Rotary First Harvest | Harvest Against Hunger
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Harvest Against Hunger 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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Welcome, Miracle!

08.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Miracle Wilson is a recent graduate from the University of South Carolina who earned her B.S. in Environmental Science. During her undergrad, she had volunteered for environmental events in her school and Midlands County. Miracle has always had a passion for the environment and environmental justice since middle school. After college, she moved to Georgia where she later accepted a position to join Society of St. Andrew as a VISTA. She has expressed her passion and determination in feeding her community.

Society of St. Andrew is a nonprofit organization that serves its community by providing free fresh produce and getting the community involved. All food is accepted however, one of the focal points is bringing freshness to people’s diet with produce that are gleaned by their volunteers from farms and markets. Going into a new area, metro Atlanta, they seek to bring the community together and bring awareness to fighting hunger for themselves, their neighbors, and for the state of Georgia.

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Welcome, Mary Pearl!

02.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, OIC of Washington, Washington Site

Mary Pearl Ivy is a recent Earlham College graduate and she majored in Environmental Science with a Biology focus. Mary Pearl was born and raised in Indiana and has just made her way westward to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Yakima, Washington with Harvest Against Hunger. Mary Pearl has spent her last four summers working alongside community members, gardens, college farms and environmental centers to source and grow fresh local foods to provide bellies of all ages and backgrounds with warm meals and healthy groceries. She loves gardening, baking, cooking, hiking and meeting new people.

Harvest Against Hunger Gleaning Coordinator VISTA Mary Pearl Ivy serves at OIC of Washington, a non-profit organization providing community services through federal, state and local funding sources. Mary Pearl’s focus is with the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which aims to supplement the diets of low-income Americans including the elderly by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost. OIC’s Food Bank is also the central distribution agency for Yakima County which distributes food commodities to other food banks through Yakima Valley. In addition to farm to table communications for the food bank, Mary Pearl has plans to recruit volunteers to work within a community garden, in hopes of providing accessibility to knowledge and resources for individuals to grow their own fresh foods.

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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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Community Educator program moves people of the Palouse out of food insecurity through education.

24.04.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Palouse Tables Project, Washington Site

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 mottos 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.

The Community Food program at the Community Action Center in Pullman has put AmeriCorps VISTA Robyn Glessner in the lead of the Community Educator program. The site VISTA aims to advance the program’s mission and progress in bringing vulnerable populations of Pullman out of food insecurity. This new program has been created as a continuation of the first year VISTAs work done in quantifying data from across the Palouse. This data was collected during site visits and events held at food pantries and community centers across the region, in order to find ways that citizens of the region have expressed the Community Food program could enrich their lives.

The mission of this new Community Educator program is to engage volunteers from the Palouse region and from organizations that also help serve the community. The program will utilize these volunteers to serve alongside staff and the AmeriCorps VISTA member in teaching skills to fellow community members who have expressed knowing would enrich their ability to become more self-sufficient. From the launch of the program in February to April, eight educators have been trained to lead cooking and gardening demos with ten demos in total having been taught. These educators plan to support the CAC by producing a framework for teaching the skills they have demonstrated so that these skills and demo materials can be reutilized and held at a variety of locations and events across the Palouse. Volunteers have expressed a sense of pride in serving this community and being able to share their invaluable knowledge. The Community Educator program aims to teach at least 25 demos, teach to 100 food insecure people, and create 15 demo kits to be reutilized by community members to continue to teach invaluable self-sufficiency skills across the Palouse.

The Community Educator program has been successful in bridging the gap between produce rescue and self-sufficiency skills with the cooking classes at the host site and by using ingredients from the Food Pantry along with rescued produce to create nutritious and delicious recipes. This is one key component of the program in helping clients of the Food Bank come up with delicious ways to prepare the food they receive at the Food Bank. It also provides a challenge to the AmeriCorps VISTA and Community Educators in collaborating and using their experience to think of new ways for clients to use commodity items and other foods that get donated often in an interesting and healthy way.

The program also informs participants about proper cooking techniques, useful cooking methods, and highlights skills that can be used in other areas of cooking and food preservation. For example, the first demonstration that took place in February taught participants how to make their own vegetable stock by using vegetable scraps that are left over when prepping vegetables for a meal, such as onion, carrot, and celery ends. This method helps to reduce the amount of waste that occurs when cooking from scratch. The second demo in February highlighted ways to use dry beans from the food pantry for different dishes like bean dip and baked beans.

