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community partnerships Tag

Moving Towards Food Sovereignty

12.09.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food for Others, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Virginia

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

Many have heard the saying: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” The origin of this quote is hotly contested, but its validity is most certainly not. Self-sufficiency is a sure way to promote better health outcomes within a community, decreasing the need for the emergency band-aid solutions that are all too prevalent. But what happens when the person knows how to fish, but has no body of water nearby, or no bait or tackle? What then?

In Northern Virginia, land availability is both scarce and expensive. Community gardens have long waiting lists with high yearly fees, and limited public transport decreases the number of available options. This is bad news for the regions 148,850 food-insecure families, who have the cards stacked against them with high rent, low wages, and limited resources.

Through their VISTA program, Food for Others is looking to promote preventative measure in the fight against hunger and is making an active effort to open up land to hungry families. The organizations have two plots located at Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, and currently boast 16 raised beds, high fencing, and hand-painted designs. As of now, 5 families occupy 10 of beds, with the remainder being run by a partner, Food Uniting Neighbors. The families get to keep their beds as long they want and are able to choose the produce of their choice. Food for Others provides funding for seeds, soil, equipment, etc. as well as Master Gardeners in case there is a technical question. The gardens are in their 3rd year of operation and have grown over 414 lbs this summer.

The goal of this project is to give families the ability to make decisions for themselves, opting for a less paternalistic approach. The results include the growing of more culturally relevant foods, longer-term health benefits, and dignity. It also means five fewer families that will be coming to Food for Others for emergency aid.

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Harvest Share program promotes gardening education on the Palouse

14.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Harvest VISTA, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center (CAC) in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their mottos is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food-insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

In June of this year, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Robyn Glessner began a Harvest Share program for local gardeners to meet once every two weeks to share their produce and gardening stories with one another. This program was created in tandem with the Koppel Community Garden in Pullman, where the host site Community Action Center has matched four clients with their own plot to garden on and grow their own food. These plots were generously donated for this purpose by a handful of fellow community members and gardeners. The Harvest Share program brings together clients and other community members from all walks of life to come together and find unity in growing food. The Koppel Community Garden board helped to cultivate this opportunity not only by facilitating gardeners to donate plots but by also including the opportunity to sign up for the harvest share within their general gardener application. Ten of the gardeners who grow at Koppel have signed up to participate in the harvest share for the coming weeks.

At this Harvest Share, gardeners brought in fresh sage, mint, chives, scallions, lacinato kale, cherries, strawberries, green garlic, salad greens, and garlic scapes. One of the community members shared that they had planted their garden this year in order to participate in this program and next year they want to plant an additional row or two so that more and more of our community members have access to fresh produce. This sentiment is at the heart of the work that the Community Food group at the Community Action Center moves to accomplish. Along with fruitful discussion made about each individuals gardening experiences this growing season, advice and experiences were swapped as well as boxes of produce. Each participant was able to pick and choose what they wanted to bring home with them. The Community Action Center provided recipe cards describing dishes that used the produce that was brought including such things as green garlic sauce, freezer jam, and chia jam. The participants from the Harvest Share were invited back for the next share at the Community Action Center, hoping to garner more and more participants in the weeks to come.

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Earth’s Table Builds on Partnership with Community Food Share to Fight Food Insecurity

08.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Community Food Share, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Volunteering

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

Although this year has been seen as one of Colorado’s most wet years on record, Harvest VISTA Malik Salsberry is still finding space and participants to help collect and distribute fresh produce this season. Harvest VISTA Malik spent time connecting Conga, a large digital technology company, with Earth’s Table, one of Community Food Share’s long-time partners, together for a week of garden work. These gardening tasks may include weeding, planting, harvesting and cleaning produce, and other activities found around these spaces.

Finding these gardens isn’t a difficult task as they are cultivated on donated properties from community members, which is a part of the non-profit’s design. Earth’s Table gardens are all volunteer-powered. They connect over 100 volunteers to their gardens to help with planting, harvesting and managing the gardens. Conga was able to bring those numbers in one week by bringing around 120 volunteers to help harvest produce as Colorado starts to move toward late fall.

These volunteers carpooled and gathered at several of the different gardens, which are scattered all around the city of Boulder, and worked on harvesting zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, pole beans, beets, and other produce. This produce is directly distributed to Community Food Share and other non-profits in the area and is usually distributed the same or next day.

