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Community Event Tag

Filling in the Gaps: Building A Refugee Community Garden

21.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest VISTA, IRC, Volunteering, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

A rainy morning greeted Harvest VISTA Hailey Baker on the morning of August 10th, a day destined to be dirty and tiring. She and her team at the International Rescue Committee had been putting in long hours at St. James Episcopal Church in Kent, WA, the site of the IRC’s newest refugee community garden. Over 600 feet of irrigation lines had been installed at the site the week before, and the open trenches in which they sat waited patiently to be refilled.

Hailey had organized one final work party to finish the trench refill, reaching out to the IRC’s long list of on-call volunteers to come out and help. When Hailey drove up to the site with a van full of tools at 9:30am, the rain was just starting to ease, the sun poking its way through the clouds inch by inch. She half expected the rain to scare away the 17 volunteers who had signed up to help.

She needn’t have worried. By quarter past 10am, 15 of the 17 volunteers had shown up, eager to work. They all grabbed shovels and pickaxes and jumped right in, slinging dirt from nearby piles into the gaping irrigation trenches. As they worked, they chatted and laughed, amazed at how much they all had in common. Stories of travel, jobs, hometowns, and politics floated around the site. Strangers only hours before, by the end of the work party everyone had made at least one new friend while toiling in the dirt. During the mid-day break, Hailey led the group over to a nearby patch of blackberry bushes, where some volunteers picked fresh blackberries for the very first time.

By the end of the work party, nearly all of the remaining open trenches had been filled. Hailey was pleased to see all the work they had put in, but she was even more pleased by the moment of community they had all shared that morning. How better to build a community garden than in community?

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Gleaning with Refugee Connections

27.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Project in Spokane, Washington, a branch of Harvest Against Hunger. SETP focuses on coordinating volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste.

 

This September, HAHA VISTA Annie made a special partnership in the community. Dedicated to mobilizing volunteers to harvest fruit from unwanted trees, SETP aided in mobilizing refugee citizens to share in the bounty of fresh produce that would have otherwise gone to waste by partnering with Refugee Connections.

 

Refugee Connections is an organization committed to empowering refugee citizens to thrive in the Spokane community. One way of doing this is to see that these community members can get outside to harvest fruits and vegetables, bringing them back to their own communities. Together, SETP and Refugee Connections gleaned 243 pounds of apples and 246 pounds of plums. With buckets, crates, and boxes filled to the brim with the abundant fruit, the produce was taken back to the homes of the refugees. Upon arrival, the community members bagged up the produce for each of the 28 apartment units, feeding approximately 80 people who lived in the community. The volunteers were able to enjoy a sunny morning of harvesting, time spent with friends, and the satisfaction of contributing wholesome food to their loved ones.
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Community Outreach at the Island County Fair

30.08.2018 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.

 

One of the hardest but most rewarding parts of serving as a VISTA member is finding new volunteers, especially for someone with no prior experience in community outreach! In a relatively small, rural community like South Whidbey Island, where most news travels by word-of-mouth and networking is done through friends and family, it takes time to build a solid group of regular volunteers.

 

As part of the 2nd year VISTA project at Good Cheer Food Bank & Thrift Stores, VISTA members Brandi and Izzy set up an information table at the Island County Fair in Langley, held at the end of July. Because information booths can easily become overlooked background noise to fair-goers, they decided to add an interactive component – tasting samples! Using products made in the Good Cheer kitchen, including fruit leather, herb salt, and kale chips, along with a simple, informative display that included recipes, coloring sheets for the kids, and lots of photos, the two VISTA members got to spend three days talking to visitors and island residents – young and old – about Good Cheer and the Gleaning Program. Many people were familiar with Good Cheer’s thrift stores, an island mainstay, but not as many people knew about the food bank and the fruit tree gleaning program.

 

The fruit leather and kale chips were a huge hit, along with the printed recipes for each that were available for folks to take home. The fair was also a success as a community outreach campaign with more than a dozen new volunteers and tree donors signing up to join the gleaning program. Many local residents also took information about donating to Good Cheer; in-kind donations of fruit and veggies from home gardens, dropped off at the food bank by generous community members, accounts for a large part of the fresh produce offered at the food bank during the growing season.

 

More meaningful than the number of volunteers and donors who signed up were the many conversations with people who stopped to visit the Good Cheer booth. Kids trying fruit leather (like a fruit roll-up without the added sugar), long-time island residents expressing their love for Good Cheer as a part of the South Whidbey community, home gardeners and fruit tree owners who shared experience or knowledge about tree care and pest prevention, island visitors who stopped to chat and share their excitement at visiting Whidbey, all showed the importance of putting community into community outreach. Building connections with the people around us makes us all stronger in the end.

