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Washington Tag

MEET YOUR MEAT: WASHINGTON MEAT UP CONFERENCE AND THE ROLE OF FOOD ACCESS IN NICHE MEAT PRODUCTION

04.09.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest VISTA, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan serves at the WSU Clallam County Extension in Port Angeles, WA. Building off of the highly successful VISTA-founded Clallam Gleaners program, Benji is in the first year of research and development of a glean processing program that will capture excess gleaned produce to process into shelf-stable items. By donating these processed items back to the food banks, food waste can be diverted into delicious food products, food banks can cut disposal costs and save valuable storage space and community members can learn new food preservation skills while working to increase access to local and healthy foods. Benji is also preparing to launch a community meal program to teach cooking skills and increase access to healthy meals while coordinating with the Hot Foods Recovery Program to save prepared foods from landfills. Through these projects, Benji and the WSU Extension seek to educate and empower the local community through increasing knowledge and access, while reducing food insecurity and waste in Clallam County.

Last week, Benji had the opportunity to attend a brand new conference called the Washington Meat Up, being hosted for the first time by the WSU Food Systems Program. This conference is based off the successful Cascadia Grains conference model and seeks to become a new interface for niche meat producers, processors, regulators, researchers, restauranteurs, and everyone else involved in the local meat industry to come together and discuss successes and challenges in their work.

After a casual 4am start from Port Angeles – the joys of Peninsula living! – Benji arrived with a local farmer and meat producer at the Seattle Culinary Institute, and immediately set off for the morning field trip. With a group of actors from across the industry, he visited Jubilee Farm, Falling Rivers Meats and Carnation Farm in the Carnation Valley to learn about some local meat operations and get an in-depth look into the ins and outs of sustainable and small-scale meat production.

The afternoon consisted of a series of break-out workshops and larger group discussions in which folks from every side of the niche meats industry mixed and discussed their roles, successes, and challenges within their work. It was an excellent opportunity for industry regulators and producers – people commonly pitted against each other by messy bureaucracy and sticky regulation laws – to get together and find common ground in their desire for local meat production. Of the different challenges, what clearly rose to the top was the need for increased access to USDA and WSDA-certified slaughter and cut-and-wrap operations for small-scale producers, who often end up having to spend incredible amounts of time and money traveling across the state to use these services. Other major concerns included the lack of consumer education on the difference between industrial and local meat. With a rising vegan movement and calls for giving up meat consumption to save the environment, the discussion is missing the nuance and differentiation necessary to identify local and small-scale meat producers – who provide essential ecosystem services, follow human practices and take good care of their animals and land – from industrial factory-farm meat producers – who generally fail on those same accounts. Although not directly involved in the meat industry, Benji was able to offer an important food access perspective to the discussion. While many niche meat producers struggle to educate their consumers on why their products need to and should cost more than industrial meat, the topic of how to get good local meat to those who genuinely can’t afford it has also largely been untouched. Benji had some excellent discussions with these meat producers and processors about the realities of eating on a SNAP budget and the difficulties of justifying more expensive meat purchases when faced with an unwavering financial bottom line.

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Lessons Learned from August Gleaning Season on an Island

28.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest VISTA, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

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

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

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

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

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Filling in the Gaps: Building A Refugee Community Garden

21.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest VISTA, IRC, Volunteering, 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.”

A rainy morning greeted Harvest VISTA Hailey Baker on the morning of August 10th, a day destined to be dirty and tiring. She and her team at the International Rescue Committee had been putting in long hours at St. James Episcopal Church in Kent, WA, the site of the IRC’s newest refugee community garden. Over 600 feet of irrigation lines had been installed at the site the week before, and the open trenches in which they sat waited patiently to be refilled.

Hailey had organized one final work party to finish the trench refill, reaching out to the IRC’s long list of on-call volunteers to come out and help. When Hailey drove up to the site with a van full of tools at 9:30am, the rain was just starting to ease, the sun poking its way through the clouds inch by inch. She half expected the rain to scare away the 17 volunteers who had signed up to help.

