During the 2017 season, 150 volunteers dedicated 6,000 hours of service to the Garden Share programs. This was an increase of 40 volunteers and almost 1,500 hours from the previous year when the VISTA was not present. In 2018, 300 volunteers worked with Garden Share through Earth’s Table, events, and gleaning. They dedicated nearly 6,000 hours of time. Corporate and Community Group participation increased by more than 200 hours and 60 individual volunteers during the second VISTA’s term.
Outreach and recruitment began with the first VISTA within the organization’s current volunteer base. This was a great way to get the word out about Garden Share programs to an existing base of highly committed volunteers. These volunteers worked through word-of-mouth to encourage family members, friends, and even co-workers to join efforts in providing healthy, nutritious meals. A Garden Share Program Guide and quick-guide brochure were created by the first VISTA to provide information to interested community members who were engaged at tabling events such as at the local farmer’s markets, volunteer fairs, and community events. The second VISTA worked closely with the Director of Communications to create a Grow a Row flyer for the 2018 season and also designed a new Garden Share leaflet. This occurred along with Community Food Share’s rebrand in 2018.
During the off-season, November to April, 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. During this time, it is key to talk to as many people as possible at volunteer fairs and other community events. The VISTA reaches out to community groups, clubs, and churches to present about Garden Share. Particularly, the second VISTA addressed a high need for flexible, day-time volunteers that are available during normal work hours. One challenge the first VISTA encountered was the eagerness of volunteers to work right away. This is difficult in Colorado because the growing season is so short – most active only from May through September. Alternately, the VISTAs along with the volunteer department have channeled interested volunteers in helping with warehouse produce sorting and connecting them with other activities. Many volunteers upon seeing the whole chain of food flow, between harvesting and distribution, are more willing to become involved and stay involved.
Once the growing season begins around late-April with seeding events, the engagement with volunteers becomes much easier as opportunities open up. Each time a gleaning or gardening event is scheduled, a notification email is sent to a list of volunteers that are signed up. In January 2018, Community Food Share switched to a new volunteer database which has influenced a great deal of volunteer management and relations during the second VISTA’s term. Details in these emails include: glean date, time, meeting spot, produce to be gleaned, and a list of what to bring and wear. It is important to stay engaged with volunteers during the gleaning and gardening events as well. Engaging in conversations with the volunteers at events helped the VISTAs learn about why people want to be involved. These interactions have also built better relationships with the individuals and gathered ideas for advertising the Garden Share program in various ways.
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 the number of volunteers that helped, hours dedicated, and pounds of produce collected. Community Food Share has received recognition from many volunteers about its welcoming atmosphere and staff – citing that they feel their work is appreciated. Which it is!
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.