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AmeriCorps VISTA Tag

Pea Pickin’ Party in Canton, Mississippi

12.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Mississippi

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Andrew Frank serves in the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, faith-based gleaning network that aims to provide food-insecure individuals with healthy produce. Society of St. Andrew was founded in 1979 in Big Island, Virginia and has offices in more than eight states across the southern United States. In 2017, the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew gleaned more than 1.9 million pounds of produce. During the rest of 2018, the Mississippi office hopes to increase its gleaning efforts and further develop itsfresh food drives” at farmersmarkets across the state.

 

On an early July morning, Society of St. Andrew’s Harvest  Against Hunger VISTA, Andrew Frank, pulled into the parking lot of a small Methodist church in downtown Canton, a small Mississippi town just north of Jackson. Unlike most mornings, the parking lot was filled with more than half a dozen trucks and SUVs full of volunteers. After signing waivers and stocking up with water and snacks, volunteers hopped back in their cars, ready to go. It was time for a pea pickin’ party.

Although not far from the church where the volunteers convened, the farm for the Canton Pea Pickin’ Party can be difficult to find for the uninitiated. Five minutes down a state highway, 10 minutes down an old country road, a left on a gravel road in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere, and then, suddenly, a pea patch.

Growing in green and purple pods that hang off knee-high plants, purple hull peas are a variant of the more commonly known black-eyed pea. The peas to be picked that morning had been specifically planted by Dr. Weems, the farm proprietor, under the condition that they are donated to feeding agencies.

 

 

After arriving at the farm, volunteers quickly got to work. With a bucket in hand, each volunteer began plucking up 8-inch long pods and clearing the plants. After the volunteers had harvested about half of the peas, Dr. Weems made a surprise appearance, pulling up to the patch in his mule utility vehicle to offer some words of encouragement, and remind the volunteers of the fresh watermelon awaiting them.

As anyone who has picked peas would understand, picking is only half the work. Removing the peas from their pods, or shelling the peas, is just as if not more labor intensive. Resolving to take the peas to a nearby co-op where the peas could be processed in a pea sheller on Monday, Dr. Weems and the volunteers lugged crates of peas into his air-conditioned house where they were laid on to bed sheets to avoid spoilage.

With all the work done, everyone dashed back outside to the front of the house where whole watermelons sat in containers of ice water. As it was already nearing 10 o’clock in the morning, the watermelon was quickly devoured, with stomach aches ensuing not long after.

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Corn Glean Brings Community Together

05.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Gleaning, National Site

Harvest against Hunger Americorps Vista Taylor Rotsted is serving as a gleaning specialist in southern Georgia at her Host Site, the Society of Saint Andrew (SOSA). The Society of Saint Andrew in Georgia has provided people in need more than 15 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other produce through the Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in approximately 45 million servings of food going to Georgia’s hungry. SOSA works with both volunteers and farmers to grow the Georgia Gleaning Network and lean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.

 

 

Hunger in America is an issue that evokes altruism regardless of political affiliation, economic status, or any other identifier that defines and separates us. It is an achievement in itself to assemble diverse groups with the intent of collaboration. But, when those groups – which on the surface would seem to be separated by an ocean of different opinions – work together to glean almost 15000lbs of produce together, it is a testament to divisiveness and that goodwill is intrinsically in the American people. The gleaning on June 30th was a five-hour event in Sumner, GA, and volunteers came from all over southern Georgia, to alleviate hunger together.

 

 

Society of Saint Andrew, an organization originally started by Methodist ministers, in collaboration with Concrete Jungle, a fruit gleaner and urban agriculture advocate based out of Atlanta, worked in unison to put on this colossal gleaning event on the common goal of fighting hunger. Concrete Jungle made the connection with the farmer a couple of years ago but was unable to facilitate distribution and setup for a row crop gleaning of this size due to the distance and required resources. Which is where Society of Saint Andrews was able to step up and contribute.

 

 

Groups that showed up to glean included religious institutions, Georgia Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, Colquitt Food Bank, Urban Elevation out of Tifton and even a group of TSA agents looking to give back and connect with their community. Even though the gleaning was a success and saw many new faces, the event faced its challenges. Three times trailers loaded with corn and other produce got caught in the soft sandy dirt. And three times, members from all groups worked together to free the trailers so the food could make it to the hands that needed it. The assembly of groups distributed the equivalent of 5000 meals that day. When all is said and done, teamwork really does make the dream work.

