Rotary connects food banks and farmers
A program created by Rotarians in Seattle, Washington, USA, is fighting hunger and poverty in Arkansas thanks to connections formed through Rotary.
Rotary First Harvest has been funneling donations of imperfect or “ugly” produce to food banks in Washington via donated shipping since the 1980s. The program also organizes volunteers for gleaning, the ancient practice of going through fields after harvest to pick up remaining crops for the poor.
Leaders of the Seattle program visited Little Rock last fall to talk with Rotarians who have been supporting a project that helps small-scale sustainable farmers in Arkansas. The two clubs discussed ways to bring farmers and food banks together to fight poverty and build better food delivery systems.
Recently, Rotary First Harvest has taken its hunger fight to the national level with its Harvest Against Hunger initiative. The effort places volunteers from AmeriCorps VISTA with partner food banks to create new programs for recovering produce, recruiting volunteers, and gleaning, with the goal of increasing the quality and quantity of healthy foods available to those in poverty.
“We refer to (the initiative) as an incubator for ideas,” says David Bobanick, executive director of Rotary First Harvest. “We are not saying, ‘Here is our model — make this work in your community.’ Instead, our approach is, ‘Here is this VISTA resource — make something that works in your community.’”
Harvest Against Hunger wins award
Rotary’s Harvest Against Hunger program has received a special award for national service partnership.
The partnership between Rotary, the Corporation for National and Community Service and Seattle hunger relief organizations has strengthened the food bank farm infrastructure and its capacity to grow healthier communities, AmeriCorps said in announcing the award Wednesday at its annual conference.
After the meeting with Little Rock Rotarians, Harvest Against Hunger placed a VISTA member with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance to work with local farmers, including those in the Little Rock project.
One effort that has been working in Washington is a Farm to Food Pantry program, which awards small grants for scattered hunger-relief groups to form two-way relationships between small-scale or remote farmers and food banks.
“We saw increases not only in the variety of produce coming into food banks, but that those farmers selling produce were more likely to donate additional produce,” says Bobanick. “It’s one thing that could work in Arkansas. In any event, we will leverage off the pre-existing connections with the farmers in the Little Rock project.”
pounds of produce Rotary First Harvest has distributed to food banks since 1982