arranged. The grower and Chef Tom were excited to talk about the wide array of produce available that can be incorporated into meals at Mary’s Place. They also discussed collaborating on other possible pilot projects. An additional meeting was arranged to talk about the possibility of planting produce specifically for Mary’s Place.

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Exploring Food Security Partners on and off the Peninsula

03.04.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan serves at the WSU Clallam County Extension in Port Angeles, WA. In coordination with the successful VISTA-founded Gleaning program at the Extension, Benji will be developing Community Food Projects including processing the gleaned produce to donate shelf-stable items to food banks, launching a community meal to teach cooking skills and increase access to healthy meals, and coordinating with the Hot Food Recovery program to divert surplus hot food from landfills to hungry community members. Through these projects, Benji and the WSU Extension seek to educate and empower the local community through increasing knowledge and access and reducing food insecurity and food waste in Clallam County.

Critical to the success of community food projects anywhere is the development of strong partnerships –with community members, with parallel community organizations and efforts, and with larger forces doing similar work that can support and reinforce what goes on at the ground level.

“Onions ready for redistribution at the Food Lifeline warehouse”

Last week, VISTA member Benji Astrachan traveled to Seattle to meet with Food Lifeline, a branch of the national Feeding America organization. With fellow Extension SNAP Education coordinator Karlena Brailey, they toured the impressive warehouse south of the downtown and learned about the scale of Food Lifeline’s work in aggregating and redistributing food to local food banks. They also sat down to discuss an exciting new program from Food Lifeline that aims to both procure and distribute food locally. That means, buying directly from farmers and then ensuring the fresh and healthy produce stays in the area to feed those community members. In Clallam County, many of the farms are operating at a smaller scale than those of east Washington or anywhere off the Peninsula, but this just reinforces the importance of supporting those who are growing our food.

What’s exciting about this kind of local procurement plan is the way it can incentivize smaller-scale farmers to connect with food relief efforts near them. While most farmers are already supporting local food security work – through straight-forward donations of produce, hosting gleaning groups to harvest the seconds, or plant-a-row programs that designate areas of crops for donation – it is important to acknowledge that they do this because they value good food and access to it, and receive mostly just the benefit of goodwill and appreciation. By compensating farmers for the produce they allocate to food banks or other food relief organizations, we can ensure that they are able to maintain the business end of their operations, and begin to build long-term relationships that offer a stable market and opportunities to scale up donations and impacts in the long-term. For a Food Lifeline partner like the Sequim Food Bank, this is significant in the way it reinforces positive and mutually-beneficial relationships with local farmers, ultimately leading to more delicious and healthy fresh produce for the community members who most need but are least able to access it.

The work of building healthy food systems is manifold in the variety of actors, whether they are farmers, food bank managers, hungry families, AmeriCorps members, SNAP educator, farmer’s market coordinator, neighborhood volunteers – the list goes on! By building out these relationships and supporting the work of one another, truly holistic and sustainable food systems are created.

And for a bonus, Benji got to visit the nearby community gardens project that day called Marra Farms, which is one of just two historical agricultural land sites in Seattle that is still being used to grow food –another awesome example of the many shapes and forms that food security and access to good food takes!

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Building True Accessibility

27.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.

As the Food for Others gleaning program enters its third year, summer fruits and vegetables have become commonplace at all levels of distribution. The 2018 season brought in over 43,000 pounds of produce, giving clients fresh and nutritious options to take home to their families. The donations are distributed through the choice section, where referrals can shop for their food, as well as through neighborhood site distribution. Using these methods, Food for Others is working to increase food equity within its service region.

 As the supply side of the equation is slowly improved, demand is still very complicated. Client preferences do not always align with available items, and some donations stay on the shelf, untouched. These inclinations are due to a variety of factors: Need for culturally appropriate food, lack of cooking skills or time to cook, nutrition education, the unfamiliarity of the produce, etc.

