Outreach to donors began in the winter of 2016/2017 when the first VISTA arrived. An Excel file was created that included all local farms, their contact information, types of produce they grow, and an indication of if they were a new or returning donor. To help create this list, the VISTA used the Colorado Farm Fresh Directory created by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Many farms in the Boulder and Broomfield area were once partnered with Community Food Share in some capacity, but over time the Garden Share programs and farm relationships subsided until the VISTA was brought on to help rebuild them. The second VISTA added three small farmers to this list over the course of her term.
Initial outreach with donors began with conversations with potential and returning donors were made possible with the help of a template letter and script talking about how to become partners. The second VISTA created a Farmer Guide from this template letter, including various statistics from the 2017 season. Once initial contacts were made, conversations included the need for gleaning and to discuss whether or not the farmers were interested with having volunteers in their fields, other ways of donating to local partners, and even new opportunities for farms to be involved and donate such as the Monday Produce Pick-Up option. The first and second VISTA both attended the Boulder County Ag Forum sponsored by Boulder County and Future Farmers of America (FFA) students. This is an appreciation dinner for all Boulder County farmers. It was a great time to talk face-to-face with farmers and get acquainted with them in a more relaxed and casual setting.
Throughout the season, farmers contacted the VISTA with information on a possible glean. This information was given anywhere from a day to a week in advanced notice. It was especially helpful when corporate or community groups were contacted and available to help. The best method of contacting farmers was over the phone, either calling or texting. Emails were not an efficient way to keep in contact with farmers, especially during the growing season.
During the second VISTA’s term, she found it difficult to reach out to some farmers early on in the season through email or phone. Some growers are simply busy and some never reached back out after numerous attempts for contact. While this was somewhat discouraging, the VISTA worked the farmers that had replied and had a successful season. In order to better reach farmers, winter tours should be scheduled for any interested party to visit the location and learn about what goes into growing Colorado food. The VISTA and Food Procurement Manager should discuss with farmers what they might be interested in donating that season. The Procurement Manager should also discuss with farmers what foods might be purchased from the farm, based on desired produce from the participant base. This will not only encourage full-season collaboration but long-standing support from the agriculture community. Growers and hunger-relief organizations must work hand in hand to not only provide local food but go one step further and support the local food movement in terms of education and outreach.
At the end of each growing season, thank you cards and certificates are sent to each farm that donated produce throughout their season. A total of the pounds and meals donated are provided on the certificate, which is framed for the farm to hang in their farm store or at their office. An end of season conversation is also conducted with the farmers who had gleans on their property to review what worked, get suggestions for next season, and get any updates on how they prefer the gleans to run. It is important to keep an open conversation with farmers and their needs to best accommodate them. All farmers are constantly thanked and shown appreciation for their time and produce donations.
Community Food Share (CFS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit food bank serving Colorado’s Boulder and Broomfield Counties. In operation since 1981, it is a long-standing hunger relief agency operating as part of the Feeding America network. Last year Community Food Share distributed 10.4 million pounds of healthy, nutritious food to food-insecure individuals and families through 42 partner agencies and pantries, as well as three direct distribution programs. As part of its organizational mission, Community Food Share strives to provide fresh, high-quality food – ensuring that 35% of food product is produce and 40% is high protein items such as milk, eggs, and frozen meat.
In 2016, Community Food Share began the three-year VISTA assignment with Harvest Against Hunger in order to further build out its Garden Share program. Garden Share encompasses several growing and harvesting programs that bring fresh, local produce into the food bank. During the 2017 season, the VISTA brought in 17,300 more pounds than the previous season without the VISTA. Through the Garden Share program, there are three major ways that Community Food Share interacts with the community to secure fresh produce: maintaining relationships with farmers for Farm to Food Bank, utilizing volunteers for the Gleaning Program, and reaching out to backyard and community gardeners through Community Garden Donations. Each of these active networks expands the conversation around food security in Boulder and Broomfield Counties and encourages the community to engage with fresh, local fruits and vegetables.
The Community Garden Donations portion of Garden Share is a collaboration with Earth’s Table, a nonprofit community of gardeners who maintain several garden sites throughout Boulder County. Earth’s Table grows everything from seed to harvest for donation to Community Food Share and a few of its partner agencies. Additionally, Community Garden Donations also encourages home and community gardeners to share their bounty from backyard and community gardens. The second VISTA launched an official Grow a Row campaign throughout the food bank’s service areas to highlight particular ways gardeners could help including particular types of produce to grow, and how to volunteer. 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. Various local Boulder County farmers have participated in the Monday Produce Pick-Up program, started by the first VISTA, to collect excess produce from farms after farmers market weekends. The second VISTA continued this program and also continued picking up from a local farmer’s market throughout the season. The Gleaning Program works with various farms and landowners to procure the leftovers from a first harvest. Over the past two VISTA terms, farms have contacted Community Food Share and the VISTA communicates with them throughout the season to confirm gleanings. The second VISTA also worked with many local fruit tree owners in gleaning apples, plums, and pears.