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Gleaning with Urban Abundance

17.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Allie Van Nostran serves with Urban Abundance, a project of Slow Food Southwest Washington in Vancouver. Slow Food International seeks to rescue local food traditions and promote “clean, fair food for all.” To this end, Urban Abundance engages volunteers in harvest and stewardship of four community orchards across Clark County. The fresh fruit is rescued from the waste stream and shared with hungry neighbors who need it most.

 

 

Harvest season is well underway in Clark County, Washington! Urban Abundance is hard at work connecting with tree owners, recruiting volunteers and organizing harvest parties to harvest and share fresh fruit. In just two weeks, Urban Abundance has held three harvest events, drawing 25 volunteers altogether. All in all, Urban Abundance has harvested over 800 pounds of fruit, donating over 600 pounds to the Clark County Food Bank and other local pantries. Volunteers are invited to share in the harvest, and buggy/scabby/damaged fruit that can’t be donated is given away, left for wildlife, composted, or donated to the WSU Extension for fruit pest research!

 

 

Volunteers and tree owners have been enthusiastic and appreciative. After a recent harvest event, one volunteer recommended Urban Abundance on Facebook, saying, “What a great concept! Reduce food waste while providing much-needed nutrition to families in Clark County. Can’t say enough about how awesome Urban Abundance is!”

 

 

Another said, “It’s a win-win: good stuff gets donated to food banks and you get to take some home.” 

 

 

One tree owner, who works the graveyard shift, was inside asleep while Urban Abundance volunteers harvested her apple tree. The next day, she texted, “I got off early this morning – still dark – so couldn’t see much, but it *looked* like a lot of apples had been picked. Jaw dropped when I took a look when it got light. Wow! 200 lbs! You guys did a great job, and no, I didn’t hear a thing!”

 

 

Volunteer registration and calls and emails about local fruit trees are pouring in. Pear harvest is in full swing at this point, and Urban Abundance will be holding double daily harvests for the next two weeks to thoroughly harvest two large Bartlett pear orchards in the area. They anticipate many dozens of volunteers and multiple tons of pears for the Food Bank by the time all is said and done! With the support of Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance continues to build community awareness and support for this important project and increase access to fresh, local fruit in Clark County.

 

 

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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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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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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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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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Whidbey Island Community Collaboration

23.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Kelly Pinkley serves at Good Cheer Food Bank a nonprofit located on Whidbey Island. This nonprofit is really innovative in that it gets it’s funding from a variety of different things but mostly sustains on the funds they get from their thrift stores making a profit off clothing, housewares, and furniture that their community members donate to them. This sustainable funding has allowed for them to become quite the model food bank, hosting their own garden, apprenticeships, and gleaning programs. The gleaning program along side the garden efforts brings in nearly 30,000+ pounds of fresh produce into Good Cheer. As the first of a set of three sponsored HAH VISTA’s to be placed at Good Cheer; Kelly’s year as their Gleaning Program Coordinator has consisted of a lot of capacity building, community collaborations, new partnerships, educational awareness, and program marketing. 

Langley, WA is a really tight-knit community that is always looking for creative ways to bring everyone together, especially when it’s for a good cause. Good Cheer Food Bank has been a big part of the community for over 50 years starting out as a volunteer group providing “good cheer” to families that couldn’t afford to do so around the holiday season. It has since grown into a thrift store which then allowed them to afford the funds to provide a local Food Bank, Good Cheer Food Bank.

The HAH VISTA collaborated with different community partners to throw an event that raised up to 300 dollars for the food bank and had some 20 plus people in attendance which is pretty successful for a first-time event. Because Good Cheer has their thrift stores, the volunteers in the distribution center that sort the clothes out and price them set aside clothing they thought qualified as wacky, vintage, or just plain cool for 2 months prior to the event. This allowed for 3 racks of clothing available to choose from at the fundraiser.

The event was called Dress and Date. Community members were encouraged to bring a friend to dress up for the cost of 25.00 per couple which provided a fun new outfit for each to go home in. With the generous partnerships made in Langley: Prima Bistro & Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar offered 30% off dinner for the participants, Flying Bear Farm a local florist offered 25% off wearable flowers, and the local Arcade offered a percentage off Virtual Reality games and stayed open late. A lot of the participants were very excited for such a creative event that was for a good cause and fun was had by all.

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