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partnerships Tag

The Palouse Tables Project Collects Feedback on Regional Vision for Food Security

23.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, 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 Hungers AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas and Joe Astorino of the Community Action Center took shifts reaching out to Pullman Community members at the Annual National Lentil Festival to gather feedback on a regional vision for food security.

 

On Friday, August 17, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project tabled at the Annual National Lentil Festival in Pullman, WA. The HAH VISTA collected community input from about 50 individuals that ranged from high school and university students to families and the elderly.

 

Earlier this year, a community food security meeting took place in Pullman that engaged the public on what worked well in the community and what were the dreams the community had for the future of food and food security. Because the Palouse Tables Project is a regional assessment and planning project, the dreams collected from all the communities across Whitman and Latah County went through a consistent process of coding and theming. These dreams were coded and themed into two systems:

System 1

System 2

Growing Food

Food System Education and Heritage Appreciation

Sharing and Selling Food

Community Engagement and Leadership
Cooking and Eating Food

Communication and Coordination

Food Waste

Inclusion, Connection, and Community Identity

Transporting and Storing Food

 

A regional vision was then drafted to unite all the coded and themed dreams. This vision concept was called “Regeneration,” to try to capture the diverse nature of these dreams and projects. It was meant to capture everything from restoring the quality of our soil and water, to reconciling our relationship with heritage food, skills, and knowledge, to addressing our stigma against food bank clients and those who rely on food assistance, and many more. These dreams that stemmed from all over the region had a common core theme of regenerating, or restoring and growing in a healthy direction from where we currently are.

 

 

Pullman community members that stopped by the Palouse Tables Project table indicated what part of the food system needed the most “Regeneration.” In the first hour and half, about 50 people participated, shared their point of views, and commented on the concept of “Regeneration.”

 

The next steps in this phase of the project is to replicate this outreach effort at the Palouse Empire Fair, the Latah County Fair, the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition Meeting, the Poverty on Palouse Forum, the Pullman and Moscow Farmer’s Markets, several of the food pantry distribution sites across the region, and governing bodies and community stakeholders who would potentially be interested in partnering and working with the community to make these food security dreams come true.

 

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SETP Learns Surprise Lessons about Gleaning and Golden Plums

09.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

In Spokane, Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt has fully welcomed in the presence of plums. All over town, tree owners have been reaching out to Spokane Edible Tree Project with the intention of not seeing their beautiful little stone fruits go to waste. Spokane Edible Tree Project mobilizes volunteers to glean produce from fruit and nut trees that would otherwise go to waste in Spokane county. There are over 140 backyard tree owners and 28 farmers who are registered with the project, all hoping to share the bounty of excess produce with their neighbors who need it most.

Just two weeks ago, a long time registered tree owner of SETP hastily called Annie at SETP Headquarters, urging the SETP Glean Team to come harvest her lush, golden plums – to resuce them from the fate of rotting in her backyard, uneaten. “I have golden plums coming out of my ears,” she insisted. “They are just about to be at perfect ripeness within a couple of days; please come harvest as soon as you can, Glean Team!”

Rushing to diligently make sure these golden plums could find homes with hungry community members in need, Annie quickly banded together a group of employees from a local Spokane office. With the heat wave that has been encompassing the area lately and the significance of tone from the tree owner, there was a sense of needing to hurry.

 

 

The Glean Team met on a sunny morning at the gleaning site, just north of Spokane. They were excited to give back to their community and to take a refreshing break from the office. There was just one problem – most of the plums were not yet close to being ripe! The situation was looked upon by the SETP Glean Team with some humor and some good laughs, as the rushing had become a silly notion for the plums that were still a bit green and firm, with pointed tips at the bottom of the fruit signifying the need for further development. The team gleaned what small amount they could, and left back to the office to await the natural ripening to occur.

Puzzled, Annie researched into this phenomenon, and busted a long-time myth she had always believed – extreme heat does not always mean that fruit will ripen faster! In fact, with most stone fruit, extreme heat causes the fruit to slow down its ripening process in an effort to save the fruit from dropping its seeds in conditions that are not suited to seed germination.   

