The mission of Community Harvest gleaning project is to increase access to healthy local produce. The primary way this is accomplished is through gleaning produce that is distributed through the regional distribution warehouse center to food banks in Chelan and Douglas counties. However, aside from the city of Wenatchee, and some of the more populated towns, many of the food banks in these counties serve rural communities. Due to small and dispersed client populations, and entirely volunteer staffed, many of the food pantries are open at most once a week and as infrequent as once or twice a month. This leaves some of the most vulnerable and in-need clients with limited access to food, especially fresh perishable foods. To enable greater self-sufficiency and continual access to food, Community Harvest distributes free seeds at food banks in the spring.
Winter is a good time to approach seed companies, it is a slower time of year, and they may be looking to clear out old stock. Research your local and regional seed companies; some may have established giving programs and specific applications for seed donation requests, while others may be more informal. Local farm and garden stores, and grocery stores with garden sections, may also have unsold seeds from the previous year. While germination rates may be lower, the seeds are still viable. Different types of seeds keep for different lengths of time, so if you receive seed more than 1-2 years old, you may want to do a germination test. Seeds may be donated in individual packets or bulk quantities. Bulk seeds require repackaging, but often you can get small plastic bags or coin envelopes donated from a local store, and you can print with your program’s logo and planting instructions in multiple languages as appropriate for your distribution area. It’s also a great way to keep volunteers engaged in the winter season; have a bagging party, or make up re-packing kits for volunteers to take and do at home at their own pace.
To distribute the seeds, Community Harvest calls all regional food banks to see if they would like to receive seeds this year. If they would like to participate, Community Harvest confirms a distribution day, and how many families they serve on average. A variety of seed packets, based on number of clients, is boxed up for each food bank. Seed distribution visits are a good time to catch up in person with food bank managers. If schedules or transportation logistics did not allow the gleaning coordinator to personally drop off the seeds, then boxes of seeds were dropped off at the food distribution warehouse and delivered to them. Seeds are generally displayed on a table at the end of the food bank line for people to look at. The gleaning coordinator would engage in conversations, and hand out a paper with general instructions in English and Spanish emphasize that the seed distribution was for greater self-sufficiency. People were encouraged to share excess with their family, neighbors, and the food bank if it worked logistically.
In 2014, Community Harvest also solicited donations of soil and small pots. Wenatchee Valley College’s Agriculture department allowed use of their greenhouses to grow tomato seedlings which were distributed at five food banks. Again, the planting and repotting gave some early season volunteer opportunities and people were generally excited to see plants at the food banks.
Beyond seed distribution, Community Harvest brings a basket of Plant A Row seeds to farmers markets and other tabling events. Having a something to give out brings more attention to the program and often leads to volunteer sign up, and even monetary donations to purchase produce at the market. Community Harvest compiled a list of food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters that accept fresh produce, their addresses, hours, and most needed/preferred produce. This printed sheet of Plant -A Row Drop off Sites was listed by community and handed out with seeds so people could donate what they grew to a local site.
Community Harvest is a project of Upper Valley MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity). UV MEND is a human services non-profit committed to meeting community needs of hunger, housing, and healthcare in the Cascade School District. MEND has six main programs including the Community Cupboard, a food bank and thrift store. Community Harvest began as a program of Community Farm Connection in Wenatchee in 2011. In 2014, Community Harvest worked to expand connections in Leavenworth and the Upper Valley area, while maintaining previously established programs down valley as well.