Community Food Forums

Many food bank clients who receive gleaned produce from WWCH or other community donations may not know how to efficiently use an abundance of seasonal fresh produce before it goes bad.  During sweet onion season, for example, WWCH brings in thousands of pounds of onions and clients receive 10-15 pounds of onions at a time.  In order to educate low income community members on how to preserve produce, WWCH teamed up with a local gleaning group, the Walla Walla Gleaners, to host monthly Community Food Forums (CFF).  Each month, the CFF focused on one seasonal product and provided at least two recipes on how to preserve the particular fruit or vegetable.

Identifying and reaching out to participants

Instead of reinventing the wheel, use resources that are already in place.  An employee at BMAC worked with WSU Extension between January and May to put on a Food Sen$e cooking class for low-income individuals.  WWCH requested the list of participants from the Food Sen$e classes and called each participant from the list to invite them to the new Community Food Forum series.  This strategy worked well; the attendees felt comfortable attending another series of classes organized by BMAC because they enjoyed the first series. 

Call the participants at least three weeks in advance of the first Community Food Forum and inform them on what they can expect of the class.  At each class, WWCH and the WW Gleaners offered a handout (wwch tomato handout) about the fruit or vegetable with recipes, samples of each recipe to take home, and a bag of the highlighted produce.  Remind the participants by calling them exactly one week prior to each CFF.  Initially, these calls took a long time as the Gleaning Coordinator needed to introduce herself thoroughly and explain all details of the forum to each attendee.  After a few CFFs, however, the process becomes streamlined as participants know “the drill” and simply need reminding of the date.

Divide up tasks: focus on your strengths!

The partnership between Walla Walla Gleaners and WWCH worked well to play up each organization’s strength.  Walla Walla Gleaners has many older members with experience gardening, canning and preserving.  WWCH’s Gleaning Coordinator has less experience with these activities but is very organized and has experience planning events.  By dividing the work that goes into CFFs, each party played up its strengths and combined to create a successful partnership.  The Gleaning Coordinator for WWCH advertised and completed reminder calls for the Community Food Forums, secured donations of produce to give to the participants, compiled information and recipes relating to that month’s produce, secured a location, and brought miscellaneous materials such as plates and utensils for sampling.  The instructor, an older woman from WW Gleaners, gathered her ingredients, found recipes for each month’s fruit or vegetable, prepared the recipes, brought samples of each recipe to the CFF, and taught the hour-long class.

Designing an educational and enjoyable class

Keep participants engaged by offering samples throughout class of different recipes, talking while chopping or preparing vegetables, and asking questions of the students.  The more participants interact with the instructor and the organizer, the more comfortable they will be and the smoother the CFF will go.  Participants ask questions when they feel at ease during class.  Be patient and always treat the participants as equals!  Sometimes the ease of a relationship between instructor and student takes time.

Provide an incentive for participants to return.  Follow up with them!

Participants take time out of their days to travel to, attend, and return home or back to work from CFFs.  Provide incentives for them to come back.  At each CFF, bring samples, handouts for them to look at during the hour, and an interested attitude to keep them engaged.  If working with low-income populations, use budgeted money or try securing a donation from a local grocery store for $10 vouchers for each participant.  The monetary incentive is not necessary but does provide a helpful incentive for folks struggling with poverty to return to the CFF each month.