 

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CSAs Provide Additional Sources of Fresh Produce

29.06.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

 

A few years ago, Food for Others implemented a new choice program for recipients of emergency food. Rather than giving clients a pre-packed box, they now allow them to “shop” for foods of their choice through a sectioned-off area of the warehouse. Depending on the family size, clients get to pick a predetermined number of items based off of groups of the food pyramid. Since the previous VISTA began, the produce section has been overflowing with an abundance of fresh and healthy treats. Last week, huge bundles of leafy chard lined the top shelf, while delicacies like fennel and garlic scapes sat below. This week, summer squash, Pattypan, and green and yellow zucchini were a popular favorite. The best part? Almost all of it came from a local farm.

 

Fresh summer squash, zucchini, and pattypan

 

This summer, Food for Others began an official partnership with Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Virginia. Waterpenny will be providing 19 weeks of CSA shares to clients. This initiative began in mid-June and will continue through the fall. A CSA or community shared agriculture, is a way for members of the community to support local farms by pledging money for a share of the farm, and receiving fresh produce in return. Through an online campaign, Food for Others and Waterpenny Farm raised $5,823– enough for 15 shares for clients. The new initiative has not been without its struggles. Periodically, clients will see items on the produce shelf that may be unfamiliar to them, or that they may not know how to cook. Because of this, they might choose to skip the produce section entirely.

 

Innovative ways to get produce off the shelf

 

This is where the food demonstrations come in. A few weeks ago, VISTA Grace Plihal cooked kale chips and had the clients sample them. By the end of the day, all the locally grown kale had flown off the shelf. Zucchini bread is up next week, and it promises to be a hit with kids. Additionally, trained “shopper” volunteers will give clients suggestions on new and innovative ways to use the produce, such as bacon-wrapped garlic scapes and stuffed pattypan squash. Through the partnership with Waterpenny, Food For Others hopes that clients will choose to experiment with local fruits and vegetables they may have never seen before. And maybe someday down the line, they’ll be moved to plant their own garden, full of kale, chard, and garlic scapes.

 

Sauteed chard from a share

 

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Elk Run Farm and Rotary First Harvest Celebrates 2nd Annual AmeriCorps Action Day

21.06.2018 in Action Day, AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Tina White, is serving as the third year VISTA at Elk Run Farm. The farm sits on a former golf course in the heart of the suburbs near Seattle, WA where the land would otherwise go unused. The farm helps to increase the availability of healthy foods for families that visit the food banks while promoting sustainable urban agriculture.

 

National service members and the work they do has played a major role in the story of Elk Run Farm. On June 13th, 2018, Elk Run Farm and Rotary First Harvest hosted elected officials, community partners, and other Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps members for the 2nd annual AmeriCorps Action Day. Attendees reflected on that piece of the farm’s story while celebrating the impacts of national service members in communities all across Washington state.

 

 

The afternoon began with some storytelling from AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) Green Two member, Kate Steele, Harvest Against Hunger VISTA alum, Rachel Ryan, and current Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Sam Carp. Each service member shared their experience working in the communities they were placed and the impacts that national service had on their life. Their stories highlighted the breadth of work that national service members provide for organizations like Elk Run Farm and the insights that each individual gained throughout their term. One member talked about how their service helped them realize their commitment to food justice, while another spoke on the various skills they’ve gained during their term. Hearing their stories gave Tina a moment to reflect on her term as a VISTA and the impacts it had on her professional goals.

 


Storytelling was followed by a farm tour and a food forest planting, all led by NCCC Green Two. Event attendees learned about the mission of Elk Run Farm and participated in service of their own by planting various fruit trees, chives, bee balm, borage, yarrow, chamomile, rosemary, fireweed, berry bushes, and more in Elk Run Farm’s new growing space. As Harvest Against Hunger Program Director, Beth Baker, pointed out, the food forest serves as a fitting metaphor for national service. The forest is planted in units, called guilds, that are made up of plants that work together to create a thriving (and edible!) mini-ecosystem that continues to bear fruit years after it’s been planted.

 

To this date, Elk Run Farm has hosted three AmeriCorps VISTA members, a Summer Associate, and three NCCC teams through the Harvest Against Hunger program. Their direct service and capacity building has supported Elk Run Farm since its inception and has made the farm what it is today.

 


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AmeriCorps NCCC Team Improves Elk Run Farm

15.06.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, NCCC, Volunteering

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is made up of young adults 18 to 24 years of age who commit to 10 months of service within 3 different project rounds sponsored by nonprofits throughout the United States.

