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Springing into action at the Bayview Farmers Market

03.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

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.

 

After the teaser of sunshine and warm days last week, the rain came back just in time for the first Farmers Market at Bayview Corner just south of Langley WA, but that didn’t keep anyone away. A local group of marimba players were cheering up shoppers as they browsed through the first offerings from farmers and crafters from around South Whidbey Island.

 

The current crop of garden apprentices – Annie, Tran, and Kathryn (minus Grayson who was visiting family in Denver) – and the new AmeriCorps VISTA member – Brandi Blais – met with Lissa Firor, Produce manager for the Good Cheer Food Bank, to learn the process for gleaning produce from the Bayview Farmers Market. After going over the general procedure for checking in (for Kathryn and Tran, apprentices at the South Whidbey School Garden, who don’t get over to Good Cheer very often) the first step was to grab the cart and a few sturdy plastic totes.

 

Checking in and grabbing the cart from the Good Cheer Garden shed

 

Next, the crew headed over to the market, about a 5-minute walk through the Good Cheer garden and past the historic Bayview building. Aiming to arrive just before the market closed, so that farmers and shoppers wouldn’t feel crowded by the gleaners, the crew made their way through the market, with Lissa providing introductions to the some of the farm partners as they wound down from a fun and successful first market of the season.

 

Heading through the garden and off to market

 

Good Cheer has many long-term partners in the local farming community, and the warm relationship is evident in the welcoming smiles and cheerful hellos from folks like Bill from Bur Oak Acres and Arwen from Skyroot Farm. Annie and Nathan from Deep Harvest and Foxtail donated kohlrabi, kale, and radishes, along with a few early season herbs. Other gleanings included bok choy, salad mix, and collards.

 

Stopping by Deep Harvest’s farm stand to visit Annie

 

As the cart and crew made their way through the market, a few generous farmers stepped out from behind their tables to drop kale, herbs, or (what else did we get) into the cart.

After a quick stop at Lesedi Farm and African Food for samosas and a detour past the tiny free library, the gleaners made the short walk back to Good Cheer to weigh in and record the day’s catch. In the end, 24 pounds of produce was collected. Donations are tracked, bins labeled, and produce stored in the walk-in cooler for repacking and distribution on the Monday morning following the Saturday market. Produce from the farmer’s market has its own special spot in the cooler, and the entire cooler is organized in a way that keeps things circulating, making sure that customers get the freshest possible produce.

 

Not a bad haul for the first market of the year!

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Partnering with Rotary

05.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Volunteering, Washington Site

Elk Run Farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for the food banks of the South King County Food Coalition. The farm believes that residents of South King County should have equal access to local, sustainably grown, and nutritious produce regardless of income. The farm sits on a former golf course in the heart of the suburbs near Seattle, WA where the land would otherwise go unused. The farm helps to increase the availability of healthy foods for families that visit the food banks while promoting sustainable urban agriculture.

 

Elk Run Farm is currently in its third year with a Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) VISTA. There is one thing that all three AmeriCorps VISTAs have had a chance to participate in developing relationships with the Rotary clubs in South King County. Rotary First Harvest, with its many Rotary connections, did what it does best and connected the first Elk Run Farm VISTA and current farm manager to key Rotarians in its service area. This was the tiny seed of partnership that was handed to the farm and has continued to be cultivated by the second and third-year VISTAs, to this day.

When the first year VISTA came onboard, Elk Run Farm was not a farm. The land was still covered in golf course greens and had no infrastructure to distinguish it from the rest of the use-to-be golf course property. Tasked with the ambitious goal of starting a farm literally from the ground up, the initial VISTA and the farm manager approached the south King County Rotary clubs with a request for funds to build Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure. This baton was then passed to the second year VISTA. Together, they met with all twelve Rotary clubs in the service area of Elk Run Farm. After seeing how Elk Run Farm aligned with their motto, “Service Above Self” and the potential it could have to help the communities they live in, Rotarians stepped up and 11 Rotary clubs made a donation. The first and second VISTA collectively raised $36,500 through this outreach and relationship building.

 

Rotary Farm Sign

 

These funds were used to build Elk Run Farm’s irrigation system, hoop house, washing and packing station, and farm office. The farm manager always says, “This infrastructure is what really separates us from a garden.” They allow the farm staff and volunteers to efficiently grow and harvest produce at a level that brings in over 100 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables a week during the height of the growing season.

There are also other funding streams that Rotary provides to their community that Elk Run Farm has received. On top of the initial funds that were raised, the first and second-year VISTAs both applied for and received the Rotary’s Assistant Governor’s, Express Grant. This grant is meant to have a quick turnaround that gets financial assistance to the recipient promptly. $5,000 was raised from this method adding more support to Elk Run Farm’s infrastructure.