In the end, the same small group of local volunteers came back a week later with SETP, helping to glean 500 pounds of golden plums from the trees! There was no sense of rushing this time – only the zen satisfaction of being up in a tree, tasting the fresh sweetness of golden fruit, and the sense of peace that comes from participating in work that truly makes a difference.

 

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Partnering with Rotary

05.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. The farm believes that residents of South King County should have equal access to local, sustainably grown, and nutritious produce regardless of income. The farm sits on a former golf course in the heart of the suburbs near Seattle, WA where the land would otherwise go unused. The farm helps to increase the availability of healthy foods for families that visit the food banks while promoting sustainable urban agriculture.

 

Elk Run Farm is currently in its third year with a Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) VISTA. There is one thing that all three AmeriCorps VISTAs have had a chance to participate in developing relationships with the Rotary clubs in South King County. Rotary First Harvest, with its many Rotary connections, did what it does best and connected the first Elk Run Farm VISTA and current farm manager to key Rotarians in its service area. This was the tiny seed of partnership that was handed to the farm and has continued to be cultivated by the second and third-year VISTAs, to this day.

When the first year VISTA came onboard, Elk Run Farm was not a farm. The land was still covered in golf course greens and had no infrastructure to distinguish it from the rest of the use-to-be golf course property. Tasked with the ambitious goal of starting a farm literally from the ground up, the initial VISTA and the farm manager approached the south King County Rotary clubs with a request for funds to build Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure. This baton was then passed to the second year VISTA. Together, they met with all twelve Rotary clubs in the service area of Elk Run Farm. After seeing how Elk Run Farm aligned with their motto, “Service Above Self” and the potential it could have to help the communities they live in, Rotarians stepped up and 11 Rotary clubs made a donation. The first and second VISTA collectively raised $36,500 through this outreach and relationship building.

 

Rotary Farm Sign

 

These funds were used to build Elk Run Farm’s irrigation system, hoop house, washing and packing station, and farm office. The farm manager always says, “This infrastructure is what really separates us from a garden.” They allow the farm staff and volunteers to efficiently grow and harvest produce at a level that brings in over 100 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a week during the height of the growing season.

There are also other funding streams that Rotary provides to their community that Elk Run Farm has received. On top of the initial funds that were raised, the first and second-year VISTAs both applied for and received the Rotary’s Assistant Governor’s, Express Grant. This grant is meant to have a quick turnaround that gets financial assistance to the recipient promptly. $5,000 was raised from this method adding more support to Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure.

 

Receiving AG Express Grant

 

Individual Rotarians have also stepped up and used their personal networks to leverage resources for the farm. On behalf of the farm, Rotary First Harvest made a call to the South King County Rotary clubs to see if there was anyone that could provide a solution to Elk Run Farm’s deer and elk problem. The farm sits under high voltage power lines where all the vegetation is kept low for miles and miles on either side. This gives the deer and elk that live in the surrounding forests an easy way to browse and travel across the land. It also meant that the farm’s vegetables were fair game to these animals. A need for a barricade was made very clear one fall when a population of deer and elk ate all the produce in the ground before it was harvested. After hearing this dilemma, Mickey Kimmerlee, an Auburn Rotary member that works for Quality Fence Builders, was able to build and donate the labor and materials for a double-layer fence that protects the farm’s main vegetable field.

The third-year HAH VISTA continues to cultivate the Rotary relationship and is presently meeting with the clubs that donated in the past to update them on how their gifts were used. She emphasizes the impact their funds have had in jump-starting the farm, as well as how the food banks have benefited from the additional fresh produce they can now offer to families in their communities. The third VISTA is also pursuing a district match for the gifts that have been generated from the Rotary clubs in partnership with a Rotary First Harvest board member. She hopes that this match could provide one of the last critical infrastructure pieces to Elk Run Farm: electricity.

 

Mindy in trench

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Engaging Rural Communities in Okanogan County

20.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Rachel Ryan serves at Northwest Harvest, an independent state-wide hunger relief organization with headquarters in Seattle, WA. Northwest Harvest delivers free food to more than 360 food bank and meal programs across the state, 70% of which is fruits and veggies. In an effort to expand the amount and the variety of fresh produce food programs receive, Northwest Harvest launched their Growing Connections program. Now in its third year, Growing Connections has reached over ten counties across the state, helping to provide the necessary tools and resources to assist communities with launching their own ‘Farm-to-Food Program’ (F2FP) initiatives.