She needn’t have worried. By quarter past 10am, 15 of the 17 volunteers had shown up, eager to work. They all grabbed shovels and pickaxes and jumped right in, slinging dirt from nearby piles into the gaping irrigation trenches. As they worked, they chatted and laughed, amazed at how much they all had in common. Stories of travel, jobs, hometowns, and politics floated around the site. Strangers only hours before, by the end of the work party everyone had made at least one new friend while toiling in the dirt. During the mid-day break, Hailey led the group over to a nearby patch of blackberry bushes, where some volunteers picked fresh blackberries for the very first time.

By the end of the work party, nearly all of the remaining open trenches had been filled. Hailey was pleased to see all the work they had put in, but she was even more pleased by the moment of community they had all shared that morning. How better to build a community garden than in community?

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Harvest Share program promotes gardening education on the Palouse

14.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Harvest VISTA, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center (CAC) 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.

In June of this year, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Robyn Glessner began a Harvest Share program for local gardeners to meet once every two weeks to share their produce and gardening stories with one another. This program was created in tandem with the Koppel Community Garden in Pullman, where the host site Community Action Center has matched four clients with their own plot to garden on and grow their own food. These plots were generously donated for this purpose by a handful of fellow community members and gardeners. The Harvest Share program brings together clients and other community members from all walks of life to come together and find unity in growing food. The Koppel Community Garden board helped to cultivate this opportunity not only by facilitating gardeners to donate plots but by also including the opportunity to sign up for the harvest share within their general gardener application. Ten of the gardeners who grow at Koppel have signed up to participate in the harvest share for the coming weeks.

At this Harvest Share, gardeners brought in fresh sage, mint, chives, scallions, lacinato kale, cherries, strawberries, green garlic, salad greens, and garlic scapes. One of the community members shared that they had planted their garden this year in order to participate in this program and next year they want to plant an additional row or two so that more and more of our community members have access to fresh produce. This sentiment is at the heart of the work that the Community Food group at the Community Action Center moves to accomplish. Along with fruitful discussion made about each individuals gardening experiences this growing season, advice and experiences were swapped as well as boxes of produce. Each participant was able to pick and choose what they wanted to bring home with them. The Community Action Center provided recipe cards describing dishes that used the produce that was brought including such things as green garlic sauce, freezer jam, and chia jam. The participants from the Harvest Share were invited back for the next share at the Community Action Center, hoping to garner more and more participants in the weeks to come.

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Gearing Up For Harvest!

17.07.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, 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 their food sovereignty.

Harvest VISTA Lynsey Horne got her first small gleans under her belt this spring with a 300 lb harvest of lettuce regrowth and about 100 extra tomato starts from a work party. Working with an organization that primarily gleans in the fall from several community orchard partners around Vancouver, Washington, fresh food donations mostly take place from August-October. That said, Urban Abundance has been shifting its focus from holding work parties and workshops in the orchards, teaching people about fruit tree care, community agriculture, and pollinators to preparing for harvest season and their biggest harvest event and fundraiser of the year Pick-a-Pear-a-thon.

In the five orchards that Urban Abundance has formed partnerships with throughout the past nine years, there are a variety of fruit trees ranging from Bartlett pears, quince, persimmon, and several different apple varieties. Pick-a-Pear-a-thon, the biggest and one of the first harvest events that will take place at the start of the harvest season, happens when the two biggest orchards ripen at the same time. Between the two, there are about 400 Bartlett pear trees, and Urban Abundance’s volunteers have two weeks to pick as many as possible before they start to rot in the middle. They will be harvesting two times a day during those two weeks – it’s all hands on deck!

There have been lots of great opportunities to promote this upcoming harvest season in Vancouver, too. Lynsey has had a presence at multiple days of downtown Vancouver’s awesome weekend markets, and the annual Recycled Arts Festival, which drew a huge crowd and took up the entirety of Esther Short Park for the whole weekend. Urban Abundance is also planning a Pick-a-Pear-a-thon kickoff party at a local restaurant/bar called Brickhouse. This event will have a few special menu items made with Clark County, Washington sourced produce, a pear cider on special, and live music from 3-8. Hopefully, this will be a successful fundraiser, as the non-profit will receive the proceeds from the local menu items and the pear cider on tap. In all, the activities have very much shifted for VISTA Lynsey Horne, from orchard maintenance work parties and workshops to marketing, doing outreach, and recruiting harvest volunteers, but this harvest season is looking like it’s going to be a great one!

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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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