Rotary First Harvest | Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank
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Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank Tag

Growing Food Security in our Community

31.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, South King County, 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 island of Vashon is home to 10,000 year-round residents, two large grocery stores, and dozens of tiny farms trying to keep up with the ravenous demand for local produce. In a community where a good head of napa cabbage can retail for over $10, getting summer produce in low-income houses requires multiple avenues of work and collaboration. In addition to gleaning fruit from unpicked trees and encouraging local gardeners to donate extra harvests, starts have been provided to food bank customers to grow a bit of their own food.

“This is really great, I just dug up my yard yesterday. What kind of lettuce is that?” asks one customer before his weekly shop at the food bank. By providing a variety of starts for customers to choose from, families who are interested in gardening can supplement their weekly food budget with homegrown kale, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and bush beans. People with reliable access to resources such as food, employment, childcare, and health insurance frequently misconceive the ability for food insecure individuals to grow their own food. Born of the “bootstraps” mentality, it’s easy to task resource-strapped families with the responsibility of starting and maintaining a garden.

In a community where family gardens are ubiquitous, growing advice is abundant. Most impoverished community members juggle the lack of affordable health insurance, housing, and childcare in addition to multiple jobs. Foodbank customers who have the time, energy, and space to grow their own food are delighted to be supplied starts. Harvest for Vashon proudly continues crafting different solutions to make healthy, local produce accessible for all.

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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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Creating Community Partnerships

13.03.2019 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.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 stale in 1 in 7 island homes.

All across Vashon Island, farmers and gardeners alike are preparing for the upcoming season. With longer days and snow-free forecasts ahead, local growers are starting seed, repairing damaged beds and greenhouses, and are reviewing lessons gleaned from the previous season. Harvest for Vashon will soon begin promoting participation in a Grow a Row program, and AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin recently toured two local farms who are preparing to support the effort.


Soon-to-sprout beet starts at Pacific Crest

Pacific Crest Farm serves as a natural extension of the Montessori School classrooms. A true farm in its own right, Pacific Crest is the largest farm on Vashon Island and supplies the local community with organic produce. Jen Keller manages the operation and committed to donating hundreds of started tomato seeds to Harvest for Vashon, which will distribute them to local gardeners eager to donate the yields to the food bank. While speaking with VISTA Cassidy Berlin, Keller also considered the logistics of growing a row of food to donate in Pacific Crest’s sizable greenhouse.

Michelle Crawford has been running Pacific Potager, her south-end island growing operation, for close to three decades. Her primary business is selling starts at her farmstand, and she will seed over 800 varieties this Spring. Beds overflowing with cover crops fill her four large greenhouses. In addition to donating several flats of starts to the food bank’s garden, Crawford has offered to donate unsold starts to Harvest for Vashon, which will be given freely to food bank clients with growing instructions.

Collaborating with local businesses provides Harvest for Vashon the opportunity to have a greater impact on the community. As Winter transitions into Spring, islanders feverishly anticipate the return of locally grown produce and chilly morning gatherings at the market. Partnerships with Pacific Crest and Pacific Potager are an exciting opportunity that hint at more community generosity to come.

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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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Welcome Cassidy, Food Equity on Vashon Island

12.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as a coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. The goal of this collaboration is to connect surplus island harvests with consumers in order to combat the economic obstacles that historically prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in food-insecure communities.

New AmeriCorps VISTA member Cassidy Berlin is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Northern Michigan University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, which explored the ways in which geography and human systems influence each other.  She dedicated her undergraduate thesis to the politicization of the environmental movement and found inspiration in the founding principles of the National Park Service. Since graduating she has worked as a seasonal park ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Acadia National Parks, and also interned seasonally with a New York-based nonprofit. She credits an outstanding network of educators, peers, and coworkers with encouraging her to pursue these adventurous opportunities. She is driven and excited to help develop an equitable food system in the Vashon community.

One short ferry ride away from Seattle’s bustling downtown district brings locals and visitors alike to Vashon Island, the largest island in the Puget Sound. The island sits halfway between West Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula and is home to over 10,000 permanent residents. The proximity to Seattle and Tacoma is part of Vashon’s appeal; the community maintains an easygoing, small-town charm while being able to partake in the innumerable resources and services usually reserved to urban areas.

The local population is economically diverse. With no designated low-income housing available, islanders face a housing crisis. There’s a saying on Vashon, though, that represents the spirit and resilience of this small community: the island provides. Dozens of farms and hundreds of personal gardens dot the island’s 37 mi². Like many Washington communities, Vashon is home to a popular farmer’s market, one with produce prices that are historically inaccessible to low-income households. The Food Access Partnership and the food bank are trying to change that.

 

A portion of the produce selection available during Thanksgiving week distribution.

The previous VISTA service member created a volunteer-based gleaning effort, which collected surplus harvests from island farms and gardens and donated them to the food bank and successfully developed sustainable relationships in the local growing community. The second year of this collaboration will continue facilitating local gleaning efforts and will further develop the Grow A Row program, which encourages island gardeners to designate a row of their harvest to the food bank. Empowering community customers during distribution hours will be made possible through a volunteer-run stand with education materials on alternative payment options for local food. Finally, this year will provide the opportunity to increase year-round access to healthy foods through food preservation efforts, such as canning and dehydrating.

