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AmeriCorps VISTA Tag

Farm to Fork: Gleaning and Feeding in Belle Glade, Florida

19.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, 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.

Belle Glade, Florida is a small town hemmed in by farms on all sides. An impoverished agricultural area, Belle Glade grows and processes primarily sugarcane. Agriculture is embedded into the landscape; towers of smoke can always be seen in fields, a required purging for sugar production and roads with dips and divots with grooves left by truckloads of produce. Within the town proper is the Lighthouse Café, a ministry built directly inside project housing. Lighthouse Café feeds, educates, and provides child-related services. A recent partner to join SoSA’s gleaning outreach, Lighthouse invited SoSA, CROS Ministries, and Heritage/Roth Farms to participate in the full cycle of gleaning, from farm to fork.

 

 

On the morning of April 3rd, Elise, her coordinator, and several volunteers went out into the field to glean. After a harvest of cabbage, lettuce, radish, and tomatoes SoSA delivered the produce to a local agency, as per usual. However, with the help of chef Paula Kendrick and Melanie Mason, representatives of the Florida Department of Agriculture, and SoSA, together cleaned and prepped the gleaned produce for serving the following morning.

 

 

Not only did SoSA glean and prepare the food for the agency, but assisted in putting on a food demo for the gleaned produce. Showing clients the process behind their meal will hopefully empower them to replicate the nutritious meal, creating a cycle of good food. As the pioneer event, SoSA and the Florida Department of Agriculture aspire to grow this outreach to more agencies and partners in the future. In addition to preparing and teaching about the food, SoSA handed out kitchen tools and recipe cards for anyone who wanted them. SoSA hopes to invest its patrons in gleaned food in all stages, from the agency to the community.

 

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Produce Sorting 101

13.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Brianna Nash, serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Serving the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, enough for 22,500 meals a day. Along with 43 partner agencies by which food is distributed, Community Food Share has an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna serves as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

 

There are a couple things that make Community Food Share different than some of the other sites in the Harvest Against Hunger cohort. While Community Food Share is part of the Feeding America network, the organization also resides in a state where the growing season is quite short. Fresh fruits and veggies can only grow outdoors in Colorado from late-May through mid-September. This reality may be inescapable, but Community Food Share strives to provide fresh produce all year round to all that utilize the food bank. The produce comes from all over the country every week – mangoes from Mexico, oranges from Texas, apples from Washington, and potatoes from Southern Colorado.

Bulk 2,000lb pallets of carrots. Volunteers usually sort these and put into cardboard boxes.

 

Large pallet of mangoes. One of five that came in a shipment.

 

With a well-established volunteer network, Community Food Share sees thousands of volunteers come through the doors every year. Almost every day, volunteers are engaged in produce sorting activities. Usually, volunteers are sorting large 1,500+ pound totes and pallets of produce into smaller boxes or into red mesh bags for easy takeaway. Sometimes the produce is in perfect shape, sometimes it isn’t. The trickiest part of our operation here is figuring out how to empower volunteers to make the correct decisions in “isolating” or composting produce. A carrot might have three legs, but that doesn’t mean it’s inedible!

 

Volunteers working on bagging apples from large tote in produce sorting area.

 

The AmeriCorps VISTA is currently working on signage and a standard operating procedure for volunteer produce sorting. This process has been interesting and has delved into the realms of food safety, food bank warehouse protocol, and produce research. The Feeding America network has many standards by which sorting occurs; it’s been up to Brianna to translate that information into volunteer-accessible instruction.

A few examples are:

  • A slightly bruised apple is not a bad apple
  • Onions skins sometimes have strange discoloration and its ok to peel a few layers back to check if it’s ok
  • Soft produce (like oranges and tomatoes) is much more likely to harvest mold internally than hard produce (like onions and potatoes)
  • Weird shapes are almost always ok!

 

Orange bagging by volunteer in warehouse.

With her supervisor, Brianna decided on creating large visuals that exemplify the above bullet points. Large magnetic signs will be made for the produce sorting area at Community Food Share. These signs will be attached to the wall above the sorting tables and will include visual “bad” and “good” photos of apples, citrus, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Since they will be magnetic, staff will also be able to move around the warehouse, if volunteers are sorting in another area. Additionally, the VISTA will create a Community Food Share produce sorting SOP by the end of her term. This will allow staff members to reference sorting protocol and provide that information to volunteers in an accurate manner.

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Partnering with Rotary

05.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. The farm believes that residents of South King County should have equal access to local, sustainably grown, and nutritious produce regardless of income. 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.

