Donor Relations for the OIC are split into two sections: material donations and food donations. The short but sweet first half is donations for the community garden. OIC Garden’s main donor is Lowes, and their contact person is Ryan Milton or Josh Rowhes. They have donated seeds, soil, lumber, seed starting pots and extra plants. Similar items have also been donated by Ace Hardware, Tru Value Country Farm & Garden and Bi-Mart. Over $2,000 dollars of in-kind donations has been donated in total to the garden in 2019 alone.
Yakima Valley is one of the largest commercial growers of fruits, vegetables and produce in general. This fertile valley makes for a busy growing season, and pre- and postseason as well. A lot of the fruits and growers are globally recognized, and the majority of the food produced here is shipped away on large trucks never to be seen by the Yakima valley again. The sad truth though is that a large quantity of the fruit is still left in the trees or fields. This because they are declared “unmarketable” meaning they don’t fit the market standards for shape, size or color. Those perfectly edible fruits then stay on the trees because the grower can’t pay for someone to pick them if they aren’t going to make a profit off of them. That isn’t every situation and we receive picked unmarketable donations from some orchardist but in the valley, it’s more common than not.
In the past, Yakima Valley Produce Harvest led gleanings with local volunteers and school groups. However, as of now, Northwest Harvest doesn’t do any gleaning because they say its a liability concern not only for the volunteers but for the farmers. There have also been horror stories told amongst farmers of elderly volunteers falling and breaking their legs and being sued as well as uneducated gleaners butchering the spurs or tips on their trees and ruining next year’s harvest. All of this fear has made it quite challenging to build relationships with growers here, especially as an organization that gives “handouts” when these farmers have worked so hard to produce their crops. To combat this notion, the first year vista has spent a lot of time spreading awareness and education about what it can be and the benefits. This information includes the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act that protects those who make food donations with liability coverage, A farmer’s guide to food donation tax deductions, and a simple breakdown of how their food is used by Harvest Against Hunger. Thank you notes from the families and clients at the food bank have also been sent as a way to appreciate and encourage future donations. After developing a relationship with the farmer or gardner it is listed with their information on the Growers of Yakima Valley google sheet.
Most of the growers that are listed on the google sheet were either met at the farmers market or through individuals at the farmers market. We’ve handed out flyers, and spread business cards amongst growers, irrigation organizations and food brokers. The most successful of all were relationships built upon mutual partners, such as a local community leader introducing the VISTA to a local orchardist.