 

In what is expected to be a fruitful year of community engagement, the VISTA collaboration will increase access to locally grown abundance by, as one FAP member said, “serving the unserved in our community.”

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Cider Pressing Preserves Fall Apples on Vashon

11.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, Sam works with a range of programs to bring in more island grown food to offer Food Bank customers.

Ahh it’s finally fall, a time many would call the most wonderful season of the year. The air is turning crisp, pumpkins, squash, and garlic abound, the leaves are changing colors, and… apples are everywhere! This has been an especially fruitful (pun intended) year for Washington fruit trees, and on Vashon Island it’s difficult to drive down a street without noticing an apple tree burdened with the weight of beautiful red and green fruit.

As a result of the abundance of fruit on the island, the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank has a received a plethora of fresh, island-grown fruit throughout the late summer and fall. While it’s a special thing for a hunger relief organization to be able to offer so much locally grown produce, the organization has found that it cannot distribute the fruit-mainly apples, pears, and plums-as fast as they are coming in. One way many residents of the island, as well as folks all across Washington, deal with this issue is by pressing the fruit into juice, and that is exactly what Harvest VISTA Sam Carp sought to do with the 30+ crates of apples the Food Bank had waiting in storage.

Working with one of the local cub scout troops, Sam and the Food Bank warehouse manager organized a cider pressing event to be hosted in front of the Food Bank garden. They worked with the Vashon Fruit Club to purchase half-gallon plastic jugs to store the cider, and were able to borrow a Meadow Creature cider press from Dragonshead Cider, a local cidery. With the help of the 10,000 lbs of pressing force supplied by the cider press, and the labor power of the cub scouts and their parents, the team was able to press all of the apples within about an hour and a half. It was a wonderful event, complete with music, snacks, and a view of Mount Rainier, and it will most certainly become a tradition at the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for years to come.

 

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Farm Appreciation Potluck

19.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. Sam hosted a potluck for a network of farm apprentices on Vashon Island last week in an effort to create a space to discuss food justice and hunger in the Vashon community. The event went wonderfully, and Sam hopes to host another event soon!

It was a warm, clear Thursday evening and Mount Rainier was out in full view from atop the hill where the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank sits, a perfect time for a farm apprentice potluck. Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Sam Carp was busy reviewing the questions he had written down to discuss at the picnic tables outside of the Food Bank garden when farm interns and WWOOFers began to show up, dishes in hand.

Vashon Island has many small farms, each that contributes to the community in its own special, niche way. For a while, it had been Sam’s goal to bring people from each farm together to discuss food justice and how small-scale agriculture can impact hunger in nearby communities. Hosting an event where young farmers-in-training can learn about the Food Bank and its own involvement in local growing was a perfect opportunity to do just that.

 

 

The event was hosted as part of the CRAFT network, or Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. It is a program that has been started in many communities throughout the world to try to enhance educational opportunities for farm apprentices who only receive small cash stipends or room and board as payment. Apprentices visit other farms, producers, food justice organizations, and culinary operations to learn more about the food system as a whole, and to recognize from different lenses the ways the world is impacted by food and agriculture.

During the potluck, apprentices were given the opportunity to meet one another, engage in meaningful conversation, discuss the different agricultural and hunger issues facing society today, and receive a tour of the Food Bank. The tour was then followed by a short work party in the Food Bank garden where apprentices helped to weed between beds of summer squash, lettuce, cucumbers, and peppers.

Opportunities to come together over food to discuss the major issues facing not only small communities, but larger cities, states, or even the world as a whole are vital in helping to unite community members over a common goal. It is Sam’s hope that he can host events like this more often throughout the rest of his time as a VISTA. Not only was he able to learn a great deal about the farms in his community and connect with young adults interested in food justice, but the food shared around the table was delicious!

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Harvest For Vashon’s First Glean

07.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, the Food Bank and FAP have teamed up to start three new programs on Vashon Island, all designed to increase food security and decrease food waste: a Gleaning Program, a Grow A Row Program, and a donation station at the farmer’s market. As the first year VISTA for these two organizations, Sam will facilitate the primary development of these programs, all of which are designed to increase the community’s access to locally grown, organic produce.

 

On Saturday, February 24th, Sam Carp, an Americorps VISTA and the Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator, organized a glean of Northbourne Farm, a small, organic vegetable farm on Vashon Island. This was the first gleaning event of the Harvest For Vashon Campaign, and it was a great success! The gleaning team (Sam and four volunteers) was able to harvest almost 100 pounds of kale, chard, and salad greens within just a couple of hours! The produce was then brought to the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for distribution that week. Some of it was also given to Island churches for their community dinners, which are hosted every night.

 

 

As the programs continue the transition into spring, it becomes increasingly evident how much opportunity there is to discover sites of wasted produce on Vashon. Although it is a community that is well known for supporting smallscale, sustainable agriculture, a countless amount of fresh produce goes to waste for a number of reasons, just like in many other farming communities. With help, gleaning can be just one of many approaches that can be utilized to decrease the footprint of waste Vashon residents leave behind. This waste can then be used to support the food security of those very same people.

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