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Lessons Learned from August Gleaning Season on an Island

28.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest VISTA, 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.

Harvest for Vashon Program Coordinator Cassidy Berlin has wasted no time in taking extra produce off of growers’ hands this month. From tiny raspberry patches to scorching greenhouses overflowing with tomatoes, Cassidy and a team of volunteers have gleaned over 1,000lbs of fruits and vegetables from the properties of gardeners and farmers. One bewildered community member reached out with a plea for help. She moved her family to Vashon island this Spring and was aghast at how many plums the tree in her new backyard was producing. “We are eating, dehydrating, and canning as many as we can, and it hasn’t made a dent! Can you come (to glean) twice this week?”

The Vashon Food Bank faces the same challenge as many local gardeners: at one point during the season, the produce section is overflowing with ripe tomatoes, plums, squash, and greens. Not all produce leftover after a week of distribution will maintain its freshness until next week. Is there an alternative to donating it to local pig farmers? An August field trip to Food Lifeline’s warehouse provided an answer.

Beginning this September, the Vashon Food Bank will start sending extra island produce to Food Lifeline to redistribute to other food banks in the area; specifically, food banks that don’t currently have access to untreated, locally grown tree fruit. Cases of yellow plums, seckel pears, and snacking-variety apples will be redistributed to food insecure populations in greater King County. In the same spirit as national “Sneak Some Zucchini onto your Neighbor’s Porch Day” (celebrated August 8th), Harvest for Vashon promotes the adage that sharing is caring. 

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Earth’s Table Builds on Partnership with Community Food Share to Fight Food Insecurity

08.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Community Food Share, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Malik Salsberry serves at Community Food Share, a nonprofit located in Louisville, CO. This nonprofit is one of the five Feeding America food banks that help to serve all of Colorado and Wyoming. With Community Food Share’s focus being Boulder and Broomfield counties. This nonprofit makes its distinction from other food banks in the area by having a major focus on fresh produce and protein, with goals of 75% being fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables, and protein sources, like fresh milk, eggs, beans, and meat. Community Food Share supports other area food pantries as well as their own programs which serve different populations like children and the elderly.

Although this year has been seen as one of Colorado’s most wet years on record, Harvest VISTA Malik Salsberry is still finding space and participants to help collect and distribute fresh produce this season. Harvest VISTA Malik spent time connecting Conga, a large digital technology company, with Earth’s Table, one of Community Food Share’s long-time partners, together for a week of garden work. These gardening tasks may include weeding, planting, harvesting and cleaning produce, and other activities found around these spaces.

Finding these gardens isn’t a difficult task as they are cultivated on donated properties from community members, which is a part of the non-profit’s design. Earth’s Table gardens are all volunteer-powered. They connect over 100 volunteers to their gardens to help with planting, harvesting and managing the gardens. Conga was able to bring those numbers in one week by bringing around 120 volunteers to help harvest produce as Colorado starts to move toward late fall.

These volunteers carpooled and gathered at several of the different gardens, which are scattered all around the city of Boulder, and worked on harvesting zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, pole beans, beets, and other produce. This produce is directly distributed to Community Food Share and other non-profits in the area and is usually distributed the same or next day.

Since 1999, Earth’s Table has served as a consistent partner and supporter of Community Food Share and our Boulder and Broomfield Counties service area by providing fresh produce to our neighbors in need. Earth’s Table is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is completely volunteer-run, including the management of the seven garden spaces that were donated for them to cultivate. Earth’s Table donates 100% of its produce to local non-profits, including over 42,000 pounds in 2018. Since their founding in 1999, Earth’s Table has donated nearly 250,000 pounds of produce to Community Food Share and several other non-profits within our service area.

The goal of the Garden Share Program is to help fight insecurity in Boulder and Broomfield counties by providing our participants with high-quality, locally grown produce.

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Market Day at South Seattle College

05.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, King County Farmers Share Program, 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 semester drew to a close and students entered into the final weeks before Summer break, the South Seattle Food Pantry held its second Spring market day event. This year the event shone a spotlight on regional produce thanks to the King County Farmers Share grant. The King Conservation District has provided two years of funding to pilot direct farm to food pantry relationships between local growers and food banks. South Seattle College Food Pantry has historically relied on donated produce for the bulk of their regular distribution. Previous market day events have used available funds to purchase fruits and vegetables from a wholesale distributor. This is the first event to feature locally grown and freshly harvested produce.

Nearly 130 students were served through this event, the most in any one day for the food pantry to date. Thirty additional students were served via a pop-up event the following day at the Landscape Horticultural program. This event served to pilot purchasing directly from a grower and featured culturally relevant produce to reflect the diversity in the student population. A local grower specializing in Asian greens was selected to contract with. Three varieties of greens were purchased from Cascadia Greens in Enumclaw, Washington.

