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AmeriCorps VISTA Tag

Whidbey Repurposes Apples

14.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning

Harvest Against Hunger has partnered with Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island to expand and support Good Cheer Gleaners, their gleaning and produce recovery program. First year VISTA Kelly Pinkley breaks down how unwanted apples can be used to make something delicious and nutritious.

 

Ever wonder what happens to the poor quality apples from gleans?

Here’s some photos from start to finish.

 

Good Cheer Food Bank has a commercial kitchen on site at their facility and our Harvest VISTA was excited to learn of the different processing projects that take place at Good Cheer. VISTA Kelly Pinkley helped to train volunteers on processing the apple seconds that are too poor quality to go straight out to the shoppers, into a value added product, apple sauce! This not only provides a healthy option of processed fresh, local produce but keeps produce from entering the waste stream, the core and peels of these apples were later thrown into the Garden worm bin to become compost.

Volunteer Paula Good hard at work peeling and coring the apples for the apple sauce!

Produce Manager Lissa Firor happily transferring the milled applesauce into cups to go out to the Good Cheer shoppers.

Finished product!

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Spokane Edible Tree Project Gleans Apples at Resurrection Orchard

07.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Nicki Thompson, who serves with the Spokane Edible Tree Project, coordinated a series of gleans at Resurrection Orchard in the Spokane Valley this autumn. 

The history of the orchard is something of a mystery to its current caretakers, who guess that the trees might have been planted in the 1940s or 1950s. Around two dozen large trees — mostly apple, with some crabapple and pear trees among them — produce varieties of fruit that predate the familiar varieties of today. One variety is presumed to be a predecessor of the common Red Delicious, bearing fruits that are smaller and more concentrated in flavor than the ubiquitous modern-day apples.

 

This year, three gleans were hosted at the orchard. Spokane Edible Tree Project’s newest distribution partner, Northwest Harvest, joined them for the first two. 3,385 pounds were taken to Northwest Harvest’s Spokane Valley warehouse for distribution to food banks and high need schools in Eastern Washington.

During the third glean, volunteers picked an additional 1,500 pounds. The apples were split between three organizations bringing food to low-income community members: 2nd Harvest, Blessings Under the Bridge, and Food For All. This season, about 4,900 pounds of apples were gleaned at the orchard with the help of roughly 50 volunteers.

Spokane Edible Tree Project continues to build strong ties with the caretakers of Resurrection Orchard. In March, they plan to co-host a grafting workshop and a scion wood exchange so community members can try growing different varieties of fruit suited to the Inland Northwest climate.

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Engaging Rural Communities in Okanogan County

20.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Volunteering, Washington Site

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.

On October 30th the Growing Connections team headed to Omak, a small town of 4,833 nestled in the desert hills of north-central Washington. The purpose of their trip was to conduct an action planning workshop with the community. Growing Connections has been working in Okanogan County since 2015, and has witnessed the Farm-to-Food Bank (F2FB) movement expand to include new organizations, backyard gardeners, and passionate community members.

Attendance at the October 30th meeting was the highest it has been in the large, rural county and the distances some attendees traveled illustrated their dedication to F2FB work. With 22 community members in attendance, the group got straight to work. They spent three hours brainstorming various ways their community could unite and tackle some pressing coordination barriers that were interfering with their ability to move F2FB work forward. Based on previous work within Okanogan, and conversation with the regional planning team, the workshop focused on action-planning around three main barriers: storage; collaboration with markets; and fundraising.

As the groups got together to strategize around the current barriers, the energy in the room was palpable, and the solutions offered were original, innovative, and inclusive. For the first time, the group considered what it would mean if they formed a strong coalition that worked towards becoming a 501(c)(3) – also known as a nonprofit – organization. They also addressed who was missing from the discussion and were hopeful to bring in members from the health care community to help tackle the barriers to healthy food access. As the workshop came to a close, many attendees left with smiles on their faces, eager to get started with the work cut out and excitedly anticipating the next meeting.  

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Growing Minds at Elk Run Farm

02.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry

Elk Run Farm, built on a former golf course in South Kind County, provides produce to 12 food banks of the South King County Food Coalition.  It has been a Harvest Against hunger program since 2015.