On October 30th the Growing Connections team headed to Omak, a small town of 4,833 nestled in the desert hills of north-central Washington. The purpose of their trip was to conduct an action planning workshop with the community. Growing Connections has been working in Okanogan County since 2015, and has witnessed the Farm-to-Food Bank (F2FB) movement expand to include new organizations, backyard gardeners, and passionate community members.

Attendance at the October 30th meeting was the highest it has been in the large, rural county and the distances some attendees traveled illustrated their dedication to F2FB work. With 22 community members in attendance, the group got straight to work. They spent three hours brainstorming various ways their community could unite and tackle some pressing coordination barriers that were interfering with their ability to move F2FB work forward. Based on previous work within Okanogan, and conversation with the regional planning team, the workshop focused on action-planning around three main barriers: storage; collaboration with markets; and fundraising.

As the groups got together to strategize around the current barriers, the energy in the room was palpable, and the solutions offered were original, innovative, and inclusive. For the first time, the group considered what it would mean if they formed a strong coalition that worked towards becoming a 501(c)(3) – also known as a nonprofit – organization. They also addressed who was missing from the discussion and were hopeful to bring in members from the health care community to help tackle the barriers to healthy food access. As the workshop came to a close, many attendees left with smiles on their faces, eager to get started with the work cut out and excitedly anticipating the next meeting.  

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Growing Minds at Elk Run Farm

02.11.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry

Elk Run Farm, built on a former golf course in South Kind County, provides produce to 12 food banks of the South King County Food Coalition.  It has been a Harvest Against hunger program since 2015.

 

Along with growing fresh produce, Elk Run Farm strives to be a community asset in Maple Valley by providing farm education for youth. Over its three years of existence, the farm has hosted many youth groups, student clubs and field trips. Starting in the 2017 school year, Elk Run Farm expanded its partnership with local Tahoma High School by co-creating the curriculum with the plant sciences class.

By collaborating with the teacher, the farm and field manager are teaching three periods with a total of 88 students about the plant families grown on the farm. The course also provides an overview of the emergency food system as well as the ins and outs of running a food bank farm. The students have been coming to the farm weekly for the months of September and October, taking care of their plant families. They have learned to how to use different farm tools, harvest a variety of crops, prepare them for distribution at a food bank, and plant cover crop. Initially there was a learning curve and need for encouragement for the students, but after a couple weeks, each class has taken more ownership of their plant families and have become more confident working at the farm. They have helped the farm harvest about 1400 pounds of food for six food banks. Some students have even started to volunteer at the farm during the farm’s volunteering hours. As the school year progresses, the students will learn about soil biology and advise the farm staff on how to amend the Elk Run Farm’s soil, plan crops, and advise on how to plant and cultivate next year’s produce.

Most importantly, this collaboration has given the opportunity for the farm staff to work with a consistent set of students and to start building relationships with them. By fostering a basic understanding of how their food is grown and increasing their community engagement through the food banks, Elk Run Farm hopes to provide an outdoor classroom for these students and expand a strong and mutually beneficial partnership.

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Elk Run Farm Hosts King County Executive Dow Constantine

08.08.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm is a food bank farm in Maple Valley, WA that grows fresh produce for twelve food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. This is the third and final year of a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA project.

Harvest Against Hunger site Elk Run Farm celebrated its one year anniversary with a farm tour for their partners and King County Executive Dow Constantine. It was a very special opportunity for the team to show off all of their hard work to the partners that had supported them since the beginning and to Executive Constantine himself. Improvements includes a new office, a hoop house, a wash pack structure, an improved irrigation system and last but not least, all the beautiful produce growing strong in the fields.

It was also one of the first times that most of Elk Run’s supporters and funders gathered together at the farm. The tour was truly a celebration of partnership and the amazing work that can be done by a coalition of local food banks and nonprofits, Rotary clubs, city and county officials, Rotary First Harvest and community members.

 
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