As a pilot program, opportunities to learn and grow from this initial event are plentiful. As the pantry committee met with the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA the following day, one main area of potential growth and improvement came to light. Based on which types of produce and in what quantities was first to go, expansion in the variety of produce was determined to be of importance. This opportunity to diversify the offerings will not only benefit the students who are served in the next market event but will help bolster additional King County farmers at the end of their season.

By bringing fresh, locally grown produce to students at South Seattle College, the King County Farmers Share program is increasing access to nutrient dense food in communities while helping to support local farmers in the process.

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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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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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Empowering Customers: Importance of Produce at Food Banks

30.01.2019 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 New Year is a typically hectic time for food banks across the country as they annually update client files. Unusual circumstances caused by the partial government shutdown combined with this “re-upping” process helped Vashon Maury Community Food Bank realize that several questions not included in the client database needed answers. Harvest for Vashon VISTA Cassidy Berlin wrote and administered three weekly surveys to food bank customers to identify common dietary restrictions, local food insecurity and produce consumption rates, and participation in federal food assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC.

98-200 responses were garnered for each survey, which represents 23-48% of January food bank customers. Of the surveyed customers, over 75% worried that food would run out before more could be bought in the last year, and over half involuntarily ate less than what they needed. The most surprising statistic: 91% of surveyed customers said they would eat more fruits and veggies if price were not a concern. Hunger has yet to be eradicated on Vashon, but that hasn’t stopped food insecure families from wanting access to fresh and healthy produce.

The partial government shutdown ended the day after the SNAP/WIC survey was completed; 50% of surveyed customers were recipients of federal food assistance programs, and are likely facing eight weeks between the distribution of benefits, which on average cover less than 50% of their monthly grocery bill. Food distribution centers across the nation began to anticipate or experience a surge in demand due to furloughed employees and SNAP/WIC recipients. During a conference call with Food Lifeline, a nonprofit that distributes food to Washington food banks, one participant stated that their food bank was going to prepare by using money allotted for fresh produce to purchase shelf stable, calorically dense foods instead.

Anti-hunger institutions balance a delicate conundrum: do hunger prevention efforts stop at getting clients enough calories? Prioritizing a full belly over a balanced plate is par for the course among food insecure individuals. The Food Access Partnership believes no family should choose between eating healthily and eating enough, and that food equity is just as important as hunger prevention. This will be achieved when the local bounty of healthy, disease-preventing fruits and vegetables is fairly distributed to all islanders, regardless of income. January survey efforts confirm that food bank customers want more than to go without hunger, they also want access to healthy options for themselves and their families. In light of the gratitude millions of Americans are feeling at the end of the government shutdown, local Harvest for Hunger efforts illuminate how grateful islanders are for the growing season ahead.

Photo: Volunteers reap a late summer harvest in the food bank garden, PC Emma Cassidy

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Family Ties Stay Strong with Giving

23.01.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Malik Salsberry serves at Community Food Share, a nonprofit located in Louisville, CO. This nonprofit is one of the five Feeding America food banks that help to serve all of Colorado and Wyoming, with Community Food Share’s focus being Boulder and Broomfield counties. This nonprofit makes its distinction from other food banks in the area by having a major focus on fresh produce and protein, with goals of 75% being fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, and protein sources, like fresh milk, eggs, beans, and meat. Community Food Share supports other area food pantries as well as their own programs which serve different populations like children and the elderly.

While snow continues to fall in the foothills of Boulder, CO, that hasn’t slowed down any of the planning that’s going into next seasons farms and gardens, especially regarding plans to host new gleaning opportunities. As the planning stage intensifies, plans for hosting gleans has turned into a family tradition for a long time Boulder family; the Munson’s.

This family tradition of two-fold giving, donating fresh produce to food banks and pantries while hosting gleaning opportunities for local nonprofits, was first started by the co-owners’ father, Robert Munson. Although Bob was an electrical engineer by trade and built a long and successful career, his childhood of working on his family’s farm in Illinois grew into a new found love for raising crops.

Bob started Munson Farms in 1976 with the help of his wife and children, cultivating not only his passion for farming but also his passion for giving back to the community, as he planted extra crops just for these donation efforts. Bob and his sons, Mike and Chris, would continue growth by building their own farm stands to help bring in additional income to the farm. Bob continued to give annually to Community Food Share and other local nonprofits whose missions involved helping their fellow neighbor, giving over one million pounds of produce to Community Food Share since 1982 and providing a variety of gleans to community members.

