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.
Hailey Baker was born in New Jersey and moved five times within Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee before heading off to college in Arizona in 2014. She graduated from Arizona State University in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and has continued her exploration of the world ever since. While she was in school she worked as an intern for a local farmers market and volunteered for a humanitarian organization at the Arizona-Mexico border, which set her up perfectly for her current AmeriCorps role. Before coming to Washington to serve as a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA she was working as a cellar hand at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in California, which solidified her interest in agriculture and working with diverse groups of people.
Hailey is serving in SeaTac, Washington as a Year 1 Harvest Against Hunger VISTA with the International Rescue Committee, an international refugee resettlement organization that supports newly-arrived refugees, asylees, and special immigrants get oriented to their new lives in the United States. Hailey works with the New Roots program, which connects refugees and other IRC clients to land to grow culturally-relevant food while educating about gardening and healthy eating. As a Year 1 VISTA, Hailey is helping New Roots build new processes from scratch, and her projects so far have included creating a Food Access Guide for IRC staff to use with food-insecure clients, coordinating and piloting grocery store tours for new arrivals, and creating data collection tools for the New Roots emergency food pantry.
Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Projectin Spokane, Washington, a branch of Harvest Against Hunger. SETP focuses on mobilizing volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste, sending it out to those in need.
When it comes to gleaning season, there is only one thing that can truly be relied on: unexpected circumstances. From the hustle and bustle of coordinating with tree owners, farmers, and individual volunteers, there is no surefire formula for gleaning coordination.
To help alleviate the challenges of this, and further work toward gaining a good formula, HAH AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt adopted a new gleaning schedule model for Spokane Edible Tree Project to help with the recruitment of a consistent volunteer base. Starting in July 2018, SETP began conducting weekly scheduled gleans in an effort to provide a dependable time frame for volunteers and tree owners alike. Thus, Thursday Night Gleans and Saturday Morning Gleans were born. There was also space for a third floater glean during the work week to include employee volunteer groups who wished to help during work hours.
Even with this new model, there was no perfect formula. Week to week, gleaning sites ranged from large commercial orchards to small backyard trees, which meant that marketing and promotion for each of the gleans had to be adjusted accordingly. It was not desirable to have 15 volunteers show up to glean one backyard tree, nor was it desirable to have 5 volunteers show up to glean a large cherry orchard. This meant that gleans had to occasionally be rescheduled or cancelled to adjust to the varying scope of gleaning sites – every week was an adventure.
One such unexpected scheduling change occurred during the coordination of the very last Saturday Morning Glean of the 2018 season. The last Saturday Morning Glean for SETP is a tale of cancellation, pest management issues, frantic coordination, magic, and heartwarming conclusions.
It was mid-October. The last weeks were upon SETP, and there was an energetic rush for the VISTA to gather and unite the community to harvest the last apples of the season. Most of the gleans were scheduled, saved for the last October glean.
Like magic, an orchard, just north of Spokane, was ripe and ready for a large group to glean during the last weekend. It opened up just in time for the VISTA to recruit a large group of youth volunteers who were available to glean on the Sunday of October 28th. With the recruitment of a small group of regular SETP volunteers to glean the day before, on the 27th, the gleaning formula was turning out to be just about as perfect as it could be.
Fast forward to a week later. The orchard owner reached out to the VISTA to inform SETP that the apples were wormy. Since the apple orchard had been gleaned by SETP many times before in previous years, the VISTA had not thought it necessary to arrange a tree scout. Since wormy apples would not be accepted by food banks, the VISTA was now put in a position to try to find a new orchard for the volunteer groups to glean. Again, the energetic rush was back, and the possibility of cancellation was in the air.
Again, the magic acted up. On October 23rd, five days before the gleans, three very synchronistic things happened: the original youth group suddenly had to cancel, a new apple orchard reached out to the VISTA in hopes of scheduling a glean, and a new volunteer group reached out to the VISTA in hopes of helping with a glean on Sunday. The formula was back on track, and the beginning of building new relationships was on the horizon.
The volunteer group who came to the farm to glean on Sunday, October 28th, was a group of women and children from a local shelter. The women were in recovery from drugs and alcohol, getting back on their feet with their families in a safe environment. Most of them had never seen an orchard before and were excited to get outside and be a part of the glean. As the VISTA spent time with them, it was learned that their shelter lived entirely on donated food. The original plan was to donate the gleaned apples to one of SETP’s other community distribution partners. However, upon learning of the circumstances, the VISTA decided to donate all the fruit to the women and children who gleaned them.
