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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Critical to the success of community food projects anywhere is the development of strong partnerships –with community members, with parallel community organizations and efforts, and with larger forces doing similar work that can support and reinforce what goes on at the ground level.
Last week, VISTA member Benji Astrachan traveled to Seattle to meet with Food Lifeline, a branch of the national Feeding America organization. With fellow Extension SNAP Education coordinator Karlena Brailey, they toured the impressive warehouse south of the downtown and learned about the scale of Food Lifeline’s work in aggregating and redistributing food to local food banks. They also sat down to discuss an exciting new program from Food Lifeline that aims to both procure and distribute food locally. That means, buying directly from farmers and then ensuring the fresh and healthy produce stays in the area to feed those community members. In Clallam County, many of the farms are operating at a smaller scale than those of east Washington or anywhere off the Peninsula, but this just reinforces the importance of supporting those who are growing our food.
What’s exciting about this kind of local procurement plan is the way it can incentivize smaller-scale farmers to connect with food relief efforts near them. While most farmers are already supporting local food security work – through straight-forward donations of produce, hosting gleaning groups to harvest the seconds, or plant-a-row programs that designate areas of crops for donation – it is important to acknowledge that they do this because they value good food and access to it, and receive mostly just the benefit of goodwill and appreciation. By compensating farmers for the produce they allocate to food banks or other food relief organizations, we can ensure that they are able to maintain the business end of their operations, and begin to build long-term relationships that offer a stable market and opportunities to scale up donations and impacts in the long-term. For a Food Lifeline partner like the Sequim Food Bank, this is significant in the way it reinforces positive and mutually-beneficial relationships with local farmers, ultimately leading to more delicious and healthy fresh produce for the community members who most need but are least able to access it.
The work of building healthy food systems is manifold in the
variety of actors, whether they are farmers, food bank managers, hungry
families, AmeriCorps members, SNAP educator, farmer’s market coordinator,
neighborhood volunteers – the list goes on! By building out these relationships
and supporting the work of one another, truly holistic and sustainable food
systems are created.
And for a bonus, Benji got to visit the nearby community gardens project that day called Marra Farms, which is one of just two historical agricultural land sites in Seattle that is still being used to grow food –another awesome example of the many shapes and forms that food security and access to good food takes!
Lynsey Renee Horne is an Auburn University graduate with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies, emphases on natural resource economics, ecology, and sustainability. Throughout college, as she learned more about some major environmental justice and policy issues that society is dealing with today, she set her sights on doing a term of service after earning her BS and before she attends graduate school. Long passionate about environmental issues and devastated to see the state of food systems the way they currently exist, she was very excited to see an AmeriCorps position that focuses on alleviating both food waste and food insecurity in one fell swoop.
Lynsey is serving with Harvest Against Hunger at Urban Abundance (a program of Slow Food SW WA) in Vancouver, Washington. Since 2010, UA has focused on caring for and harvesting from several community orchards in the Vancouver area, and harvested 20,000 pounds of fresh produce to donate to Clark County Food Bank last year! UA’s mission is to engage neighbors in the maintenance, harvest, and creation of edible landscapes that are accessible to everyone, to support clean, fair food for all .
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 moto’s 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.
Week after week, month after month, “Pappy’s Pantry” dry pinto beans, stays on the shelf of the commodities section at the Community Action Center. The Food Pantry receives around one hundred clients each week, Pappy’s Beans are always out but they aren’t always well received. One of the faithful volunteers at the Community Action Center, Andrew Vaughan, sees this occurrence each week and wanted to do something to affect how people receive these less than exciting dried beans, in order to move the product and highlight this healthier option. We all know the choice is clear among clients of a food pantry when they are given the option between dried beans and “Chef Boyardee”.
Andrew, “Andy” among friends at the CAC, jumped on the opportunity to teach a bean demo as part of the Community Educator program lead by AmeriCorps VISTA, Robyn Glessner. So, on a cold and snowy day in February, Andy and Robyn set up crock pots and spice blends to start cooking the soaked “Pappy’s” pinto beans. The community kitchen was set up to greet participants the following day at 11am when the Food Pantry opened up for clients. Samples were made, recipes printed, and multiple handouts were provided to inform curious community members about the different ways beans can be soaked, cooked, mashed, refried, stewed with meat, or tied up into a sock to fashion a microwaveable heating pad! As time passed that day, a few participants trickled through the community kitchen, curious to see where the source of the cumin and onion infusion that was wafting throughout the building had originated. Unfortunately, the weather got the best of the turnout of people for both the food pantry that day and secondly, the bean demo.
There was both discouragement but also hope
left over at the end of the day that Wednesday in February. Both Robyn and Andy
were able to identify areas that the program could improve on for the next
demo, but there were some unexpected “wins”. Volunteers and staff had come
through to support the two during that day and there was unexpected and
beneficial conversation being had about the community and their relationship to
food. Our consensus came down to the fact that though the few community members
that came through that day may have been less than anticipated, it still proved
that the purpose and goals were being met. Even if a Community Educator is
there to teach only one person about cooking nutritious food for themselves,
that knowledge is still granted the power to live on and can be passed through
that one person to another person, and so on. This is the definition of
capacity building, and it is also important for the educators to know that
being available to our community as educators is not as much about informing
and collecting “numbers” of participants as it is about simply being available
to those who do show up to learn, whenever and wherever that may be.
And now, on to the next educator challenge…
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.
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.
VISTA member Gayle Lautenschlager was raised in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She attended Western Connecticut State University and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Social Work. Building upon her previous experience volunteering, Gayle completed two internships while in school. The first internship was with the Council of Churches Hunger Outreach Network working on a smart shelving system for their member food banks.
A second year long internship was completed with the New Haven Food Policy Council and the City of New Haven under the new Food Policy Director. While in both internships Gayle was able to work alongside Americorps VISTAs and learned about the program and opportunities to further her work in the hunger alleviation field.
Gayle is excited to continue the work of previous VISTAs and to apply the lessons learned in the Harvest Against Hunger Farm to Food Pantry Program to the King County Farmer’s Share initiative. Gayle is inspired by the educators and mentors from her time at her university and internship sites as well as by the collaboration and support from her time with the VISTAs she encountered along the way.
The primary mission of Rotary First Harvest is to alleviate hunger and reduce food waste with surplus produce. Rotary First Harvest utilizes volunteers and trucks to glean transport fresh food from farms. King Country Farmer’s Share is an initiative under Rotary First Harvest’s Harvest against Hunger program. Using the Farm to Food Pantry initiative as a model, the King County Farmer’s Share will help increase access to fresh produce through purchasing contracts with local farms.
Working with three agencies in King County, the VISTA will facilitate working relationships with small scale local farms. Through these direct purchasing agreements access to fresh produce will improve in local food insecure households. As per the Farm to Food Pantry initiative, these pantry and farm relationships have been shown to result in additional donations made by the farm to the food pantry.