Rotary First Harvest | Grow a Row
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Grow a Row Tag

Growing winter crops for the Food Bank

21.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

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.

Good Cheer is fortunate to have many generous gardeners on the south end who regularly donate fresh produce throughout the summer, but fresh produce donations in the winter are less common. Gardening during the winter is challenging, but it can be done! And, it’s a great way to have fresh produce for your table in the winter. This year, Island County is promoting the Grow A Row program to encourage donations of fresh produce to Whidbey Island Food Banks.

If you feel like a challenge, try planting some winter crops! Leeks, parsnips, and brussel sprouts are good choices for this climate, along with kale and cauliflower. Now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests – check out the Tilth guide for tips and information on planting and extending the harvest season.

Our intrepid garden manager, Stephanie, kept one of the Good Cheer Garden kale beds going last winter, mainly by just letting it do its thing. She also grew some beautiful overwintered cauliflower, and our produce manager Lissa reports that her compost pile was warm enough to grow tiny but tasty new potatoes that she harvested early this spring. I let a few radishes hang around last fall (okay, let’s be honest – I planted them in an old ammo box and forgot about them till the spring) and they surprised me by not only surviving but flourishing; they flowered and then put out radish pods around the beginning of May. If you haven’t tried radish pods, they’re delicious, sort of spicy and just the thing for spring salads.

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Get Growing with the Vashon Island Growers’ Association

01.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.

The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) has been an island community cornerstone for over 30 years. The organization’s mission, to promote farming, access to healthy food, and a sustainable agricultural economy on Vashon Island through education, advocacy, and a vibrant farmers market, strives to create an equitable food system by and for islanders. As stated in the mission, educational initiatives are an excellent resource for promoting community growing efforts. VIGA is comprised of island farmers, orchardists, and gardeners, and a series of free, educational classes in the summer offers learning and community-building opportunities for new and established growers alike.

The educational series is aptly named Get Growing and covers a variety of topics. Each class is held at a different local farm or garden. Questions from all topics run abound as a mixed group of attendees tours the local scene and learns about a particular aspect of growing. The focus of the first 2019 Get Growing events was Grow a Row, a Harvest for Vashon-sponsored program to encourage local gardeners to plant an extra row of food to donate to the food bank. Participation among beginner gardeners was especially promoted, and attendees learned about gardening basics. After a local tour of Alli Lanphear Vineyard and Winery, the group learned about local food insecurity and opportunities to help.

Rotary First Harvest VISTA Cassidy Berlin emphasized that fresh, organic produce needs to be treated as a dietary right instead of a privilege. Several levels of collaboration and education built capacity for this food equity project. Pacific Crest Farm grew and donated over 300 tomato starts, which were potted up by fifth graders at Chautauqua elementary school. Students engaged in group discussions on food prices, health, and food bank stigma before eagerly transplanting and sniffing the aromatic starts. Participants in the Get Growing class took notes on advice given by Master Gardeners and Food Access Partnership volunteers at the event. They also took home starts to grow for the food bank, and remaining starts will be given to food bank clients to grow their own produce. The Harvest for Vashon program continues to strengthen food security through one conversation, one tomato start, and one extra row at a time.

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