Efforts to provide more culturally relevant produce through the gleaning program are currently underway– the emphasis on community gardens. Belvedere Elementary School, which boasts multiple green spaces, has been looking for opportunities to further educate its students on social service. Using a produce preference survey conducted by the first VISTA, Amy Reagan, Belvedere will soon be growing high demand produce for the food bank. Local fifth grade girl scouts are taking similar measures by looking to cultivate a plot at their own school. As more and more gardens sign up to be a part of the Grow a Row program, Food for Others will be able to more optimally target its clients’ needs and decrease the amount of food left on the shelf.

To mitigate other factors preventing equal access to fresh produce, Food for Others is offering two eight week cooking courses in partnership with both a nearby low-income housing unit and the Virginia Extension office. The classes will be held at the housing unit, and will promote nutritious foods, cooking skills, food budgeting, and safe food handling. Through its connection with a local CSA, Waterpenny Farm, Food for Others will provide each attendee with a share of fresh produce. Recipes will center around the items in each weekly basket, with the intention of increasing participants’ knowledge of the different fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them. Upon completion of the course Virginia Extension will provide each member with an eighteen piece set of cooking pots, removing a high cost up-front barrier.

Access to healthy produce has many layers. Food for Others is attempting to balance meeting clients’ preferences with recognizing and combatting the systemic way in which marginalized communities have been primed to reject healthy options. This will require both time and a multifaceted approach.

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Welcome, Lynsey!

21.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, SW WA, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Lynsey Renee Horne is an Auburn University graduate with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies, emphases on natural resource economics, ecology, and sustainability. Throughout college, as she learned more about some major environmental justice and policy issues that society is dealing with today, she set her sights on doing a term of service after earning her BS and before she attends graduate school. Long passionate about environmental issues and devastated to see the state of food systems the way they currently exist, she was very excited to see an AmeriCorps position that focuses on alleviating both food waste and food insecurity in one fell swoop.

Lynsey is serving with Harvest Against Hunger at Urban Abundance (a program of Slow Food SW WA) in Vancouver, Washington. Since 2010, UA has focused on caring for and harvesting from several community orchards in the Vancouver area, and harvested 20,000 pounds of fresh produce to donate to Clark County Food Bank last year! UA’s mission is to engage neighbors in the maintenance, harvest, and creation of edible landscapes that are accessible to everyone, to support clean, fair food for all .

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The Community Educator Program Supports Self-Sufficiency for the Palouse Community

21.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Palouse Tables Project, Washington Site

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.

Pappy’s Pantry

Week after week, month after month, “Pappy’s Pantry” dry pinto beans, stays on the shelf of the commodities section at the Community Action Center. The Food Pantry receives around one hundred clients each week, Pappy’s Beans are always out but they aren’t always well received. One of the faithful volunteers at the Community Action Center, Andrew Vaughan, sees this occurrence each week and wanted to do something to affect how people receive these less than exciting dried beans, in order to move the product and highlight this healthier option. We all know the choice is clear among clients of a food pantry when they are given the option between dried beans and “Chef Boyardee”.

Andrew, “Andy” among friends at the CAC, jumped on the opportunity to teach a bean demo as part of the Community Educator program lead by AmeriCorps VISTA, Robyn Glessner. So, on a cold and snowy day in February, Andy and Robyn set up crock pots and spice blends to start cooking the soaked “Pappy’s” pinto beans. The community kitchen was set up to greet participants the following day at 11am when the Food Pantry opened up for clients. Samples were made, recipes printed, and multiple handouts were provided to inform curious community members about the different ways beans can be soaked, cooked, mashed, refried, stewed with meat, or tied up into a sock to fashion a microwaveable heating pad! As time passed that day, a few participants trickled through the community kitchen, curious to see where the source of the cumin and onion infusion that was wafting throughout the building had originated. Unfortunately, the weather got the best of the turnout of people for both the food pantry that day and secondly, the bean demo.

There was both discouragement but also hope left over at the end of the day that Wednesday in February. Both Robyn and Andy were able to identify areas that the program could improve on for the next demo, but there were some unexpected “wins”. Volunteers and staff had come through to support the two during that day and there was unexpected and beneficial conversation being had about the community and their relationship to food. Our consensus came down to the fact that though the few community members that came through that day may have been less than anticipated, it still proved that the purpose and goals were being met. Even if a Community Educator is there to teach only one person about cooking nutritious food for themselves, that knowledge is still granted the power to live on and can be passed through that one person to another person, and so on. This is the definition of capacity building, and it is also important for the educators to know that being available to our community as educators is not as much about informing and collecting “numbers” of participants as it is about simply being available to those who do show up to learn, whenever and wherever that may be.

