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 Food
for Others gleaning program enters its third year, summer fruits and vegetables
have become commonplace at all levels of distribution. The 2018 season brought
in over 43,000 pounds of produce, giving clients fresh and nutritious options
to take home to their families. The donations are distributed through the
choice section, where referrals can shop for their food, as well as through
neighborhood site distribution. Using these methods, Food for Others is working
to increase food equity within its service region.
As the supply side of the equation is slowly
improved, demand is still very complicated. Client preferences do not always
align with available items, and some donations stay on the shelf, untouched.
These inclinations are due to a variety of factors: Need for culturally
appropriate food, lack of cooking skills or time to cook, nutrition education,
the unfamiliarity of the produce, etc.
provide more culturally relevant produce through the gleaning program are
currently underway– the emphasis on community gardens. Belvedere Elementary
School, which boasts multiple green spaces, has been looking for opportunities
to further educate its students on social service. Using a produce preference
survey conducted by the first VISTA, Amy Reagan, Belvedere will soon be growing
high demand produce for the food bank. Local fifth grade girl scouts are taking
similar measures by looking to cultivate a plot at their own school. As more
and more gardens sign up to be a part of the Grow a Row program, Food for
Others will be able to more optimally target its clients’ needs and decrease the
amount of food left on the shelf.
other factors preventing equal access to fresh produce, Food for Others is
offering two eight week cooking courses in partnership with both a nearby
low-income housing unit and the Virginia Extension office. The classes will be
held at the housing unit, and will promote nutritious foods, cooking skills,
food budgeting, and safe food handling. Through its connection with a local
CSA, Waterpenny Farm, Food for Others will provide each attendee with a share
of fresh produce. Recipes will center around the items in each weekly basket,
with the intention of increasing participants’ knowledge of the different
fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them. Upon completion of the course Virginia
Extension will provide each member with an eighteen piece set of cooking pots, removing
a high cost up-front barrier.
healthy produce has many layers. Food for Others is attempting to balance
meeting clients’ preferences with recognizing and combatting the systemic way
in which marginalized communities have been primed to reject healthy options.
This will require both time and a multifaceted approach.