The women took the apples back to their home, all 442 pounds of them. They shared the apples with the residents, eating the fruit fresh, as well as making a big apple crisp to share with the shelter. It was heartwarming to see community members in need becoming empowered, taking action to feed their families and neighbors. Sure, there is no perfect gleaning formula. There is no absolute way to provide certainty for how a gleaning event will go, or how a harvest season will be. During that weekend, the VISTA learned that unexpected circumstances are the perfect formula. It’s where the magic lives.
Harvest against Hunger Americorps Vista Taylor Rotsted is serving as a gleaning specialist in southern Georgia at her Host Site, the Society of Saint Andrew (SOSA). The Society of Saint Andrew in Georgia has provided people in need more than 15 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other produce through the Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in approximately 45 million servings of food going to Georgia’s hungry. SOSA works with both volunteers and farmers to grow the Georgia Gleaning Network and lean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.
Food insecurity in Georgia is a pervasive issue, but among that population is an even more venerable demographic – older adults 60 and up. A 2016 report ranks Georgia 9th in the nation for the prevalence of older adults facing food insecurity; currently numbered at 300,000 people. This group of individuals has a higher risk of health issues, lower standard of living, and high medication nonadherence when in a state of food insecurity and is projected to increase to 17% by 2032.
The Senior Hunger Regional Coalition is facilitated by Southern Georgia Area Agency on Aging in partnership with Society of St. Andrew, the host site for Americorp Vista, Taylor Rotsted, and seeks to improve the health and wellness of hungry seniors. The coalition, which now consists of wellness coordinators, farmers, meals on wheels representatives and many others with a dedication to improving the state of hungry older adults, met in a former warehouse turned community center that was supposedly used for dances back in the day. Reasonably, the building was structured to house large, lively groups. The coalition was well-suited to their surroundings as all 33+ cavorted and networked. This first meeting saw no shortage of passion or diversity in the participants which is the best recipe for a strong coalition that will create actionable change.
Taylor was tasked with facilitating the break out groups. The main focus areas were Food Access, Food Waste and Reclamations, Meeting the needs of the community, and Impact of Senior Hunger on Health. In all the meeting and events Taylor has assisted in – she has never had a break-out session that had to be cut short. Emails were exchanged within focus groups in order to keep the dialogue going. Although what gathered people in that refurbished dance hall is a terrible reality in our society, the group left with a sense of hope and empowerment through the new partnerships formed at the First Southern Regional Senior Hunger Coalition Meeting.
Sharah Truett is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the WSU Extension office in Port Angeles, WA.
The WSU Extension Gleaning Program links homeowners who have extra produce in their yard with volunteers who will pick it and take it to those in need. It’s a kind of fruit and vegetable classified ad service: “Desperately seeking plums,” and “Have fruit, will donate.”
More than 200 homeowners have signed up on the glean site list. Collectively, they donate thousands of pounds of produce each year. But what do they get in return? Gleaning Coordinator Sharah Truett believes, quite a lot.
The homeowners enrolled in the program are often in their 80’s and 90’s and no longer able to pick produce themselves due to age or disability. They call the WSU Extension Office anxious about all the fruit going to waste on their trees, but also just to chat. Many homeowners are fairly housebound and enjoy the company of the gleaner and the connection to the outside community. They request the same gleaning volunteer year after year because they are excited about seeing a friendly face. Sometimes gleaners bring gifts: a small bouquet, or produce to exchange from their own yard. Sometimes they sit down with the homeowner over a cup of tea and shared pictures of grandchildren. Often the gleaners will pick a box of fruit to leave for the homeowner if the homeowner can’t pick their own.
The benefits of a program like this go far beyond what can be measured with a produce scale. There is an additional harvest of neighborliness, companionship, and a sense of purpose. One homeowner battling terminal cancer seemed more concerned about his cherries going to waste. Gleaners assured him that they would take a load of cherries to the Boys and Girls Club, and the homeowner seemed visibly relieved. “Make sure they come and pick next summer too,” he implored his wife from his armchair.
Many benefits of the gleaning program cannot be weighed or quantified or entered into an excel sheet, but they are still important: Like the quiet smile of a dying gardener, knowing that he is helping others.
Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as a 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. The goal of this collaboration is to connect surplus island harvests with consumers in order to combat the economic obstacles that historically prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in food-insecure communities.
New AmeriCorps VISTA member Cassidy Berlin is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Northern Michigan University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, which explored the ways in which geography and human systems influence each other. She dedicated her undergraduate thesis to the politicization of the environmental movement and found inspiration in the founding principles of the National Park Service. Since graduating she has worked as a seasonal park ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Acadia National Parks, and also interned seasonally with a New York-based nonprofit. She credits an outstanding network of educators, peers, and coworkers with encouraging her to pursue these adventurous opportunities. She is driven and excited to help develop an equitable food system in the Vashon community.
One short ferry ride away from Seattle’s bustling downtown district brings locals and visitors alike to Vashon Island, the largest island in the Puget Sound. The island sits halfway between West Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula and is home to over 10,000 permanent residents. The proximity to Seattle and Tacoma is part of Vashon’s appeal; the community maintains an easygoing, small-town charm while being able to partake in the innumerable resources and services usually reserved to urban areas.
The local population is economically diverse. With no designated low-income housing available, islanders face a housing crisis. There’s a saying on Vashon, though, that represents the spirit and resilience of this small community: the island provides. Dozens of farms and hundreds of personal gardens dot the island’s 37 mi². Like many Washington communities, Vashon is home to a popular farmer’s market, one with produce prices that are historically inaccessible to low-income households. The Food Access Partnership and the food bank are trying to change that.
A portion of the produce selection available during Thanksgiving week distribution.
The previous VISTA service member created a volunteer-based gleaning effort, which collected surplus harvests from island farms and gardens and donated them to the food bank and successfully developed sustainable relationships in the local growing community. The second year of this collaboration will continue facilitating local gleaning efforts and will further develop the Grow A Row program, which encourages island gardeners to designate a row of their harvest to the food bank. Empowering community customers during distribution hours will be made possible through a volunteer-run stand with education materials on alternative payment options for local food. Finally, this year will provide the opportunity to increase year-round access to healthy foods through food preservation efforts, such as canning and dehydrating.
In what is expected to be a fruitful year of community engagement, the VISTA collaboration will increase access to locally grown abundance by, as one FAP member said, “serving the unserved in our community.”
Sharah Truett is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the WSU Extension office in Port Angeles, WA.
VISTA member Sharah Truett interviewed several gleaning volunteers during the 2018 harvest season to find out what personally motivated them to glean. Here is what they had to say:
“It doesn’t take much to end up in a predicament,” acknowledged gleaner Cindy Schrader. She’s speaking from experience from a brief period in her life when she didn’t have enough food to eat. “I was a single mom living in Nebraska, living paycheck to paycheck. My co-workers came to my rescue…they bailed me out with sacks of groceries when I was going through some really rough times.”
Now, as a gleaning volunteer, Cindy has the ability to help others get healthy food on their table.
Karlena Brailey, a long time gleaner with the program, participates in order to “personally have a connection to the food system and to give her daughter a connection to the land.” During a time in her life when her cost of living exceeded her income, she says gleaning “was like a gift…” She loved feeling like she “didn’t have to ration seasonal produce”. Nowadays Karlena donates a great deal of gleaned produce to the food banks because “it benefits community health in a significant way.”
Another enthusiastic supporter of the gleaning program is Forks resident Jody Schroeder, who even organized a gleaning event on his own this year. When asked what motivates him, he says, ” As a young father in the military, I had, on occasion, needed to go visit my local food bank for help through the government commodities program. If I can help another father with food for his kids, I will. There is nothing worse, I feel, than seeing food go to waste in someone’s garden when it could benefit some family with hungry children.”
Over and over again, the gleaners whom Sharah interviewed spoke of the importance of giving back. They remembered times in their own lives when they were food insecure and friends, family, and even strangers stepped in to help them out. Now they glean in order to bring healthy food to others who are struggling.
Jody Schroeder is now the president of a local food bank and loves seeing those shelves stocked with local produce. He says, “If people have extra food from their gardens, by all means, DONATE IT! If you can’t pick it, call the gleaners. Don’t let it rot on the vine when you can help feed the hungry…Nobody should go hungry.”