 

Along with growing fresh produce, Elk Run Farm strives to be a community asset in Maple Valley by providing farm education for youth. Over its three years of existence, the farm has hosted many youth groups, student clubs and field trips. Starting in the 2017 school year, Elk Run Farm expanded its partnership with local Tahoma High School by co-creating the curriculum with the plant sciences class.

By collaborating with the teacher, the farm and field manager are teaching three periods with a total of 88 students about the plant families grown on the farm. The course also provides an overview of the emergency food system as well as the ins and outs of running a food bank farm. The students have been coming to the farm weekly for the months of September and October, taking care of their plant families. They have learned to how to use different farm tools, harvest a variety of crops, prepare them for distribution at a food bank, and plant cover crop. Initially there was a learning curve and need for encouragement for the students, but after a couple weeks, each class has taken more ownership of their plant families and have become more confident working at the farm. They have helped the farm harvest about 1400 pounds of food for six food banks. Some students have even started to volunteer at the farm during the farm’s volunteering hours. As the school year progresses, the students will learn about soil biology and advise the farm staff on how to amend the Elk Run Farm’s soil, plan crops, and advise on how to plant and cultivate next year’s produce.

Most importantly, this collaboration has given the opportunity for the farm staff to work with a consistent set of students and to start building relationships with them. By fostering a basic understanding of how their food is grown and increasing their community engagement through the food banks, Elk Run Farm hopes to provide an outdoor classroom for these students and expand a strong and mutually beneficial partnership.

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RFH & UV MEND Organize Cashmere Apple Glean

25.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Graduated Site, Rotary, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger has placed Harvest VISTAS with host sites around Washington since 2008, and graduated sites are still active in many parts of the state. Upper Valley MEND hosted a Harvest VISTA project to build and strengthen its Community Harvest gleaning program, which continues to thrive to this day.

On October 21, Rotary First Harvest collaborated with Upper Valley MEND’s Community Harvest gleaning project and Northwest Harvest to convene Rotarians and Interacters from Seattle, Leavenworth, and Cashmere for an apple glean at the Ringsrud Orchard in Cashmere. Despite snow in the passes, volunteers drove from Seattle and surrounding communities to glean beautiful cameo apples in a steady rain. Volunteer spirits remained high though no one stayed dry, and by noon, over 10,000 pounds of fresh apples had been picked. Northwest Harvest supplied bins and the transportation, and the apples are being distributed throughout Washington to families experiencing food insecurity. Orchard owner Chris Ringsrud said that it would have broken her heart to have put so much time and love into growing her cameo apples, only to see them go uneaten. She thanked the volunteers for coming out to pick apples on a cold, rainy day, so that families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, can have apples to eat.

 

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National HAH VISTA Weathers Hurricane Irma & Helps Clean Up

12.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, National Site, Volunteering

As a part of its national pilot project, Harvest Against Hunger partnered with Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) to place a Harvest VISTA with the Florida Gleaning Project to build systems and capacity to support state-wide gleaning efforts. Forrest Mitchell started his term in February of 2017. Here, he reports on the recent hurricane damage in Florida to his project’s farm partners and how Hurricane Irma shifted priorities for his project.

Four weeks after Hurricane Irma, Floridians continue to work hard cleaning up the aftermath. Debris is still on the sides of roads waiting to be collected, loose power lines dangle from splintered beams, flooding comes quickly after normal rains only to negate weeks of hard work, and mosquitoes plague the dusks and dawns of each day in great numbers. All the while, the next tropical storm approaches and residents hope for the best. There is plenty of work to do.

Forrest made it through the storm unscathed, as despite losing power for three days and internet services another week, his hometown of Titusville, was well prepared for this storm and recovered well. Unfortunately, many Florida farms were not so lucky. Farms in southern Florida counties saw as much as 90% crop losses, with millions of dollars worth of losses and necessary repairs. The fields of corn Forrest anticipated gleaning with volunteers, beginning the first of October, have blown over and stunted in growth, requiring another month before there is anything substantial to pick. Now, with no produce to distribute but plenty of eager volunteers, SoSA is continuing the hurricane recovery any way they can.

