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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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AmeriCorps NCCC Team Improves Elk Run Farm

15.06.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food forest, Harvest Against Hunger, NCCC, Volunteering

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is made up of young adults 18 to 24 years of age who commit to 10 months of service within 3 different project rounds sponsored by nonprofits throughout the United States.

Pictured above: AmeriCorps NCCC team Green 2 serving at Elk Run Farm, a partner of Rotary First Harvest. Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. Top Row (left to right): Jessica Monnette, Brian Beagan, Samantha Ard, Shelby Collins, Quinn Farnell, Aidan Sulak, Cheyenne Stanley, Mohamad Akhbari Bottom Row: Zachary Owens, Katherine Steele and Kesigh White.

 

Green 2 AmeriCorps NCCC members Zack Owens (Left) and Brian Beagan (Right) harvesting radishes at Elk Run Farm with the help of farm hand Mindy.

 

After their first project round in the gulf bend region of Texas aiding in disaster relief from Hurricane Harvey and just over a month after working tirelessly in the hot desert of Coachella Valley, California building homes for low-income families, team Green 2 of AmeriCorps NCCC planted their boots on the ground at Elk Run Farm in Maple Valley, Washington for their third and final project round.

During their time volunteering at Elk Run Farm, the team learned about the growing and harvesting practices of the many different vegetables (over 30 different varieties) on the farm. Green 2 also assisted in enhancing the infrastructure of the farm by assembling more raspberry and grape trellises, digging vegetable beds, and building worm bins to compost all food waste and organic matter on the farm.

 

The newly constructed and lined raspberry trellises mulched to ward off weeds and provide adequate walking space between plants to protect them from trampling.

Team Green 2’s biggest accomplishment occurred on AmeriCorps Action Day alongside other service members and members of the Maple Valley community. What originally started as a rocky, naked space sprouted into a beautiful food forest, King County of Washington State’s first public food forest! Over 30 fruit trees were planted and over 250 plants aiding in the health and well-being of the trees now call Elk Run Farm home.

Although Green 2 will not be around when Elk Run Farms receives water and electric on the property, they will continue their adventure and volunteerism on Whidbey Island helping Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift in Langley, WA.

 

Elk Run Farm’s new food forest planted on June 13, 2018

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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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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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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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