Robyn Glessner was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She went to school in Seattle for a short time after high school before returning to Idaho to pursue a degree in International Business and French at the University of Idaho. She received her degree in December of 2017 after returning from a semester abroad in Pau, France. She had continued to work at a former college job as a barista in small local coffee shop before she started to explore what other avenues there were in the community for her to use to start developing professional skills as a working adult. Drawing on the values learned in a prior United Nations course from her undergrad, she knew that she wanted to do something that would benefit the health and sustainability of human practices and the earth’s resources. She began working at a privately owned, organic vineyard in the Snake River Valley, pruning grape vines. After that season ended she began working the spring growing season with a local, organic vegetable farm and a sustainable farming education non-profit in Moscow, Idaho. Through work with the farming non-profit, she was connected with this VISTA position in Pullman, Washington at the Community Action Center. She owes her success in finding this amazing opportunities in the community to the new acquaintances that were made who were so well integrated in the sustainable farming movement in the Palouse region. She is continually inspired with the collaboration, teamwork, support and resources that are created by the amazing community of farmers, educators, non-profit leaders, and university resources to make up this amazing team of sustainable farming cheerleaders. These people inspired her to serve in this field of local hunger awareness and relief.
Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center 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 moto’s 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.
Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Michelle Blankas, serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and Community Food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and Basic Food. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. One of the topics brought up throughout the Palouse Region, in the Palouse Tables Project, is how to engage and maintain volunteers throughout the year. One way to engage is through volunteer appreciation.
The AmeriCorps VISTA organized an Ice Cream and Coffee Social Hour for Volunteer Appreciation Month at the Community Action Center in Pullman.
For the month of October, the VISTA organized ways to appreciate the work that Community Action Center volunteers do. The last event planned for volunteer appreciation was in 2015 and was received with mixed emotions. Many of the long term volunteers did not feel the need to be outwardly appreciated or hold appreciation events at the same time as orientation events. It was about time to do something special for them again but with their added input.
The Volunteer Appreciation Bulletin Board
The VISTA organized October as Volunteer Appreciation Month which included a bulletin in the lobby showcasing some of the volunteers and their reason for volunteering, soliciting donations for volunteer t-shirts and food items such as local pizza. The VISTA also coordinated a Coffee and Ice Cream Social Hour with long-term volunteers where they reflected on their experiences as volunteers and spent time with Community Food workers from the Community Action Center. This allowed for unstructured conversation with a small token of appreciation for all the hard work long-term volunteers do in a way that did not single any one person out.
Short-term volunteers that show up a few times a month were invited to participate in the Volunteer Bulletin Board and to wear Community Action Center Volunteer SWAG. These t-shirts were provided through donations from the community that the VISTA organized. This allowed for the food bank and the Whitman County community to recognize the work of volunteers.
These smaller actions of appreciation are easy to replicate and satisfy volunteers of different backgrounds and age groups in the future. These can be replicated throughout the year or once a year depending on the capacity of the agency and allow for creativity and flexibility.
Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, Sam works with a range of programs to bring in more island grown food to offer Food Bank customers.
Ahh it’s finally fall, a time many would call the most wonderful season of the year. The air is turning crisp, pumpkins, squash, and garlic abound, the leaves are changing colors, and… apples are everywhere! This has been an especially fruitful (pun intended) year for Washington fruit trees, and on Vashon Island it’s difficult to drive down a street without noticing an apple tree burdened with the weight of beautiful red and green fruit.
As a result of the abundance of fruit on the island, the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank has a received a plethora of fresh, island-grown fruit throughout the late summer and fall. While it’s a special thing for a hunger relief organization to be able to offer so much locally grown produce, the organization has found that it cannot distribute the fruit-mainly apples, pears, and plums-as fast as they are coming in. One way many residents of the island, as well as folks all across Washington, deal with this issue is by pressing the fruit into juice, and that is exactly what Harvest VISTA Sam Carp sought to do with the 30+ crates of apples the Food Bank had waiting in storage.
Working with one of the local cub scout troops, Sam and the Food Bank warehouse manager organized a cider pressing event to be hosted in front of the Food Bank garden. They worked with the Vashon Fruit Club to purchase half-gallon plastic jugs to store the cider, and were able to borrow a Meadow Creature cider press from Dragonshead Cider, a local cidery. With the help of the 10,000 lbs of pressing force supplied by the cider press, and the labor power of the cub scouts and their parents, the team was able to press all of the apples within about an hour and a half. It was a wonderful event, complete with music, snacks, and a view of Mount Rainier, and it will most certainly become a tradition at the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for years to come.