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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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Pea Pickin’ Party in Canton, Mississippi

12.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Mississippi

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Andrew Frank serves in the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, faith-based gleaning network that aims to provide food-insecure individuals with healthy produce. Society of St. Andrew was founded in 1979 in Big Island, Virginia and has offices in more than eight states across the southern United States. In 2017, the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew gleaned more than 1.9 million pounds of produce. During the rest of 2018, the Mississippi office hopes to increase its gleaning efforts and further develop itsfresh food drives” at farmersmarkets across the state.

 

On an early July morning, Society of St. Andrew’s Harvest  Against Hunger VISTA, Andrew Frank, pulled into the parking lot of a small Methodist church in downtown Canton, a small Mississippi town just north of Jackson. Unlike most mornings, the parking lot was filled with more than half a dozen trucks and SUVs full of volunteers. After signing waivers and stocking up with water and snacks, volunteers hopped back in their cars, ready to go. It was time for a pea pickin’ party.

Although not far from the church where the volunteers convened, the farm for the Canton Pea Pickin’ Party can be difficult to find for the uninitiated. Five minutes down a state highway, 10 minutes down an old country road, a left on a gravel road in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere, and then, suddenly, a pea patch.

Growing in green and purple pods that hang off knee-high plants, purple hull peas are a variant of the more commonly known black-eyed pea. The peas to be picked that morning had been specifically planted by Dr. Weems, the farm proprietor, under the condition that they are donated to feeding agencies.

 

 

After arriving at the farm, volunteers quickly got to work. With a bucket in hand, each volunteer began plucking up 8-inch long pods and clearing the plants. After the volunteers had harvested about half of the peas, Dr. Weems made a surprise appearance, pulling up to the patch in his mule utility vehicle to offer some words of encouragement, and remind the volunteers of the fresh watermelon awaiting them.

As anyone who has picked peas would understand, picking is only half the work. Removing the peas from their pods, or shelling the peas, is just as if not more labor intensive. Resolving to take the peas to a nearby co-op where the peas could be processed in a pea sheller on Monday, Dr. Weems and the volunteers lugged crates of peas into his air-conditioned house where they were laid on to bed sheets to avoid spoilage.

With all the work done, everyone dashed back outside to the front of the house where whole watermelons sat in containers of ice water. As it was already nearing 10 o’clock in the morning, the watermelon was quickly devoured, with stomach aches ensuing not long after.

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Corn Glean Brings Community Together

05.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Gleaning, 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.

 

 

Hunger in America is an issue that evokes altruism regardless of political affiliation, economic status, or any other identifier that defines and separates us. It is an achievement in itself to assemble diverse groups with the intent of collaboration. But, when those groups – which on the surface would seem to be separated by an ocean of different opinions – work together to glean almost 15000lbs of produce together, it is a testament to divisiveness and that goodwill is intrinsically in the American people. The gleaning on June 30th was a five-hour event in Sumner, GA, and volunteers came from all over southern Georgia, to alleviate hunger together.

 

 

Society of Saint Andrew, an organization originally started by Methodist ministers, in collaboration with Concrete Jungle, a fruit gleaner and urban agriculture advocate based out of Atlanta, worked in unison to put on this colossal gleaning event on the common goal of fighting hunger. Concrete Jungle made the connection with the farmer a couple of years ago but was unable to facilitate distribution and setup for a row crop gleaning of this size due to the distance and required resources. Which is where Society of Saint Andrews was able to step up and contribute.

 

 

Groups that showed up to glean included religious institutions, Georgia Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, Colquitt Food Bank, Urban Elevation out of Tifton and even a group of TSA agents looking to give back and connect with their community. Even though the gleaning was a success and saw many new faces, the event faced its challenges. Three times trailers loaded with corn and other produce got caught in the soft sandy dirt. And three times, members from all groups worked together to free the trailers so the food could make it to the hands that needed it. The assembly of groups distributed the equivalent of 5000 meals that day. When all is said and done, teamwork really does make the dream work.

 

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The “Tangled Hairball”: The First Annual End Hunger Conference

31.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

The work of the non-profit can often be lonesome. Small offices, even smaller budgets, single subject focus, and massive projects can put an activist into a microcosm. This phenomenon is just a fraction of what makes events like the first End Hunger Conference so special. On a drizzling, dreary Saturday morning approximately 140 activists, ministers, and community members gathered at Saint Luke’s to discuss our common goal: ending hunger, from charity to empowerment.

 

 

Elise, a HAH AmeriCorps VISTA serving at SoSA, and her supervisor Barbara, the state director for SoSA Florida and Bread for the World member, attended the first annual End Hunger Conference. Elise ran a table for SoSA, recruiting volunteers and educating attendees about SoSA and gleaning while also participating in workshops. Barbara helped plan the event and participated in workshops of her own. Although the conference was based on eradicating poverty and hunger, the panels ran the spectrum from mass-incarceration to predatory loan practices, all factors leading to hunger.

Perhaps most noteworthy of these exercises was the opening activity. Bread for the World, a co-sponsor of the conference, provided each table with a simulation. From the Reconstruction era (1860s-70s) to now, each table member played as either a Euro- or African American. One by one, the table went through the legislation such as the Social Security Act of 1935, gaining or losing money, land, and opportunity not by their own merit, but legislative whims. By the final and most recent act, the ‘black’ players were left impoverished and food-insecure. This exercise opened the door to a crucial conversation that often goes unsaid and ignored. As the keynote speaker put it, “the tangled hairball” of poverty and hunger.