 

Receiving AG Express Grant

 

Individual Rotarians have also stepped up and used their personal networks to leverage resources for the farm. On behalf of the farm, Rotary First Harvest made a call to the South King County Rotary clubs to see if there was anyone that could provide a solution to Elk Run Farm’s deer and elk problem. The farm sits under high voltage power lines where all the vegetation is kept low for miles and miles on either side. This gives the deer and elk that live in the surrounding forests an easy way to browse and travel across the land. It also meant that the farm’s vegetables were fair game to these animals. A need for a barricade was made very clear one fall when a population of deer and elk ate all the produce in the ground before it was harvested. After hearing this dilemma, Mickey Kimmerlee, an Auburn Rotary member that works for Quality Fence Builders, was able to build and donate the labor and materials for a double-layer fence that protects the farm’s main vegetable field.

The third-year HAH VISTA continues to cultivate the Rotary relationship and is presently meeting with the clubs that donated in the past to update them on how their gifts were used. She emphasizes the impact their funds have had in jump-starting the farm, as well as how the food banks have benefited from the additional fresh produce they can now offer to families in their communities. The third VISTA is also pursuing a district match for the gifts that have been generated from the Rotary clubs in partnership with a Rotary First Harvest board member. She hopes that this match could provide one of the last critical infrastructure pieces to Elk Run Farm: electricity.

 

Mindy in trench

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Rokula Farms Potato Glean- A Collaborative Effort

29.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Kitsap Harvest capacity building Gleaning Coordinator, Paisley Gallagher, serves at the Kitsap Public Health Chronic Disease Prevention Department. Nutrition is directly linked to many of today’s preventable ailments related to food intake such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, mental health… although sometimes indirectly,  nutrition is just as much of the solution.  The department also works with SNAP, Youth Marijuana Prevention, Healthy Eating, Active Living, and a Farmers Market program called Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) which is responsible for Fresh Bucks.

The Kitsap Health Department applied for a HAH VISTA to work with community partners to help coordinate efforts and create a system to support local gardening. It is not the intention of Kitsap Public Health to house the future of the gleaning program but rather create a program and find partners willing to take on organized tasks while improving public access to information and participation.

 

On a foggy March Saturday, over 50 local volunteers showed up to glean potatoes at Rokula Farms.  This glean was a collaborative effort from the Farmers, Gleaning Coordinator, community groups, and the South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank. By immersing in the culture of farming and growing in South Kitsap, Paisley Gallagher, the Rotary First Harvest Gleaning Coordinator, met Bob and Donna of Rokula Farms. These two farmers have 27 acres as a hobby farm and CSA opportunity for local residents.  Bob reached out to with a need to get potatoes out of the ground that had wintered over.  Unsure of the quality of the potatoes, the Gleaning Coordinator used her partnership with the South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank to connect with them about the quality and quantity of the potatoes.  South Kitsap was very interested in the potatoes and took their personal time to go out to the farm prior to the glean to approve the quality.

Bob and Donna from Rokula Farms

 

Once the connection was made, it took less than a week to round up the volunteers using online social media with the tagline, “Community Service You Can Eat!” Kitsap Harvest believes if a volunteer shows up to glean we are going to send you home with food, and donate the rest.  Social media delivered an all organic, non-paid reach to over 8,500 people, with 500 unique views, 168 people interested or going, and 55 shares as well as a connection to two other community groups:   My Sustainable City and Positive Olalla Projects.   The event organizers thought maybe 10 volunteers show up based on the 26 who said for sure they would, but boy was Paisley surprised when they kept flowing in for a family fun day picking potato gold from the ground!

 

 

Gleaning Volunteers

 

The glean was a success with 750 pounds of potatoes gleaned, lots of smiles, happy farmers, and happy food bank staff.  The gleaning coordinator realized that the successful glean was a by-product of months of collaborative efforts with farmers, food banks and community groups.  Without being a trusted community member, the glean would not have been so effective.

In the future, Kitsap Harvest will work with low-income housing groups to target people who may live in apartments, but not have room to grow food, this opportunity to do a little work in trade for access to fresh produce.

Gleaned Potatoes

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AmeriCorps Week With Good Cheer Food Bank

15.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Washington Site

This week (March March 11 – 17, 2018)  is AmeriCorps week. It’s also Good Cheer Food Banks Harvest Against Hunger’s VISTA’s second year serving in AmeriCorps.

Kelly’s first term was a year spent volunteering with American Youthworks; an Austin non-profit that builds out tiny homes at Community First, an initiative to house the homeless. They also work on home repairs through the city of Austin to fight gentrification!