 

Elk Run Farm is currently in its third year with a Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) VISTA. There is one thing that all three AmeriCorps VISTAs have had a chance to participate in developing relationships with the Rotary clubs in South King County. Rotary First Harvest, with its many Rotary connections, did what it does best and connected the first Elk Run Farm VISTA and current farm manager to key Rotarians in its service area. This was the tiny seed of partnership that was handed to the farm and has continued to be cultivated by the second and third-year VISTAs, to this day.

When the first year VISTA came onboard, Elk Run Farm was not a farm. The land was still covered in golf course greens and had no infrastructure to distinguish it from the rest of the use-to-be golf course property. Tasked with the ambitious goal of starting a farm literally from the ground up, the initial VISTA and the farm manager approached the south King County Rotary clubs with a request for funds to build Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure. This baton was then passed to the second year VISTA. Together, they met with all twelve Rotary clubs in the service area of Elk Run Farm. After seeing how Elk Run Farm aligned with their motto, “Service Above Self” and the potential it could have to help the communities they live in, Rotarians stepped up and 11 Rotary clubs made a donation. The first and second VISTA collectively raised $36,500 through this outreach and relationship building.

 

Rotary Farm Sign

 

These funds were used to build Elk Run Farm’s irrigation system, hoop house, washing and packing station, and farm office. The farm manager always says, “This infrastructure is what really separates us from a garden.” They allow the farm staff and volunteers to efficiently grow and harvest produce at a level that brings in over 100 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a week during the height of the growing season.

There are also other funding streams that Rotary provides to their community that Elk Run Farm has received. On top of the initial funds that were raised, the first and second-year VISTAs both applied for and received the Rotary’s Assistant Governor’s, Express Grant. This grant is meant to have a quick turnaround that gets financial assistance to the recipient promptly. $5,000 was raised from this method adding more support to Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure.

 

Receiving AG Express Grant

 

Individual Rotarians have also stepped up and used their personal networks to leverage resources for the farm. On behalf of the farm, Rotary First Harvest made a call to the South King County Rotary clubs to see if there was anyone that could provide a solution to Elk Run Farm’s deer and elk problem. The farm sits under high voltage power lines where all the vegetation is kept low for miles and miles on either side. This gives the deer and elk that live in the surrounding forests an easy way to browse and travel across the land. It also meant that the farm’s vegetables were fair game to these animals. A need for a barricade was made very clear one fall when a population of deer and elk ate all the produce in the ground before it was harvested. After hearing this dilemma, Mickey Kimmerlee, an Auburn Rotary member that works for Quality Fence Builders, was able to build and donate the labor and materials for a double-layer fence that protects the farm’s main vegetable field.

The third-year HAH VISTA continues to cultivate the Rotary relationship and is presently meeting with the clubs that donated in the past to update them on how their gifts were used. She emphasizes the impact their funds have had in jump-starting the farm, as well as how the food banks have benefited from the additional fresh produce they can now offer to families in their communities. The third VISTA is also pursuing a district match for the gifts that have been generated from the Rotary clubs in partnership with a Rotary First Harvest board member. She hopes that this match could provide one of the last critical infrastructure pieces to Elk Run Farm: electricity.

 

Mindy in trench

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Kitsap County’s Seed Library

29.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Kitsap Harvest capacity building Gleaning Coordinator, Paisley Gallagher, serves at the Kitsap Public Health Chronic Disease Prevention Department. Nutrition is directly linked to many of today’s preventable ailments related to food intake such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, mental health… although sometimes indirectly,  nutrition is just as much of the solution.  The department also works with SNAP, Youth Marijuana Prevention, Healthy Eating, Active Living, and a Farmers Market program called Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) which is responsible for Fresh Bucks.

The Kitsap Health Department applied for a HAH VISTA to work with community partners to help coordinate efforts and create a system to support local gardening. It is not the intention of Kitsap Public Health to house the future of the gleaning program but rather create a program and find partners willing to take on organized tasks while improving public access to information and participation.

System Development Around Increased Grow-A-Row in Kitsap County

The South Kitsap library, located in Port Orchard Library, has a seed library.  This seed library is an opportunity for community members to grab a small packet of 5-10 organic/non-GMO seeds of many varieties categorized A-Z. It’s also an opportunity to drop off unused seeds, typically packets with 30-50 more seeds than the person needed, for donation. This helps supply the seed library with variety, and many heirloom seeds. This meets the need for the low lying hum amongst people for more opportunities to have a seed exchange

After a meeting and discussion with the librarian, Paisley Gallagher, the Rotary First Harvest AmeriCorps VISTA discovered that this program is not widespread, but a great opportunity for education and increased awareness of growing produce for personal consumption and donation. She offered to “shout from the roof-tops” if a start-up and operational manual was created. The librarian had not thought about the benefits of sharing their program but instantly saw the benefit. Paisley then shared that the plant/grow-a-row program lacked metrics for its effectiveness. She proposed it would be possible to partner it with the seed library providing people information to grow another row for donation. From there they partnership could turn into a photo story showing people picking out seeds, planting and growing their row, and then a final photo of donating it to the food bank. The library loved the idea and plans to partner programs.

