The Growing Connections program was developed by Northwest Harvest in an effort to increase fresh produce in partner food banks across Washington. The Growing Connections program adapts to the needs of its partners, and evolves to work with the ever-expanding farm-to-food bank (F2FB) network within Washington state. The efforts of the Growing Connections team are made possible by their primary focus on collaboration. Growing Connections not only partners with food banks and growers, but also with statewide organizations, such as Washington State University Extension, and with invested community members. From its inception, Growing Connections has used its collaborative approach to increase the available fresh produce at food banks by:

  • Developing and distributing F2FB resources;
  • Facilitating workshops and trainings on F2FB programming that provide tools and knowledge for the emergency hunger relief network and its communities; 
  • Partnering with outside stakeholders to address capacity inefficiencies in the system;
  • Approaching F2FB programming from a holistic standpoint, with the understanding that in addition to increasing the amount and variety of fresh produce within a food bank, hunger relief organizations must also address the layout of their pantries and attempt to provide nutrition education resources to their clients.

With these tactics creating the backbone of their program, the Growing Connections team works to provide stakeholders with an overview of the range of F2FB strategies, offer resources to either launch or expand such efforts, and to hold space for communities to collaborate and solve local problems. For this work to be successful, Growing Connections constantly has their ear to the ground, listening for new and innovative solutions that communities are using to combat hunger and to provide nutritious wholesome food to their neighbors in need.

Over the past three years, Growing Connections has seen agencies solicit donations through plant-a-row programs at local community gardens, organizations work with farmers to glean their fields after harvest, and programs purchase directly from local farmers. In learning about the diverse set of tactics used to combat barriers to fresh produce access, Growing Connections can provide a wealth of resources, advice, and networking opportunities to Northwest Harvest partner programs and community actors across Washington. To learn more about the different facets of the program, continue to peruse their articles on the Rotary First Harvest Resource Guide, visit their website, or scan their Quick Tips on how to best use their available resources.