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 during 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. The Farmer Guide was updated by the third year VISTA during his term.
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 advance 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. Through the 2019 season, a Garden Leader volunteer had developed a good relationship with Munson Farms, one of our largest farm donors, and contacts Pete or the third year VISTA whenever he had a gleaning opportunity.
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. 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 the 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.
During the third VISTA’s term, we experienced some restructuring and changed the Food Procurement Manager to our Food Resource Coordinator which helps maintain and build relationships with our food donors. Some of the farmers and growers were still difficult to reach or get a response from after multiple attempts to contact them, but we moved a lot of that effort into the farms that have consistently worked with us in the past.
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.