By being connected to many organizations focused on food production, the gleaning coordinator was able to connect the seed library with resources to help it tell its own story.  Due to this connection, the seed library is collaborating with local gardening groups to write a toolkit on how to develop and implement a seed library.  Their plan is to have a seed library in all of the Kitsap County libraries.   Along with a toolkit, the collaboration has increased to promotion and education on grow-a-row and information on local produce donations to food banks.

Many community organizations are working on similar agendas, however, they are not always aware of the other groups within their community.  By having a gleaning coordinator that is focused and dedicated to making these connections, Kitsap County will continue to normalize and strengthen local food production and increased local food donation.

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Rokula Farms Potato Glean- A Collaborative Effort

29.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Kitsap Harvest capacity building Gleaning Coordinator, Paisley Gallagher, serves at the Kitsap Public Health Chronic Disease Prevention Department. Nutrition is directly linked to many of today’s preventable ailments related to food intake such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, mental health… although sometimes indirectly,  nutrition is just as much of the solution.  The department also works with SNAP, Youth Marijuana Prevention, Healthy Eating, Active Living, and a Farmers Market program called Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) which is responsible for Fresh Bucks.

The Kitsap Health Department applied for a HAH VISTA to work with community partners to help coordinate efforts and create a system to support local gardening. It is not the intention of Kitsap Public Health to house the future of the gleaning program but rather create a program and find partners willing to take on organized tasks while improving public access to information and participation.

 

On a foggy March Saturday, over 50 local volunteers showed up to glean potatoes at Rokula Farms.  This glean was a collaborative effort from the Farmers, Gleaning Coordinator, community groups, and the South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank. By immersing in the culture of farming and growing in South Kitsap, Paisley Gallagher, the Rotary First Harvest Gleaning Coordinator, met Bob and Donna of Rokula Farms. These two farmers have 27 acres as a hobby farm and CSA opportunity for local residents.  Bob reached out to with a need to get potatoes out of the ground that had wintered over.  Unsure of the quality of the potatoes, the Gleaning Coordinator used her partnership with the South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank to connect with them about the quality and quantity of the potatoes.  South Kitsap was very interested in the potatoes and took their personal time to go out to the farm prior to the glean to approve the quality.

Bob and Donna from Rokula Farms

 

Once the connection was made, it took less than a week to round up the volunteers using online social media with the tagline, “Community Service You Can Eat!” Kitsap Harvest believes if a volunteer shows up to glean we are going to send you home with food, and donate the rest.  Social media delivered an all organic, non-paid reach to over 8,500 people, with 500 unique views, 168 people interested or going, and 55 shares as well as a connection to two other community groups:   My Sustainable City and Positive Olalla Projects.   The event organizers thought maybe 10 volunteers show up based on the 26 who said for sure they would, but boy was Paisley surprised when they kept flowing in for a family fun day picking potato gold from the ground!

 

 

Gleaning Volunteers

 

The glean was a success with 750 pounds of potatoes gleaned, lots of smiles, happy farmers, and happy food bank staff.  The gleaning coordinator realized that the successful glean was a by-product of months of collaborative efforts with farmers, food banks and community groups.  Without being a trusted community member, the glean would not have been so effective.

In the future, Kitsap Harvest will work with low-income housing groups to target people who may live in apartments, but not have room to grow food, this opportunity to do a little work in trade for access to fresh produce.

Gleaned Potatoes

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AmeriCorps Week With Good Cheer Food Bank

15.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Washington Site

This week (March March 11 – 17, 2018)  is AmeriCorps week. It’s also Good Cheer Food Banks Harvest Against Hunger’s VISTA’s second year serving in AmeriCorps.

Kelly’s first term was a year spent volunteering with American Youthworks; an Austin non-profit that builds out tiny homes at Community First, an initiative to house the homeless. They also work on home repairs through the city of Austin to fight gentrification!


This past year she joined AmeriCorps VISTA to leverage program management skills and dive deep into the food waste problem and inequities in our society that are at the root causes of hunger. Through this year at Good Cheer Food Bank she has been working as the gleaning program coordinator under a sponsorship through Harvest Against Hunger, a Rotary First created program, that places AmeriCorps members across the nation to connect local growers, and missing connections to their local food banks to see less food wasted nationally and get fresh, local produce to those experiencing food insecurities.

If you ever have questions about Kelly’s AmeriCorps experiences and are thinking of joining AmeriCorps, or just want to learn more contact Good Cheer Food Bank.  In 2018 alone, there are 75,000 members serving across America!