The site VISTA member alongside new Community Educators look forward to starting a gardening program at the community garden in Pullman and to use this space to teach clients and community members how to grow their own food. Response from the community has been very positive and it seems that support from the programming is growing more and more each time a demo is taught. This capacity building that has been displayed in a short amount of time speaks to the effectiveness but also the need for the AmeriCorps program and bringing people out of poverty, one project at a time.

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The Importance of Food Sovereignty: Earth, Self, and Community

18.04.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, SW WA, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Lynsey Horne serves as program coordinator of Urban Abundance, a program of Slow Food SW WA in Vancouver, WA. Slow Food SW WA is an international organization that advocates for good, clean, fair food for all, and their program Urban Abundance’s mission is to engage neighbors in the maintenance, harvest, and creation of edible landscapes that are accessible to everyone. Urban Abundance is currently partnered with five fruit tree orchards in the Vancouver area to coordinate the seasonal maintenance, harvest, and donation of the fruit to the food bank, and holds workshops and other events throughout the year to engage community members in becoming engineers of their own food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty: it’s something you don’t know you have until it’s gone (or vice versa). In Clark County, 13% of residents and 19% of children are classified as “food insecure,” meaning they experience a lack of access to “enough food for an active and healthy life” (USDA). Food sovereignty, on the other hand, is “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (Food Secure Canada). The industrial food system does not currently have much focus on culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable food production methods. As such, people are more disconnected from where their food comes than ever before, and literal tons of the food that are being produced is going to waste every day. Since 2010, Urban Abundance has been attempting to address some of these issues locally by encouraging the stewardship of Vancouver’s urban orchards, promoting individual food sovereignty, and donating fresh, healthy food to those who are in need.

Sometimes, food sovereignty involves getting a little dirty. Urban Abundance has been kicking off the year with work parties in Foley Community Orchard- a spring pruning workshop in partnership with Vancouver Urban Forestry, and a sheet-mulching event to smother weeds and amend the soil. These maintenance events in the off-seasons nourish the connection to the ecosystems that provide this abundance for us. The healthier these orchards are come harvest time ensures that the freshest, local fruit that is possible is donated to those in need. Fruit trees are very important to Vancouver’s history as well; with Fort Vancouver being an early trading hub in the Pacific Northwest, the community orchards represent early settlers’ success at cultivating a rich local agricultural system that can hopefully be sustained indefinitely.

By improving access to the local abundance in Vancouver, Urban Abundance hopes to contribute to a healthier society by making it easier for food insecure individuals to make healthy choices & take control of their own food sovereignty.

Looking forward, a workshop series that focuses on the wide range of topics involved in food sovereignty will be held throughout this year: sustainable gardening, composting, seed saving, orchard care, and more. The first workshop of the year, Promoting Pollinators with Mason Bee Homes is coming up on May 4 with an expert coming to speak on the importance of pollinators and do a demonstration on bee box building, the results of which will be installed with mason bees in an orchard.

All these events, whether they are educational or more physical in nature, provide a great opportunity to learn, build community, and connect people in the area to a source of local food and sustainable methods for home cultivation, hopefully paving the way for a more food sovereign community.

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Broadening the Scope

11.04.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, King County Farmer's Share initiative, Rotary First Harvest, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Gayle Lautenschlager serves at Rotary First Harvest on the King County Farmers Share Program. By developing direct purchasing agreements between farmers and food banks, the program aims to increase access to healthy fresh foods in high need populations.

As the farmers and food banks in King County gear up for the upcoming growing season, King County Farmer’s Share VISTA, Gayle Lautenschlager, saw an opportunity to expand her program in a new direction. During a Transportation Round Table for Food Rescue, Gayle met Chef Tom French, the Director of Food & Nutrition Services at Mary’s Place. At Mary’s Place all meals are provided to the women, children, and families who stay with one of their nine shelters. The meals for the shelters are cooked at the main kitchen under Chef Tom’s supervision. Based on the initial conversation with Chef Tom, Gayle and Rotary First Harvest Executive Director, David Bobanick, decided to visit the main Cooking facilities of Mary’s Place in Burien. Chef Tom provided a tour and discussed some of the challenges of producing large volumes of food in a relatively small facility.

After the tour, they also sat down to discuss the King County Farmer’s Share Program and how the two agencies can collaborate. Chef Tom explained that they currently purchase from a wholesale distributor and while he prefers local produce, he has not yet formed any working relationships with local growers. Chef Tom also explained the challenge of incorporating local produce into his program where ingredients may not be able to be identified as readily as they are before they are processed or incorporated into cooking. A possible solution was proposed where a weekly meal highlighting local produce as well as an information and recipe sheet were suggested as ways to increase awareness about local foods that are often available at farmer’s markets.