 

Bekemeyer Family Farms, a hydroponic U-pick strawberry producer, and gleaning partner of SoSA’s, fell weeks behind the planting season because of intensive preparations for Irma. The week after Irma passed the state, SoSA Presbyterian volunteers went out to the farm and helped prepare the soil for the towers that will house strawberries. By the next week, all the strawberry plugs had arrived and required fast planting to ensure their health. SoSA volunteers returned to the farm to help plant the crop.

Though Hurricane Irma created unforeseen challenges for farmers in Florida, SoSA was well placed to help, with its incredible corps of volunteers, and offered timely assistance so that farms can get back on track and ready for a future glean.

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HAH VISTA with Volunteers of America Celebrates “Day of Caring”

03.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Stephanie Aubert had heard the buzz phrase “Day of Caring” many times throughout her VISTA service at Volunteers of America Western Washington, which began November 2016. It wasn’t until September 15th 2017 that she witnessed what this special day was about.

Stephanie arrived at the Food Bank Farm in Snohomish at 9:45am that morning to meet a group of 7 volunteers from Fluke Corporation to guide them through harvesting and packing a long, dense row of carrots. She was informed by farmer Jim Eichner that several groups would be volunteering on the farm that day, but it wasn’t until her arrival that she saw the hundreds of volunteers happy to greet her as she drove the Volunteers of America Isuzu box truck to a designated parking spot. Volunteers clapped and cheered as they cleared to road to let the truck through. . . She had never been the recipient of such a grand entrance!

When Stephanie found the group of Fluke employees, she was delighted to see that they each wore a pair of rabbit ears – excited to harvest carrots for their hungry neighbors!

 

Hundreds of Microsoft volunteers were hard at work harvesting several thousand pounds of winter squash across the field, and across the field, the Bellevue College softball team harvested the final crop of cabbage. The team began to load up the Isuzu with full boxes. Before long, about 30 banana boxes of cabbages were packed and ready to distribute!  Stephanie couldn’t believe how fast a large box truck was filling up with fresh produce!

At the end of the day, she returned to the Snohomish County Food Bank Distribution Center with over 5,500 lbs. of carrots and cabbage to be distributed to VOAWW’s 21 partner food banks. Project Harvest was also able to secure another 3,400 lbs. of cabbage and green beans for 12 additional food banks in Skagit County that day. All in all, it was a truly inspiring day – and one that she will remember for the rest of her life!

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Elk Run Farm Hosts King County Executive Dow Constantine

08.08.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm is a food bank farm in Maple Valley, WA that grows fresh produce for twelve food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. This is the third and final year of a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA project.

Harvest Against Hunger site Elk Run Farm celebrated its one year anniversary with a farm tour for their partners and King County Executive Dow Constantine. It was a very special opportunity for the team to show off all of their hard work to the partners that had supported them since the beginning and to Executive Constantine himself. Improvements includes a new office, a hoop house, a wash pack structure, an improved irrigation system and last but not least, all the beautiful produce growing strong in the fields.

It was also one of the first times that most of Elk Run’s supporters and funders gathered together at the farm. The tour was truly a celebration of partnership and the amazing work that can be done by a coalition of local food banks and nonprofits, Rotary clubs, city and county officials, Rotary First Harvest and community members.

 
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HAH VISTA Learns from Clallam County F2FB Community Champions

13.07.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Washington Site

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.

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Harvesting Veggies

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!

 

Port Angeles Food Bank “The Life of Food” Mural: Veggie Soup

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HAH VISTA in Virginia Builds Inaugural Community Garden

03.07.2017 in Uncategorized

Harvest Against Hunger launched its National Pilot in November of 2016, and the projects, in Virginia, Colorado, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, are in full swing! Here is an update from Virginia:

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Amy Reagan is placed with Food for Others in Fairfax, Virginia. Amy managed the planning, volunteer coordination, and construction of Food for Others’ inaugural food bank garden, which was built at Peace Lutheran Church and is located a few miles away from the warehouse. Volunteers constructed the garden, and the gate was constructed later by a youth group. All of the produce that will be grown is client requested, based on a survey Amy conducted at the beginning of her term. Crops include: salsa peppers, tomatoes, zucchini,  bell peppers, beans, and cucumbers.

Volunteers building the beds

Completed beds

Amy Reagan and Annie Turner of Food for Others

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