Over 150 volunteers dedicated over 6,000 hours of service to the Garden Share programs in the 2017 season. This was an increase of 40 volunteers and almost 1,500 hours from the previous year when the VISTA was not present.
Outreach and recruitment began within the organization’s current volunteer base. This was a great way to get the word out about the Garden Share programs to an existing base of committed volunteers. These volunteers worked through word-of-mouth to encourage family members, friends, and even co-workers to join the efforts to provide healthy, nutritious meals to food insecure members of the community and work to reduce food waste. A Garden Share Program Guide and quick-guide brochure were created to provide information to interested community members who were engaged at tabling events such as at the local farmers markets, volunteer fairs and community events. The brochure is available in the front lobby of the food bank for any interested guest or client and is shared with all new volunteers. The Garden Share Program Guide is sent as a booklet or PDF to all volunteers who sign up for a garden or gleaning event. Another great way to reach volunteers is through the local newspapers. The VISTA at Community Food Share worked with the food bank’s Director of Communications to get in touch with the local newspapers. A freelance writer published a story spotlighting the Garden Share programs and our partner, Earth’s Table. This article received a lot of attention and response from local volunteers and donors alike.
During the off season, November to May, it is very important to keep volunteers engaged and excited about the opportunities available through the Garden Share programs. This is also a great time to recruit new volunteers as well as take the time to meet with and talk to current and potential donors. The key during this time is to get out as much as possible and talk to as many people as you can. This will include volunteer fairs, community events, or even presentations to community groups, clubs, and even churches. The off season is the time to be in the community and get the name of the program known and provide information on how to get involved available to anyone who has interest. One challenge the VISTA encountered was the eagerness of volunteers to work right away. This is difficult because in Colorado, during the months of November to May, there is nothing happening in the ground. This was a great opportunity to engage interested volunteers to help in the warehouse with produce sorting and get them involved with the “where the food goes” side of the project. Many of the volunteers who see the whole chain of where the food goes and the people who receive it are more willing to become involved and stay involved.
Once the growing season begins around mid-May, the engagement with volunteers becomes much easier as there are opportunities and events to send interested volunteers. Each time a gleaning or gardening event was scheduled, a notification email was sent to a list of volunteers who signed up. All details including the date, time, meeting spot, produce to be gleaned, and a list of what to bring and wear were included in the email. Facebook posts are also listed on the Community Food Share page. It is important to stay engaged during the gleaning and gardening events as well. Creating conversations with the volunteers at the events and getting to know their motivations for helping out builds better relationships with the individuals and offers ideas for advertising points on how to get others involved.
To show appreciation, an email is sent to volunteers that attended each glean containing numbers of produce rescued and hours dedicated by the volunteers. At the end of the growing season an email is sent to every volunteer on the gleaning and gardening list to thank them for all their hard work over the growing season. This email also includes number of volunteers that helped, hours dedicated, and pounds of produce collected. Organizations should strive to always show their volunteers how much they appreciate the work they dedicate.
Community Food Share (CFS) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit food bank serving Boulder and Broomfield Counties in Colorado since 1981. Last year Community Food Share distributed close to 10 million pounds of healthy, nutritious food to food insecure individuals and families through its 42 partner agencies and pantries as well as its three direct distribution programs. The quality and freshness of the food is a strong focus of the organization with the goal of fresh produce accounting for 35% of distribution.
In 2016, Community Food Share brought on a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA to put more focus on the Garden Share programs. During the 2017 season the VISTA brought in 17,300 more pounds than the previous season without the VISTA. Garden Share encompasses several growing and harvesting programs that bring fresh, local produce into the food bank. The Community Garden Donations is a collaboration with Earth’s Table, a nonprofit community of gardeners who maintain several garden sites around the Boulder area. The volunteers of the Earth’s Table group grow everything from seed to harvest to help feed hungry people by donating to Community Food Share and a few other local agencies. This program also encourages home and community gardeners to share their bounty from their backyards and community gardens. The Farm to Food Bank program works with local, regional and state farmers to bring in fresh produce, meat and dairy items to the food bank. Many of these farmers work with a culled produce recovery program, donating excess product already harvested from their fields. Some smaller local Boulder County farmers have even participated in the Monday Produce Pick-Up program, started by the VISTA, to collect excess produce from farms that did not have the staff time to deliver the product to the warehouse. The Gleaning program also works with some of these farms that do not have the labor or resources to collect all the produce out of their field but see the potential of the amount of food left that can be recovered. Farms will contact Community Food Share, and the VISTA will also reach out to farms to request for groups to come and gather the produce.