And now, on to the next educator challenge… lima beans.

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Creating Community Partnerships

13.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program 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. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program 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. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a stale in 1 in 7 island homes.

All across Vashon Island, farmers and gardeners alike are preparing for the upcoming season. With longer days and snow-free forecasts ahead, local growers are starting seed, repairing damaged beds and greenhouses, and are reviewing lessons gleaned from the previous season. Harvest for Vashon will soon begin promoting participation in a Grow a Row program, and AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin recently toured two local farms who are preparing to support the effort.


Soon-to-sprout beet starts at Pacific Crest

Pacific Crest Farm serves as a natural extension of the Montessori School classrooms. A true farm in its own right, Pacific Crest is the largest farm on Vashon Island and supplies the local community with organic produce. Jen Keller manages the operation and committed to donating hundreds of started tomato seeds to Harvest for Vashon, which will distribute them to local gardeners eager to donate the yields to the food bank. While speaking with VISTA Cassidy Berlin, Keller also considered the logistics of growing a row of food to donate in Pacific Crest’s sizable greenhouse.

Michelle Crawford has been running Pacific Potager, her south-end island growing operation, for close to three decades. Her primary business is selling starts at her farmstand, and she will seed over 800 varieties this Spring. Beds overflowing with cover crops fill her four large greenhouses. In addition to donating several flats of starts to the food bank’s garden, Crawford has offered to donate unsold starts to Harvest for Vashon, which will be given freely to food bank clients with growing instructions.

Collaborating with local businesses provides Harvest for Vashon the opportunity to have a greater impact on the community. As Winter transitions into Spring, islanders feverishly anticipate the return of locally grown produce and chilly morning gatherings at the market. Partnerships with Pacific Crest and Pacific Potager are an exciting opportunity that hint at more community generosity to come.

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Welcome, Maheyaar!

13.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is a recent graduate from Middlebury College that majored in Environmental Economics. His work experience following graduation includes food security research, hands-on food business experience, and translation, all in the greater DMV area. His work in this region continues as he begins his one year term with Food for Others in Fairfax, Virginia. Maheyaar will be serving as their third Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, and he is excited to be promoting food equity within Northern Virginia.

Food for Others is both a food bank and pantry that has been servicing Northern Virginia since 1995. The organization runs a variety of programs from weekend lunches for in-need elementary school kids to emergency food aid under the USDA. In order to increase their communities access to fresh and healthy produce, Food for Other paired up with Harvest Against Hunger in 2018 to start its Gleaning Program, diverting thousands of pounds of potentially wasted produce from both farms and farmers markets. Now in its third year, the program is partnering with 9 farms and 23 farmers markets!

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Nourishing Young Minds with Nutrition and Service Learning

07.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Community Food Share, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Malik Salsberry serves at Community Food Share, a nonprofit located in Louisville, CO. This nonprofit is one of the five Feeding America food banks that help to serve all of Colorado and Wyoming, with Community Food Share’s focus being Boulder and Broomfield counties. This nonprofit makes its distinction from other food banks in the area by having a major focus on fresh produce and protein, with goals of 75% being fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, and protein sources, like fresh milk, eggs, beans, and meat. Community Food Share supports other area food pantries as well as their own programs which serve different populations like children and the elderly.

Even though snow continues to come down on the Front Range in Colorado the growing season is fast approaching and preparations are well underway. As more people are getting antsier to start gardening outside the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Malik Salsberry, saw some of that same enthusiasm in the students at the Bixby School in Boulder, CO.

According to Laura Porpora, Bixby’s Gifted and Learning Specialist, “Bixby School is committed to educating the whole child, and that includes nourishing food from our own garden. Our school chef, Amber, incorporates freshly picked vegetables into wholesome meals for pre-school through fifth grade students. Our gardening coordinator, Nifer, tends to 3,000 square feet of garden beds with a variety of produce like tomatoes, squash, and beans.”