Pictured above: AmeriCorps NCCC team Green 2 serving at Elk Run Farm, a partner of Rotary First Harvest. Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. Top Row (left to right): Jessica Monnette, Brian Beagan, Samantha Ard, Shelby Collins, Quinn Farnell, Aidan Sulak, Cheyenne Stanley, Mohamad Akhbari Bottom Row: Zachary Owens, Katherine Steele and Kesigh White.

 

Green 2 AmeriCorps NCCC members Zack Owens (Left) and Brian Beagan (Right) harvesting radishes at Elk Run Farm with the help of farm hand Mindy.

 

After their first project round in the gulf bend region of Texas aiding in disaster relief from Hurricane Harvey and just over a month after working tirelessly in the hot desert of Coachella Valley, California building homes for low-income families, team Green 2 of AmeriCorps NCCC planted their boots on the ground at Elk Run Farm in Maple Valley, Washington for their third and final project round.

During their time volunteering at Elk Run Farm, the team learned about the growing and harvesting practices of the many different vegetables (over 30 different varieties) on the farm. Green 2 also assisted in enhancing the infrastructure of the farm by assembling more raspberry and grape trellises, digging vegetable beds, and building worm bins to compost all food waste and organic matter on the farm.

 

The newly constructed and lined raspberry trellises mulched to ward off weeds and provide adequate walking space between plants to protect them from trampling.

Team Green 2’s biggest accomplishment occurred on AmeriCorps Action Day alongside other service members and members of the Maple Valley community. What originally started as a rocky, naked space sprouted into a beautiful food forest, King County of Washington State’s first public food forest! Over 30 fruit trees were planted and over 250 plants aiding in the health and well-being of the trees now call Elk Run Farm home.

Although Green 2 will not be around when Elk Run Farms receives water and electric on the property, they will continue their adventure and volunteerism on Whidbey Island helping Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift in Langley, WA.

 

Elk Run Farm’s new food forest planted on June 13, 2018

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The “Tangled Hairball”: The First Annual End Hunger Conference

31.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

The work of the non-profit can often be lonesome. Small offices, even smaller budgets, single subject focus, and massive projects can put an activist into a microcosm. This phenomenon is just a fraction of what makes events like the first End Hunger Conference so special. On a drizzling, dreary Saturday morning approximately 140 activists, ministers, and community members gathered at Saint Luke’s to discuss our common goal: ending hunger, from charity to empowerment.

 

 

Elise, a HAH AmeriCorps VISTA serving at SoSA, and her supervisor Barbara, the state director for SoSA Florida and Bread for the World member, attended the first annual End Hunger Conference. Elise ran a table for SoSA, recruiting volunteers and educating attendees about SoSA and gleaning while also participating in workshops. Barbara helped plan the event and participated in workshops of her own. Although the conference was based on eradicating poverty and hunger, the panels ran the spectrum from mass-incarceration to predatory loan practices, all factors leading to hunger.

Perhaps most noteworthy of these exercises was the opening activity. Bread for the World, a co-sponsor of the conference, provided each table with a simulation. From the Reconstruction era (1860s-70s) to now, each table member played as either a Euro- or African American. One by one, the table went through the legislation such as the Social Security Act of 1935, gaining or losing money, land, and opportunity not by their own merit, but legislative whims. By the final and most recent act, the ‘black’ players were left impoverished and food-insecure. This exercise opened the door to a crucial conversation that often goes unsaid and ignored. As the keynote speaker put it, “the tangled hairball” of poverty and hunger.

 

 

The End Hunger Conference, by framing hunger through legislative oppression, serves as a stark reminder that hunger does not exist in a vacuum. Race, gender, geography, and education weigh in on why people go hungry. Approaching hunger relief without acknowledging these factors is to ignore the issue entirely. The “tangled hairball” route is not the easy one, but without it, hunger cannot be solved. As noted in Circles (a financial assistance non-profit) in their workshop, feeding the hungry is only step one in ending food-insecurity.

Without addressing how or why a person is hungry, little can be done to help.  Also critical is the acceptance that these acts are not blights of the past, but are alive and well in the present day. The legacy of slavery and oppressive legislation are still having an impact on our society, and leading some towards food-insecurity. By educating ourselves and others, we can endeavor to solve the “tangled hairball” of hunger and poverty, one hair at a time.

 

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Jackson State University Sweet Potato Crop Drop

24.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Mississippi, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Andrew Frank serves in the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, faith-based gleaning network that aims to provide food-insecure individuals with healthy produce. Society of St. Andrew was founded in 1979 in Big Island, Virginia and has offices in more than eight states across the southern United States. In 2017, the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew gleaned more than 1.9 million pounds of produce. During the rest of 2018, the Mississippi office hopes to increase its gleaning efforts and further develop its “fresh food drives” at farmers’ markets across the state.