Since 1999, Earth’s Table has served as a consistent partner and supporter of Community Food Share and our Boulder and Broomfield Counties service area by providing fresh produce to our neighbors in need. Earth’s Table is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is completely volunteer-run, including the management of the seven garden spaces that were donated for them to cultivate. Earth’s Table donates 100% of its produce to local non-profits, including over 42,000 pounds in 2018. Since their founding in 1999, Earth’s Table has donated nearly 250,000 pounds of produce to Community Food Share and several other non-profits within our service area.

The goal of the Garden Share Program is to help fight insecurity in Boulder and Broomfield counties by providing our participants with high-quality, locally grown produce.

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Healing Gardens: Making the Namaste Community Garden Accessible to All

20.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, IRC, 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.”

The Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila, WA is a flurry of activity at this time of year. The growers, the majority of whom came to the U.S. as refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, and Burma, spend hours diligently digging, planting, weeding, and watering their plots.

One plot, usually bursting with life-giving food at this point in the season, sits overgrown and empty. Its keeper, a dedicated Bhutanese grower named Ram, recently lost both of his legs and is no longer able to garden. He still visits the garden often, riding his wheelchair along the main woodchipped path, but his inability to garden and connect with the land has left him feeling isolated.

At the same time, a group of ELL students at nearby Foster High School are hard at work on a big group project. The topic for the project is a wheelchair-accessible garden bed design. At the close of the project, the students presented their work to officials of the City of Tukwila, who were so impressed with the outcome that they pledged to make a donation to put the design into practice. Little did they know that a need for an ADA garden design was so close at hand.

With materials donated by community members and the City of Tukwila, New Roots and the Foster High students came together on June 6th and 7th to install permeable pavers and to construct two ADA-approved raised garden beds on the plot belonging to Ram. The pavers will allow his wheelchair to roll easily into the plot, and the raised beds will be tall enough for him to comfortably garden. The students, Foster High, and New Roots staff, and representatives from the City of Tukwila worked for several hours each day, doing everything from clearing space for the pavers to sawing wood planks for the beds.

Last week, Ram planted the first shoots of the season in the new raised beds. His wheelchair rolls easily over the pavers, and he can comfortably reach the soil in the bed from where he sits. The journey to healing has only just begun, but with his connection to the garden restored anything is possible.

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Broadening the Scope

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

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Food Security Partners on and off the Peninsula

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

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

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

“Onions ready for redistribution at the Food Lifeline warehouse”

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

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

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

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

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Reclaiming Fruit as a Partnership

17.01.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Spokane, Washington Site

Spokane Edible Tree Project (SETP), a site of Harvest Against Hunger, mobilizes volunteers to glean fruit from backyard trees and commercial orchards that would otherwise go to waste. Annie Eberhardt is serving as the third AmeriCorps VISTA for SETP, and worked to continue a partnership with a brewery by providing damaged fruit for a brew to benefit SETP.

Although winter is afoot in Spokane, there is still a little slice of the summer harvest fermenting here in town. At Bellwether Brewing Company, a local brewery in the heart of the city, there is a special Spokane Edible Tree Project concoction working to transform into a tasty beverage.

All summer, Annie Eberhardt, the third Harvest Against Hunger VISTA for SETP, has been mobilizing volunteers to glean fruit from going to waste in Spokane County. The majority of the fruit collected is impeccable in quality, easily able to be donated to food pantries and impoverished communities.

However, every now and again, there would be a backyard tree with hail damaged fruit, or even a crop that was just a little too overripe to reasonably donate due to shelf life storage. Annie made it her mission to give this perfectly good fruit a home whenever possible. Luckily, SETP has an existing partnership with Bellwether Brewing Company.

The partnership started in 2017, when SETP gave Bellwether hail damaged plums to concoct plum beer. For the life of the batch, SETP received $1 per pint of the brew served to the public.

The partnership continued this harvest season with more than just plums. This year, there was a peck of slightly too-ripe peaches, a bunch of slightly damaged cherries, and even some organic apples with nicks and dings. Using the changing fruits as a creative opportunity, Bellwether gladly accepted the fruit donation and is continuing to make a partner brew with SETP. The cherry, peach, honey-barley beer with dried apples for added flavor is to be released in the Spring of 2019. Again, $1 from each pint served will be donated to SETP for the life of the batch.          

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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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