 

 

The End Hunger Conference, by framing hunger through legislative oppression, serves as a stark reminder that hunger does not exist in a vacuum. Race, gender, geography, and education weigh in on why people go hungry. Approaching hunger relief without acknowledging these factors is to ignore the issue entirely. The “tangled hairball” route is not the easy one, but without it, hunger cannot be solved. As noted in Circles (a financial assistance non-profit) in their workshop, feeding the hungry is only step one in ending food-insecurity.

Without addressing how or why a person is hungry, little can be done to help.  Also critical is the acceptance that these acts are not blights of the past, but are alive and well in the present day. The legacy of slavery and oppressive legislation are still having an impact on our society, and leading some towards food-insecurity. By educating ourselves and others, we can endeavor to solve the “tangled hairball” of hunger and poverty, one hair at a time.

 

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Jackson State University Sweet Potato Crop Drop

24.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Mississippi, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Andrew Frank serves in the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, faith-based gleaning network that aims to provide food-insecure individuals with healthy produce. Society of St. Andrew was founded in 1979 in Big Island, Virginia and has offices in more than eight states across the southern United States. In 2017, the Mississippi office of Society of St. Andrew gleaned more than 1.9 million pounds of produce. During the rest of 2018, the Mississippi office hopes to increase its gleaning efforts and further develop its “fresh food drives” at farmers’ markets across the state.

 

In the early hours of April 10th, a dump truck pulled into a parking lot adjacent to Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, Mississippi and dumped its payload of over 15,000 sweet potatoes onto the concrete. These sweet potatoes, grown in Vardaman, Mississippi (“The Sweet Potato Capital of the World”), were the main attraction of the Jackson State University Crop Drop, a bi-annual event sponsored by Society of St. Andrew, Jackson State University and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi during which free produce is distributed to those in need.

As early as 8:30 in the morning, cars began lining up near the entrance to the parking lot to receive one bag of sweet potatoes and one head of iceberg lettuce, which Society of St. Andrew had fortuitously gleaned and saved for the event the evening before. Meanwhile, over 75 JSU volunteers, clad in sweatpants and t-shirts, began assembling near the 30-ft. long pile of sweet potatoes to listen to directions from event organizers.

 

 

As cars were waved in to drive up to the curb to receive their free produce, volunteers worked as quickly as they could to fill their 34-inch red nylon bags with sweet potatoes. Although some cars only had one or two passengers, many others were filled to capacity with four or five adults, ostensibly because they lacked cars of their own, but could not afford to pass up on the opportunity for free produce. In a humbling display, some older local residents approached the pile of sweet potatoes on foot with their own bags, inquiring how they could receive their own portion.

In sum, 976 people received food during the event, including 206 who walked to the drop. In other words, over 1% of the food-insecure population in Hinds and Rankin counties (which contain the vast majority of the Jackson metropolitan area) received food from this three-hour crop drop.

The next JSU Crop Drop will be held in mid-August.

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Farm to Fork: Gleaning and Feeding in Belle Glade, Florida

19.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Belle Glade, Florida is a small town hemmed in by farms on all sides. An impoverished agricultural area, Belle Glade grows and processes primarily sugarcane. Agriculture is embedded into the landscape; towers of smoke can always be seen in fields, a required purging for sugar production and roads with dips and divots with grooves left by truckloads of produce. Within the town proper is the Lighthouse Café, a ministry built directly inside project housing. Lighthouse Café feeds, educates, and provides child-related services. A recent partner to join SoSA’s gleaning outreach, Lighthouse invited SoSA, CROS Ministries, and Heritage/Roth Farms to participate in the full cycle of gleaning, from farm to fork.

 

 

On the morning of April 3rd, Elise, her coordinator, and several volunteers went out into the field to glean. After a harvest of cabbage, lettuce, radish, and tomatoes SoSA delivered the produce to a local agency, as per usual. However, with the help of chef Paula Kendrick and Melanie Mason, representatives of the Florida Department of Agriculture, and SoSA, together cleaned and prepped the gleaned produce for serving the following morning.

 

 

Not only did SoSA glean and prepare the food for the agency, but assisted in putting on a food demo for the gleaned produce. Showing clients the process behind their meal will hopefully empower them to replicate the nutritious meal, creating a cycle of good food. As the pioneer event, SoSA and the Florida Department of Agriculture aspire to grow this outreach to more agencies and partners in the future. In addition to preparing and teaching about the food, SoSA handed out kitchen tools and recipe cards for anyone who wanted them. SoSA hopes to invest its patrons in gleaned food in all stages, from the agency to the community.

 

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First Week In Tifton, GA

22.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

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 glean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.

 

Getting your hands dirty takes on a new meaning when you’re gleaning. The work isn’t ‘romantic’, good photo ops are far and few between and volunteers are difficult to assemble (especially at 8 am on a weekday). Recruiting volunteers to glean is not like coordinating other community events. There are last minute changes and a degree of flexibility needed from volunteers that makes it difficult to coordinate with larger groups and organizations. Thankfully, Taylor discovered a good source of volunteers early on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taylor’s first week of service took her through the whole cycle of ‘feeding America’s hungry’. She harvested food from the field, distributed to agencies, distributed hand to hand, and worked at the soup kitchen to cook for and serve the hungry. She enjoyed helping people in need but the experience was also beneficial for connecting with potential volunteers and leads on new farmer donors. It’s similar to finding good workers in the private industry; if you can’t hiring within – see who your competitors have. Even though those organizations aren’t exactly competitors – sharing volunteers has been a beneficial practice. As they say ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’. Also, Taylor realized that many of the more involved volunteers are also the ones that Harvest against Hunger and the Society of Saint Andrews serve. With a unique volunteer opportunity like gleaning, recruiting in unique places is only logical.   

 

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