With the help of some teacher’s the students eagerly jumped into their service learning curriculum as well as the seed sorting activity that was explained to them by the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA. Teachers and students worked together to organize around 7,500 seed packets that were donated to Community Food Share from a local seed producer, Renee’s Garden and would go to benefit several vital programs and events. While the school still had class during the day to fuel the education of the 30 students that were involved many were able to take time to learn about the seed sorting activity, why they were sorting them, and who it would benefit overall.

The VISTA was excited to help work with the students and help facilitate along with the staff as the activity was explained and goals were set. The students organized the seeds by type of seeds, whether they were vegetables, fruit, herbs, or flowers, and sorted them by type of vegetable. The staff and students were even organizing down to the different kinds of beans, tomatoes, and kales that were donated. The Bixby students also worked with the bilingual seed packets that were donated that will be used to help Community Food Share’s bilingual and Spanish speaking participants. This part of the activity also gave the students a chance to learn the Spanish names of their favorite fruits and veggies.

The main use for the organized seeds is to use them for programs that encourage community members to get involved with their garden and give them some resources to start. The Harvest Against Hunger VISTA has worked with the Master Gardeners of Boulder County to find channels to give out the seed packets and spark interest in gardening, including a class for starting plants by seed, tabling events where we give out seeds to pantry participants, and giving out seeds to the community and non-profit gardens. Another function for some of the seeds is to help with the Bixby School gardens which are used as a teaching tool throughout their curriculum and to provide students with fresh produce for school lunches.

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Welcome, Gayle!

06.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, King County Farmer's Share initiative, Rotary First Harvest, Washington Site

VISTA member Gayle Lautenschlager was raised in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She attended Western Connecticut State University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Social Work. Building upon her previous experience volunteering, Gayle completed two internships while in school. The first internship was with the Council of Churches Hunger Outreach Network working on a smart shelving system for their member food banks.

A second year long internship was completed with the New Haven Food Policy Council and the City of New Haven under the new Food Policy Director. While in both internships Gayle was able to work alongside Americorps VISTAs and learned about the program and opportunities to further her work in the hunger alleviation field.

Gayle is excited to continue the work of previous VISTAs and to apply the lessons learned in the Harvest Against Hunger Farm to Food Pantry Program to the King County Farmer’s Share initiative. Gayle is inspired by the educators and mentors from her time at her university and internship sites as well as by the collaboration and support from her time with the VISTAs she encountered along the way.

The primary mission of Rotary First Harvest is to alleviate hunger and reduce food waste with surplus produce. Rotary First Harvest utilizes volunteers and trucks to glean transport fresh food from farms.  King Country Farmer’s Share is an initiative under Rotary First Harvest’s Harvest against Hunger program. Using the Farm to Food Pantry initiative as a model, the King County Farmer’s Share will help increase access to fresh produce through purchasing contracts with local farms.

Working with three agencies in King County, the VISTA will facilitate working relationships with small scale local farms. Through these direct purchasing agreements access to fresh produce will improve in local food insecure households. As per the Farm to Food Pantry initiative, these pantry and farm relationships have been shown to result in additional donations made by the farm to the food pantry.

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Welcome Benji!

27.02.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Benji Astrachan is a recent graduate from McGill University in Montreal where he studied International Development and World Religions. During his studies, and since graduating, he has shifted his focus toward food systems and community development in the face of food insecurity. He served through AmeriCorps as a youth crew leader on a food access project in Vermont, developing his interest in the intersectio n of education, community empowerment and sustainable and equitable food production. He is now serving on the other side of the country as a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA with the WSU Clallam County Extension in Port Angeles, Washington, and is excited to explore the beautiful Pacific Northwest while getting to know and serve a new community.

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan serves with the WSU Clallam County Extension as a Community Food Project Coordinator. He will be expanding on the accomplishments of former VISTA members who have established a local gleaning program that brings in over 70,000 lbs of fresh produce annually. In conjunction with the other food waste prevention and nutrition education programs run by the Extension, the Community Food Project will focus on processing gleaned produce to make nutritional food accessible to community members beyond the harvest season, as well as introducing a community meal and cooking education program with local partners to alleviate food insecurity.

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