South King County Food Coalition (SKCFC) and its farm, Elk Run, are a unique partner with Rotary First Harvest in that there is no actual gleaning involved. Instead of recruiting and coordinating with farmers and community members to donate produce, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA is responsible for helping coordinate the actual production of vegetables grown specifically for food banks and the acquisition of funds for the project. Through a combination of volunteer management, community engagement, and unique funding opportunities, the VISTA has framed Elk Run as a farm created for and by the community at large.
SKCFC is comprised of twelve food bank directors who run independent food banks that serve their respective communities. Due to the huge financial strains facing emergency feeding programs in the region, the Coalition’s farm must seek out unique funding opportunities and resources that don’t compete with the resources of the Coalition.
This situation has led Elk Run Farm to fund themselves solely through grants such as Seattle-King County Public Health’s Partners in Community Health Grant, Sustainable Communities Funders’ Resilient Community Partnerships Grant, and King Conservation District’s Regional Food System Grant. These grants have been focused heavily on sustainability and development through strong community partnerships and therefore have pushed Elk Run to pursue unique relationships in the community in fields such as education, conservation, social justice and more. While an immense amount of staff time and effort goes into these grant applications, the monetary awards are usually quite higher than pursuing individual or private donations.
Grants are fantastic sources of funding for overhead costs, staff time, and programming. For on-site projects such as infrastructure and supplies, Elk Run has relied on the generosity of local Rotary Clubs who have been making donations towards specific goals. For example, each club receives a presentation about the overall project and a “wish-list” of future endeavors that still need funding such as a greenhouse, an irrigation system, and a walk-in cooler. Depending on their interests and the size of their commitment they are able to choose a specific project that the funding will be used for. This creates a tangible relationship between the club and the project that they are able to physically watch unfold.
Elk Run is considered a “market farm” in the sense that its purpose is to grow the quality of produce that would be competitive in a local farmer’s market. However, the nonprofit status of SKCFC means that funding must come in nontraditional ways. So far, much of the funding has come through strong relationships with the community and constant engagement with stakeholders and interested parties. As the farm itself becomes more established, further funding sources will be engaged such as individuals and businesses in the community. The process of creating relationships with donors beyond a request for funds establishes trust and communication before there is any discussion of a donation. By putting in the time and effort to understand the community, the VISTA has received higher and more repeat donations, sometimes without ever directly asking.