Like father like son, even building his own career in electrical engineering, Mike has made it a personal mission to continue with his father’s work on the farm and giving back to Community Food Share and other local nonprofits.

The partnership between Munson Farms and Community Food Share continues and plans are being made for donations and gleaning opportunities this season, including donations of their famous sweet corn, squash, pumpkins, peas, and other produce. Mike is excited to continue providing the same opportunities that his father did; providing nutritious produce for community members in need and gleaning opportunities for volunteers.

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As senior hunger rises, community members in Southern Georgia step-up to fight back

19.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

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.

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The Palouse Tables Project Uses ArcGIS Story Mapping to Communicate Findings

15.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

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.

The Palouse Tables Project is approaching the “Dissemination of Information Phase” of the project. A draft of the assessment and planning project has been completed and is undergoing formatting and editing. However, most people either do not have the time or patience to read a whole assessment and planning report. To make the project findings and results more communicable, the HAH VISTA has used ArcGIS Story Mapping to share those results. The story mapping interface has the advantage of being interactive, short, concise, incorporating major highlights of the report without getting too much into detail, and it illustrates information spatially or geographically which usually resonates with the public.

In order to use GIS software, the VISTA had to coordinate and leverage partnerships for the Palouse Tables Project. At the current HAH site, Community Action Center, GIS software is unavailable and because it usually takes some basic skill level to work GIS, applying for the program seemed unsustainable. However, the University of Idaho Extension, which supports a partnering agency, the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition (PCFC), was willing to host the Palouse Tables Project Story Map on their domain. This domain also hosts other community food projects for the PCFC so it was a more fitting place for the project to live. Additionally, it bolsters the relationship between the Community Action Center, PCFC, and the University of Idaho Extension. It also is far more sustainable in terms of the life of the project. Where there are some experienced GIS users on the UI Extension side that can work on the project after the HAH VISTA leaves, the Community Action Center does not have that capacity. This partnership and shared programing took a couple months to develop and really took affect after an initial workshop with the University of Idaho system

The first year HAH VISTA is currently working on a small group that is willing to work on the project after she leaves. A couple of Washington State University students have shown interest in the PTP Story Mapping Project and have decided to volunteer some of their time to learn the program and work on it.

For the sake of sustainability, the HAH VISTA is also working on hosting an ArcGIS workshop for employees at the Community Action Center so that they can take on the PTP Story Mapping Project, edit as they see fit, and use it to communicate to the public more easily. Should the Community Action Center ever decide to adopt ArcGIS, then they will have some basic skills to work the program.

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Four Months of Gleaning at Hollin Farms in Fairfax, VA

01.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

Approximately 55 miles west of Washington, D.C., there sits a small, quiet town nestled in the rolling hills of Fauquier County, Virginia. Signs for wineries and orchards flank the long expanse of highway that eventually leads to Hollin Farms. The pick-your-own farm, though off the beaten path, is a destination that many city-dwelling families make the pilgrimage to every fall. In the summer, various creatures can be spotted stealing berries off of the bushes and drinking from the brook that runs through the hills. In the fall, the canopy of trees are set ablaze with crimson and gold.

Hollin Farms has been in the Davenport family for four generations. Matt, who is the primary farmer, boasts an agricultural degree from Cornell. He was also the recipient of both the Young Farmer Achievement Award and the Harry Jones Conservation Farmer Award. Food for Others was connected with Hollin Farms when both groups attended a food justice conference in Delaplane. The Davenports had always welcomed gleaning volunteers to the farm, but groups they had in the past were inconsistent at best and disrespectful at worst. After guidelines were set, Matt agreed that if Food for Others was able to provide dedicated, passionate volunteers, he would allow the food bank to glean on a consistent basis.

Roughly twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Food for Others would bring in a group of 15-25 volunteers to glean apples, peaches, corn and more. Community and corporate groups enjoyed their time on a gorgeous farm not far from home while helping a non-profit organization. Expectations and rules were clear; the golden rule given to the volunteers was to respect the farm. Often, these volunteers would pick and purchase their own fruits and vegetables after the gleaning was finished. This created a mutually beneficial relationship between Hollin Farms and Food for Others.

 

 

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

The last gleaning of the year was held on October 28 in conjunction with VolunteerFest, an annual event put on by Northern Virginia area community organization Volunteer Fairfax. The 25 participants who signed up harvested 1,419 pounds of apples between 11AM and 1PM, and learned about food waste and hunger in the process.

Four months, six gleans and 6,549 pounds later, the season has finally come to an end. As a first and important priority, Food for Others was able to feed hundreds of families with the produce Hollin Farms provided. However, the greatest gift of all was not just the produce… it was forging a great relationship between the farm and the food bank that will continue for years to come.

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

 

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