 

In the early hours of April 10th, a dump truck pulled into a parking lot adjacent to Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, Mississippi and dumped its payload of over 15,000 sweet potatoes onto the concrete. These sweet potatoes, grown in Vardaman, Mississippi (“The Sweet Potato Capital of the World”), were the main attraction of the Jackson State University Crop Drop, a bi-annual event sponsored by Society of St. Andrew, Jackson State University and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi during which free produce is distributed to those in need.

As early as 8:30 in the morning, cars began lining up near the entrance to the parking lot to receive one bag of sweet potatoes and one head of iceberg lettuce, which Society of St. Andrew had fortuitously gleaned and saved for the event the evening before. Meanwhile, over 75 JSU volunteers, clad in sweatpants and t-shirts, began assembling near the 30-ft. long pile of sweet potatoes to listen to directions from event organizers.

 

 

As cars were waved in to drive up to the curb to receive their free produce, volunteers worked as quickly as they could to fill their 34-inch red nylon bags with sweet potatoes. Although some cars only had one or two passengers, many others were filled to capacity with four or five adults, ostensibly because they lacked cars of their own, but could not afford to pass up on the opportunity for free produce. In a humbling display, some older local residents approached the pile of sweet potatoes on foot with their own bags, inquiring how they could receive their own portion.

In sum, 976 people received food during the event, including 206 who walked to the drop. In other words, over 1% of the food-insecure population in Hinds and Rankin counties (which contain the vast majority of the Jackson metropolitan area) received food from this three-hour crop drop.

The next JSU Crop Drop will be held in mid-August.

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The Olympic Peninsula Food Web

17.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

AmeriCorps Vista member Sharah works out of the WSU Extension Office in Clallam County in Western Washington.  The main focus is on the gleaning program, which last year gleaned over 50,000 lbs of food in the community.  Another focus area is the Farm to Food Pantry Program which purchases needed produce from small farmers to go to the food bank.

 

When people learn that the Olympic Peninsula is just west of Seattle, their normal reaction is “I thought that was just water?” The peninsula is off of most folks’ radar even though it is home to the resplendent Olympic National Park, and an international border crossing, and was briefly famous as the cloudy setting of the Twilight Vampire Novels. Many people still think it is just water over here. Au Contraire! In its heyday, it was a large-scale fruit supplier to the population of Seattle, thanks to the rich soil and rain shadow climate. It is also the namesake of the famed Dungeness crab, caught out near the Dungeness Spit. Yet despite the cornucopia of natural resources and amazing foodie cred, the peninsula also has widespread poverty and hunger. Though it is technically connected to the mainland, it is for all practical purposes, an island, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with island life.

 

 

In the ten years that AmeriCorps VISTA Gleaning Coordinator Sharah Truett has called this explosion of moss, trees and mycelium home, she’s come to appreciate how threadbare the connection with the outside world can be. During intense windstorms the peninsula can get cut off from the mainland: fallen trees blocking the major roads, ferry traffic shut down, and the floating Hood Canal Bridge closed due to high waves. Like a spiders web loosely attached to its supports by only a few threads, the peninsula community is often just barely hanging on; which is why a having a strong internal support network is crucial.

 

Enter the Peninsula Food Coalition. This is a group of organizations on the peninsula that care about people, the land, and food. There is no membership fee. Anyone who shows up is welcomed with a handshake and some home cooking. Last week, this meeting was hosted in the beautiful Jamestown S’Klallam Tribes’ conference room, overlooking the bay. Many players were at the table: food bank managers, SNAP managers, healthcare providers, shelter managers, the local Land Trust, and more. Laughter was widespread, stories were shared, and burdens were unloaded so the group could think of creative ways to shoulder them together.

The conversation wandered through various food topics:
“How can we help?” asked the food bank manager upon hearing about the local emergency shelters financial woes.
“The tribe received funds to hire a traditional foods coordinator!” announced the tribal community worker to applause.
“Will everyone keep their ear to the ground for farmers looking to retire?” implored the Land Trust,” so we can step in and help preserve farmland before it is snatched up by developers.”
“Let’s practice an emergency food drop at a remote food bank,” encouraged the leader of a group of volunteer pilots,” In case of an earthquake, we want to help get food to the rural communities.”

