Rotary First Harvest | Farmers Market
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Farmers Market Tag

Presentation is Key

15.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, 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.

As the Farmers’ Markets season begins, the streets abound with wicker baskets, colorful displays of fruits and vegetables, and smiling faces. The uncharacteristically heavy rain has done little to dampen the excitement, and both farmers and shoppers gear up for the over twenty-two markets the region has to offer. A similar process begins over at Food for Others, where VISTA Maheyaar Barron and the rest of the team make place for the thousands of pounds of fresh produce soon to come through the warehouse doors. Space is cleared in the food banks walk-through Choice Section, the primary distribution point for the new gleanings.

The Farmers’ Market experience is one that is hard to replicate at the food bank. Limited funds mean that the picturesque wicker baskets are replaced with plastic or cardboard containers. Instead of sunshine, the fresh produce is framed with canned goods, grey flooring, and harsh, white lighting. The mood of shoppers also differs, as their presence in the space is out of necessity rather than choice.

Maheyaar has been trying to research and brainstorm ways to make the space more inviting, building on the work of his predecessors. Grace, last year’s VISTA, had added her own flair, marking the days produce on small chalkboard signs, including recipes and nutrition facts, etc. So what’s next? Luckily, Food for Others is moving forward with a long-awaited building project and will be constructing a whole new room for the Choice Section. With better lighting, temperature control, and display, the hope is to increase not only the volume of produce taken but also the number of shoppers moving through the space at one time. With all this in place, Maheyaar’s focus can shift to nutrition knowledge dissemination, making sure the shopper knows the what and why of what they are taking home.

Ambiance is essential in making the families feel comfortable, supported, and respected. It is also a way to incentivize healthy choices. Supermarkets spend large sums of time and money sprucing up their produce displays, and while their goals may be different, the strategies are the same. Learning from and reaching out to local stores may be the next step.

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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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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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