This past year she joined AmeriCorps VISTA to leverage program management skills and dive deep into the food waste problem and inequities in our society that are at the root causes of hunger. Through this year at Good Cheer Food Bank she has been working as the gleaning program coordinator under a sponsorship through Harvest Against Hunger, a Rotary First created program, that places AmeriCorps members across the nation to connect local growers, and missing connections to their local food banks to see less food wasted nationally and get fresh, local produce to those experiencing food insecurities.

If you ever have questions about Kelly’s AmeriCorps experiences and are thinking of joining AmeriCorps, or just want to learn more contact Good Cheer Food Bank.  In 2018 alone, there are 75,000 members serving across America!

 
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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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Regional Food Summit 2018 Features the Palouse Tables Project

08.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food Summit, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Michelle Blankas serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and community food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and SNAP. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas, Joe Astorino, and Ashley Vaughan of the Community Action Center presented at the Regional Food Summit in Pullman, WA to launch a regional community food security assessment, the Palouse Tables Project.

 

 

On January 27, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project was invited to talk to the community about food insecurity on the Palouse. The HAH VISTA and the site team built a case for why the food insecurity assessment was necessary and how interested people could help with that effort. One hundred and thirty community members were present and included people from two food coalitions, food pantry managers, farmers, volunteers, non-profit organizations, the media, and more. They were asked to share the values they brought to the table, which would then inform the project and, ultimately, a regional food plan based on community input.

 

A slide created by the HAH VISTA in the Palouse Tables Project.

 

The next steps in the food assessment include holding focus groups with people who use food assistance programs, household food security and shopping patterns, and local food producers. Retail food surveys will be conducted to understand what the quality and cost of foods are at food retailers and community meetings will be held to coordinate community visioning for a secure, local, healthy, and sustainable foodshed.

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Whidbey Repurposes Apples

14.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning

Harvest Against Hunger has partnered with Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island to expand and support Good Cheer Gleaners, their gleaning and produce recovery program. First year VISTA Kelly Pinkley breaks down how unwanted apples can be used to make something delicious and nutritious.

 

Ever wonder what happens to the poor quality apples from gleans?

Here’s some photos from start to finish.

 

Good Cheer Food Bank has a commercial kitchen on site at their facility and our Harvest VISTA was excited to learn of the different processing projects that take place at Good Cheer. VISTA Kelly Pinkley helped to train volunteers on processing the apple seconds that are too poor quality to go straight out to the shoppers, into a value added product, apple sauce! This not only provides a healthy option of processed fresh, local produce but keeps produce from entering the waste stream, the core and peels of these apples were later thrown into the Garden worm bin to become compost.

Volunteer Paula Good hard at work peeling and coring the apples for the apple sauce!

Produce Manager Lissa Firor happily transferring the milled applesauce into cups to go out to the Good Cheer shoppers.

Finished product!

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HAH VISTA with Volunteers of America Celebrates “Day of Caring”

03.10.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Stephanie Aubert had heard the buzz phrase “Day of Caring” many times throughout her VISTA service at Volunteers of America Western Washington, which began November 2016. It wasn’t until September 15th 2017 that she witnessed what this special day was about.

Stephanie arrived at the Food Bank Farm in Snohomish at 9:45am that morning to meet a group of 7 volunteers from Fluke Corporation to guide them through harvesting and packing a long, dense row of carrots. She was informed by farmer Jim Eichner that several groups would be volunteering on the farm that day, but it wasn’t until her arrival that she saw the hundreds of volunteers happy to greet her as she drove the Volunteers of America Isuzu box truck to a designated parking spot. Volunteers clapped and cheered as they cleared to road to let the truck through. . . She had never been the recipient of such a grand entrance!

When Stephanie found the group of Fluke employees, she was delighted to see that they each wore a pair of rabbit ears – excited to harvest carrots for their hungry neighbors!

 

Hundreds of Microsoft volunteers were hard at work harvesting several thousand pounds of winter squash across the field, and across the field, the Bellevue College softball team harvested the final crop of cabbage. The team began to load up the Isuzu with full boxes. Before long, about 30 banana boxes of cabbages were packed and ready to distribute!  Stephanie couldn’t believe how fast a large box truck was filling up with fresh produce!

At the end of the day, she returned to the Snohomish County Food Bank Distribution Center with over 5,500 lbs. of carrots and cabbage to be distributed to VOAWW’s 21 partner food banks. Project Harvest was also able to secure another 3,400 lbs. of cabbage and green beans for 12 additional food banks in Skagit County that day. All in all, it was a truly inspiring day – and one that she will remember for the rest of her life!

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