As a follow up, a meeting between Chef Tom and a King County grower was arranged. The grower and Chef Tom were excited to talk about the wide array of produce available that can be incorporated into meals at Mary’s Place. They also discussed collaborating on other possible pilot projects. An additional meeting was arranged to talk about the possibility of planting produce specifically for Mary’s Place.

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Exploring Food Security Partners on and off the Peninsula

03.04.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan serves at the WSU Clallam County Extension in Port Angeles, WA. In coordination with the successful VISTA-founded Gleaning program at the Extension, Benji will be developing Community Food Projects including processing the gleaned produce to donate shelf-stable items to food banks, launching a community meal to teach cooking skills and increase access to healthy meals, and coordinating with the Hot Food Recovery program to divert surplus hot food from landfills to hungry community members. Through these projects, Benji and the WSU Extension seek to educate and empower the local community through increasing knowledge and access and reducing food insecurity and food waste in Clallam County.

Critical to the success of community food projects anywhere is the development of strong partnerships –with community members, with parallel community organizations and efforts, and with larger forces doing similar work that can support and reinforce what goes on at the ground level.

“Onions ready for redistribution at the Food Lifeline warehouse”

Last week, VISTA member Benji Astrachan traveled to Seattle to meet with Food Lifeline, a branch of the national Feeding America organization. With fellow Extension SNAP Education coordinator Karlena Brailey, they toured the impressive warehouse south of the downtown and learned about the scale of Food Lifeline’s work in aggregating and redistributing food to local food banks. They also sat down to discuss an exciting new program from Food Lifeline that aims to both procure and distribute food locally. That means, buying directly from farmers and then ensuring the fresh and healthy produce stays in the area to feed those community members. In Clallam County, many of the farms are operating at a smaller scale than those of east Washington or anywhere off the Peninsula, but this just reinforces the importance of supporting those who are growing our food.

What’s exciting about this kind of local procurement plan is the way it can incentivize smaller-scale farmers to connect with food relief efforts near them. While most farmers are already supporting local food security work – through straight-forward donations of produce, hosting gleaning groups to harvest the seconds, or plant-a-row programs that designate areas of crops for donation – it is important to acknowledge that they do this because they value good food and access to it, and receive mostly just the benefit of goodwill and appreciation. By compensating farmers for the produce they allocate to food banks or other food relief organizations, we can ensure that they are able to maintain the business end of their operations, and begin to build long-term relationships that offer a stable market and opportunities to scale up donations and impacts in the long-term. For a Food Lifeline partner like the Sequim Food Bank, this is significant in the way it reinforces positive and mutually-beneficial relationships with local farmers, ultimately leading to more delicious and healthy fresh produce for the community members who most need but are least able to access it.

The work of building healthy food systems is manifold in the variety of actors, whether they are farmers, food bank managers, hungry families, AmeriCorps members, SNAP educator, farmer’s market coordinator, neighborhood volunteers – the list goes on! By building out these relationships and supporting the work of one another, truly holistic and sustainable food systems are created.

And for a bonus, Benji got to visit the nearby community gardens project that day called Marra Farms, which is one of just two historical agricultural land sites in Seattle that is still being used to grow food –another awesome example of the many shapes and forms that food security and access to good food takes!

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Building True Accessibility

27.03.2019 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 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.

Efforts to 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.

To mitigate 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.

Access to 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.

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Welcome, Lynsey!

21.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, SW WA, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Lynsey Renee Horne is an Auburn University graduate with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies, emphases on natural resource economics, ecology, and sustainability. Throughout college, as she learned more about some major environmental justice and policy issues that society is dealing with today, she set her sights on doing a term of service after earning her BS and before she attends graduate school. Long passionate about environmental issues and devastated to see the state of food systems the way they currently exist, she was very excited to see an AmeriCorps position that focuses on alleviating both food waste and food insecurity in one fell swoop.

Lynsey is serving with Harvest Against Hunger at Urban Abundance (a program of Slow Food SW WA) in Vancouver, Washington. Since 2010, UA has focused on caring for and harvesting from several community orchards in the Vancouver area, and harvested 20,000 pounds of fresh produce to donate to Clark County Food Bank last year! UA’s mission is to engage neighbors in the maintenance, harvest, and creation of edible landscapes that are accessible to everyone, to support clean, fair food for all .

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