Rotary connects food banks and farmers
Another program created by Rotarians in Seattle, Washington, USA, has also begun to fight hunger and poverty in Arkansas, thanks to connections forged through Rotary.
David Bobanick, executive director of Rotary First Harvest, met with several Rotarians in the Little Rock Club, including Ben Wihebrink, operations director for Heifer USA, last year to discuss ways hunger relief agencies and farmers could work together in a broader food system. As a result, Rotary First Harvest’s national Harvest Against Hunger program placed a volunteer with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance to build connections between farmers and food banks.
Rotary First Harvest’s core mission is to take donations of imperfect or “ugly” produce and deliver it to food banks in Washington via donated shipping. But the organization also has a national focus through Harvest Against Hunger, placing AmeriCorp VISTAs (Volunteers In Service to America) with partnering food banks in six states to create new produce recovery, volunteer recruitment, and gleaning programs. By improving local capacity for produce recovery, the effort is increasing the quality and quantity of healthy foods available to those living in poverty.
“We refer to it as an incubator for ideas,” says Bobanick. “We are not saying, here is Rotary First Harvest’s model, make this work in your community. Instead, our approach is, here is this VISTA resource, make something that works in your community.”
One thing that has worked in the state of Washington is a Farmer to Food Pantry program which awards small grants to scattered hunger relief organizations to create 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 club’s project.”
pounds of produce Rotary First Harvest has distributed to food banks since 1982