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Washington Tag

Growing winter crops for the Food Bank

21.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

Good Cheer is fortunate to have many generous gardeners on the south end who regularly donate fresh produce throughout the summer, but fresh produce donations in the winter are less common. Gardening during the winter is challenging, but it can be done! And, it’s a great way to have fresh produce for your table in the winter. This year, Island County is promoting the Grow A Row program to encourage donations of fresh produce to Whidbey Island Food Banks.

If you feel like a challenge, try planting some winter crops! Leeks, parsnips, and brussel sprouts are good choices for this climate, along with kale and cauliflower. Now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests – check out the Tilth guide for tips and information on planting and extending the harvest season.

Our intrepid garden manager, Stephanie, kept one of the Good Cheer Garden kale beds going last winter, mainly by just letting it do its thing. She also grew some beautiful overwintered cauliflower, and our produce manager Lissa reports that her compost pile was warm enough to grow tiny but tasty new potatoes that she harvested early this spring. I let a few radishes hang around last fall (okay, let’s be honest – I planted them in an old ammo box and forgot about them till the spring) and they surprised me by not only surviving but flourishing; they flowered and then put out radish pods around the beginning of May. If you haven’t tried radish pods, they’re delicious, sort of spicy and just the thing for spring salads.

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Healing Gardens: Making the Namaste Community Garden Accessible to All

20.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, IRC, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

The Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila, WA is a flurry of activity at this time of year. The growers, the majority of whom came to the U.S. as refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, and Burma, spend hours diligently digging, planting, weeding, and watering their plots.

One plot, usually bursting with life-giving food at this point in the season, sits overgrown and empty. Its keeper, a dedicated Bhutanese grower named Ram, recently lost both of his legs and is no longer able to garden. He still visits the garden often, riding his wheelchair along the main woodchipped path, but his inability to garden and connect with the land has left him feeling isolated.

At the same time, a group of ELL students at nearby Foster High School are hard at work on a big group project. The topic for the project is a wheelchair-accessible garden bed design. At the close of the project, the students presented their work to officials of the City of Tukwila, who were so impressed with the outcome that they pledged to make a donation to put the design into practice. Little did they know that a need for an ADA garden design was so close at hand.

With materials donated by community members and the City of Tukwila, New Roots and the Foster High students came together on June 6th and 7th to install permeable pavers and to construct two ADA-approved raised garden beds on the plot belonging to Ram. The pavers will allow his wheelchair to roll easily into the plot, and the raised beds will be tall enough for him to comfortably garden. The students, Foster High, and New Roots staff, and representatives from the City of Tukwila worked for several hours each day, doing everything from clearing space for the pavers to sawing wood planks for the beds.

Last week, Ram planted the first shoots of the season in the new raised beds. His wheelchair rolls easily over the pavers, and he can comfortably reach the soil in the bed from where he sits. The journey to healing has only just begun, but with his connection to the garden restored anything is possible.

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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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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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Sowing the Seeds of Self-Sufficiency at the Food Bank

22.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

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

Last week, Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan and WSU Extension Gleaning Coordinator (and former HAH VISTA!) Sharah Truett drove two tightly-packed cars to the Sequim Food Bank one town east to give out plant starts to visitors coming for groceries. For the past month, Sharah and another Extension employee had been coaxing seedlings of all varieties through the incremental and inconsistent weather of the Olympic Peninsula, greenhouses and backyards overflowing with the bright green sprouts and first leaves of cherry tomatoes, arugula, kale, strawberries, raspberries, garlic, cilantro, and countless other plants. Now, on another unusually warm spring morning, they set up in the parking lot as the food bank visitors passed through, handing out plant starts to anyone interested.

Most of the people passing were thrilled to pick up a tomato plant, some lettuce, a strawberry start. Many were already growing a small amount of food at home and we’re excited to share their knowledge, learn some new tips, and add another couple plants to their backyard plots. While many people may assume that those who visit the food bank wouldn’t have the resources to garden, in a rural town like Sequim most folks have access to at least some amount of land on their property, and for many, growing food has been a constant part of their life – much more so than the food insecurity that brought them to the food bank that day. Stories were shared of growing up on farms, childhoods spent picking these same vegetables fresh out of the garden, and above all, the visitors shared a respect for the calming, healing and meditative powers of getting one’s hands into the dirt and the care that goes into raising the tiny seedlings into delicious and healthy food for the dinner table.

This experience of handing out plant starts was a good reminder that people visiting the food bank are by no means a monolith – they come from every possible background and could never be defined by their need for help getting groceries that week. As a society, we tend to ignore the intricacies of survival and poverty, and especially the reality that so many face, that of living on the edge every day. Instead, we draw straight lines to determine who falls below or above the poverty rate, without regard to the many folks who are near crisis most of the time, one urgent car repair or an unexpectedly high utilities bill away from not knowing how they’ll get their next meal.

While a few tomato plants in the garden isn’t quite the solution to systemic hunger, giving people back their agency is a pretty big deal, and giving someone the means to produce their own food is and always has been an important part of self-sufficiency. Giving people the capacity to grow food for themselves is empowering on a fundamental level, and that came across in the pride and joy the Sequim Food Bank visitors shared in their stories of home gardening, in the pictures they kept on their phones from last year’s harvest. It also came across in the rearview mirror on the drive home, where all that was left in the back of the car were some empty boxes and smudges of potting soil – and the knowledge that another hundred or so people would have the joy of picking part of their meals from their own yards later this season.

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Welcome, Mary Pearl!

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

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

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

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Get Growing with the Vashon Island Growers’ Association

01.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.

The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) has been an island community cornerstone for over 30 years. The organization’s mission, to promote farming, access to healthy food, and a sustainable agricultural economy on Vashon Island through education, advocacy, and a vibrant farmers market, strives to create an equitable food system by and for islanders. As stated in the mission, educational initiatives are an excellent resource for promoting community growing efforts. VIGA is comprised of island farmers, orchardists, and gardeners, and a series of free, educational classes in the summer offers learning and community-building opportunities for new and established growers alike.

The educational series is aptly named Get Growing and covers a variety of topics. Each class is held at a different local farm or garden. Questions from all topics run abound as a mixed group of attendees tours the local scene and learns about a particular aspect of growing. The focus of the first 2019 Get Growing events was Grow a Row, a Harvest for Vashon-sponsored program to encourage local gardeners to plant an extra row of food to donate to the food bank. Participation among beginner gardeners was especially promoted, and attendees learned about gardening basics. After a local tour of Alli Lanphear Vineyard and Winery, the group learned about local food insecurity and opportunities to help.

Rotary First Harvest VISTA Cassidy Berlin emphasized that fresh, organic produce needs to be treated as a dietary right instead of a privilege. Several levels of collaboration and education built capacity for this food equity project. Pacific Crest Farm grew and donated over 300 tomato starts, which were potted up by fifth graders at Chautauqua elementary school. Students engaged in group discussions on food prices, health, and food bank stigma before eagerly transplanting and sniffing the aromatic starts. Participants in the Get Growing class took notes on advice given by Master Gardeners and Food Access Partnership volunteers at the event. They also took home starts to grow for the food bank, and remaining starts will be given to food bank clients to grow their own produce. The Harvest for Vashon program continues to strengthen food security through one conversation, one tomato start, and one extra row at a time.

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

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

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their mottos is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Broadening the Scope

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

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

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

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

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

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