 

 

For a tiny, out-of-the-way place, the peninsula is on the cutting edge of progressive emergency food policy. Perhaps because groups like this meet up once a month and talk and eat together. Today’s menu for the gathering included a twist on traditional food provided by the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe: steamed clams, bull kelp and cucumber salad with a tangy vinaigrette and nettle pesto pasta. Looking out on the shimmering bay, on the very spot the clams were harvested that morning, the group was reminded that there are also great advantages to being an island. An island has strong internal bonds; an island community builds and protects its web together.

 

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Springing into action at the Bayview Farmers Market

03.05.2018 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.

 

After the teaser of sunshine and warm days last week, the rain came back just in time for the first Farmers Market at Bayview Corner just south of Langley WA, but that didn’t keep anyone away. A local group of marimba players were cheering up shoppers as they browsed through the first offerings from farmers and crafters from around South Whidbey Island.

 

The current crop of garden apprentices – Annie, Tran, and Kathryn (minus Grayson who was visiting family in Denver) – and the new AmeriCorps VISTA member – Brandi Blais – met with Lissa Firor, Produce manager for the Good Cheer Food Bank, to learn the process for gleaning produce from the Bayview Farmers Market. After going over the general procedure for checking in (for Kathryn and Tran, apprentices at the South Whidbey School Garden, who don’t get over to Good Cheer very often) the first step was to grab the cart and a few sturdy plastic totes.

 

Checking in and grabbing the cart from the Good Cheer Garden shed

 

Next, the crew headed over to the market, about a 5-minute walk through the Good Cheer garden and past the historic Bayview building. Aiming to arrive just before the market closed, so that farmers and shoppers wouldn’t feel crowded by the gleaners, the crew made their way through the market, with Lissa providing introductions to the some of the farm partners as they wound down from a fun and successful first market of the season.

 

Heading through the garden and off to market

 

Good Cheer has many long-term partners in the local farming community, and the warm relationship is evident in the welcoming smiles and cheerful hellos from folks like Bill from Bur Oak Acres and Arwen from Skyroot Farm. Annie and Nathan from Deep Harvest and Foxtail donated kohlrabi, kale, and radishes, along with a few early season herbs. Other gleanings included bok choy, salad mix, and collards.

 

Stopping by Deep Harvest’s farm stand to visit Annie

 

As the cart and crew made their way through the market, a few generous farmers stepped out from behind their tables to drop kale, herbs, or (what else did we get) into the cart.

After a quick stop at Lesedi Farm and African Food for samosas and a detour past the tiny free library, the gleaners made the short walk back to Good Cheer to weigh in and record the day’s catch. In the end, 24 pounds of produce was collected. Donations are tracked, bins labeled, and produce stored in the walk-in cooler for repacking and distribution on the Monday morning following the Saturday market. Produce from the farmer’s market has its own special spot in the cooler, and the entire cooler is organized in a way that keeps things circulating, making sure that customers get the freshest possible produce.

 

Not a bad haul for the first market of the year!

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Earth Day Garden Cleanup

26.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida aimed to discover if there was any correlation between gardening as a child and eating habits as an adult. They surveyed 1,351 college students, asking them questions about their fruit and vegetable intake and whether they had participated in any sort of gardening early on in their lives. Their findings: people who gardened as children ate, on average, 15 percent more fruits and veggies than those who had not.

 

Reading about this study planted a seed in Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal’s head. Food for Others provides weekend packaged meals to Fairfax County elementary school students who are receiving free or reduced lunch during the week. One of these schools has a garden that was not being taken care of or utilized to its full potential. After a few weeks of planning and coordination, Grace and 5th-grade teacher Katie held the elementary school’s first annual Earth Day garden cleanup. Armed with seeds, shovels, and gloves specially made for smaller hands, the class of 24 got to work on the garden. At one station, a group focused on weeding the rain garden and learning about native plants. Another group prepared the soil for bee balm, vegetable seeds, and an Allegheny blackberry bush. The third cleared a bed of invasive mint and planted radishes, carrots, and lettuce in its place. Then, they all rotated so that they could experience the other stations.

 

 

A different class had previously planted strawberries that were just beginning to flower. Grace pointed out that the blooms would soon become fruit, and the class was floored. They had a much harder time envisioning their future blackberries, as one child said, “That’s going to have blackberries next year? It just looks like a stick!”

 

 

There was no way to know which of these kids were receiving the anonymous weekend “Power Packs,” which consist of two non-perishable breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks. But as of 2017, 70.4% of the school’s student population was receiving free or reduced lunch– meaning that a solid portion did not always know where their next meal would be coming from. As the ten and eleven-year-olds turned over the soil and read the directions on the back of the seed packets aloud, Grace envisioned a world in which every child had a bountiful harvest right in their backyard.

 

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