Our Blog: Food Security
January 14, 2013
Haiti, first impressions of northern villages
by Matt van Geest
Driving into Phaeton for the first time, I had the sense that this place was different.
I’ve been all over Haiti over the past eight years, to small seaside towns and big urban centers, crowded slums and mountain villages – but this isolated place was different. A beautiful, towering row of neem trees dominates the wide entrance to the village with a row of houses on one side, a school, child care center, clinic and Catholic church on the other.
At one time, the thousands of hectares of scrub land that surround Phaeton and its sister village, Paulette, were the site of a sisal plantation, one of the biggest in the world. At the height of WWII, when sisal production peaked, the sisal company in Phaeton was Haiti’s largest employer and biggest source of tax revenue. Today, however, the story is much different. The company is long gone with a lonely smoke stack as the only visible reminder of what this place once was. The 3000 people that live here get by, barely, by raising some cattle, fishing, on charcoal production and small-scale commerce.
The Vibrant Village Foundation has been funding a feeding program, run by our partner, Mercy and Sharing, for the last few years. We’re looking at ways of improving this program but we’re also thinking long-term. We’ve started a process of community meetings, in both Phaeton and Paulette, to listen and learn, to understand the hopes and dreams of this community to see how we can walk alongside them into the future.
Water is the biggest challenge here. A deep well provides some water to the community but all the hand pumps scattered throughout the area are too salty to drink. There is not enough water to do anything but the basics. We’re hoping that we can find ways to improve water supply to reduce health problems but also spur some economic activity, especially through small-scale gardening. Beyond that, we’ll wait for the community assessment process to be completed before we make any decisions for the future. Our commitment here is for the long-term and I’m excited about the possibilities.
January 4, 2013
Urban Gleaners expands staff
by Laura Koch
Urban Gleaners, founded in 2008, is quickly gaining notoriety in Portland as a small but mighty champion against hunger.
They pick up surplus food from grocery stores, farmers’ markets, farms, restaurants and event sites, and deliver it to over 24 agencies and schools serving families living below the poverty line throughout the Portland metro area. Urban Gleaners believes that hunger is less a problem of scarce resources than it is inefficient distribution.
With the help of a $25,000 grant from the Vibrant Village Foundation, Urban Gleaners expanded their operations with the hiring of a new staff person last fall.
When I caught up with Emily Kanter, assistant director, at the end of December to ask how things were going, she breathed a sigh of relief. Their new program coordinator, Ava, had apparently come “at exactly the right time.”
Ava Mikolavich joined Urban Gleaners in October. Ava first discovered Urban Gleaners when she worked with Real Time Farms, connecting farmers’ markets and farmers across the country. She is originally from Portland, went to school in California and spent time in New Orleans on various food-related projects before moving back to Portland last year.
Ava is now helping manage volunteers, coordinate food donations and deliveries and ensure schools get reliable quantities of food. She is also taking on many other operational duties as Urban Gleaners continues to grow to meet demand throughout the community.
Urban Gleaners recently solidified two new partnerships with Le Cordon Bleu and the Art Institute of Portland. Both of these culinary programs purchase a lot of raw produce to use in their classes. Emily explains, “students might be practicing their cutting techniques, so they go through hundreds of potatoes that they don’t actually cook.” That’s where redistribution is key.
Urban Gleaners is also expanding their partnership with five new Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) school programs including Alder, César Chávez, East Gresham, Harris and Woodmere. These schools, and others throughout the county, function as emergency food pantries that rely heavily on canned goods. Urban Gleaners is working to secure larger quantities of fresh foods for these school programs.