 
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Harvest For Vashon’s First Glean

07.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, the Food Bank and FAP have teamed up to start three new programs on Vashon Island, all designed to increase food security and decrease food waste: a Gleaning Program, a Grow A Row Program, and a donation station at the farmer’s market. As the first year VISTA for these two organizations, Sam will facilitate the primary development of these programs, all of which are designed to increase the community’s access to locally grown, organic produce.

 

On Saturday, February 24th, Sam Carp, an Americorps VISTA and the Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator, organized a glean of Northbourne Farm, a small, organic vegetable farm on Vashon Island. This was the first gleaning event of the Harvest For Vashon Campaign, and it was a great success! The gleaning team (Sam and four volunteers) was able to harvest almost 100 pounds of kale, chard, and salad greens within just a couple of hours! The produce was then brought to the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for distribution that week. Some of it was also given to Island churches for their community dinners, which are hosted every night.

 

 

As the programs continue the transition into spring, it becomes increasingly evident how much opportunity there is to discover sites of wasted produce on Vashon. Although it is a community that is well known for supporting smallscale, sustainable agriculture, a countless amount of fresh produce goes to waste for a number of reasons, just like in many other farming communities. With help, gleaning can be just one of many approaches that can be utilized to decrease the footprint of waste Vashon residents leave behind. This waste can then be used to support the food security of those very same people.

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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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New Year, New You

01.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, National Site

For many people living in poverty, eating healthy is a luxury. Eating healthy has been marketed to the masses in America as something that costs a lot of money through purchases such as gym memberships, exercise equipment, and expensive dietary foods and supplements. That is why Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Amy Reagan located in Fairfax, VA; teamed up with a Virginia Cooperative Extension SNAP-ED Program Assistant to instruct a nutrition course for the clients of Food for Others. The participating clients are learning how to eat healthy on a budget. All the recipes they learn contain food they can receive from the Food for Others pantry, including a plethora of wonderful produce. Once the 2018 gleaning season gets back into full swing, the extension agent will be able to incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables for our clients to take home with them.

 

Food for Others staff members with apples

 

In order to set a good example for their clients; the Food for Others staff is participating in a produce consumption challenge, created by Amy. Over the course of her VISTA year, Amy has noticed that there would be produce donated that the staff at Food for Others had either never seen before or had never tried. For example, one client was asking about what an acorn squash was and how to prepare it. None of the staff the client talked to knew, so she left without taking an acorn squash. When a staff member told Amy the next day about what had happened; she realized there was a great training opportunity. She created a list of 42 pictures of different fruits and vegetables that farmers had donated to Food for Others through the Virginia Food Crop Donation Tax Credit. Amy then met with each staff member to review the different produce, identify what they did not like, and note what they have not tried. This challenge will last from February 1, 2018 until December 1, 2018, to ensure that staff members try produce from Virginia’s spring, summer, and fall growing seasons.

 

Food For Others staff member eating a carrot

 

The rules to this challenge are simple:

1) You get 1 point for each item of produce you eat.
2) You can get 1 bonus point for trying a fruit or vegetable you did not already know the name of.
3) You can get 2 points for trying a fruit or vegetable you didn’t like before.
4) You can get 5 points for bringing in a client-friendly recipe for any of the produce you try.
5) Once a week you will record your total points will be recorded.

The staff member with the most points will win a $100 gift card to a grocery store.

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Repurposed Plums in Beer

25.01.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning

In the summer of 2017, Spokane Edible Tree Project received a call from a tree owner whose plums had been damaged by hail. Though still perfectly edible, the cosmetic damage made the fruit undesirable by food banks.

 

Plums damaged by hail, a few weeks before they were harvested by SETP volunteers.

 

Wanting to find a way to save more plums from waste, SETP approached a local brewery and asked if they would like to try making beer with the plums. Soon after, 226 pounds of gleaned golden plums were delivered to Bellwether Brewing Company. Their head brewer, Thomas, created a Belgian-style tripel with the plums, then blended it with a wine barrel-aged imperial rye. Each pour of the ale would benefit SETP.

On a Thursday evening in January, they celebrated the release of their ale. Community members were invited to try the beer and learn about the partnership. Local musician Drew Blincow provided entertainment. It was a unique opportunity for SETP to introduce themselves to more community members, raise some funds, and promote their gleaning program. $1 from every beer sold will be donated back to Spokane Edible Tree Project.

 

Drew Blincow plays music at the plum ale release party.

 

A second collaborative brew is underway. Apples from a November glean were dried and delivered to Bellwether. Now their brewers are working their magic, and a release is expected later in the year. This collaboration was also featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting, though the amount of plums gleaned was 234 not 30 as the article mentions here.

 

A brewery staff member holds bags of dried apples delivered by Spokane Edible Tree Project.

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