Rotary First Harvest

April 25, 2007  • 

Rotary First Harvest (RFH) began in 1982 when Rotarians from the Seattle University District Rotary Club, led by Norm Hillis and then University of Washington police Chief Mike Shanahan, began encouraging backyard gardeners to plant extra produce to share with the hungry. That year home gardeners grew an extra 70,000 pounds of produce. Encouraged by this, Shanahan wanted to do even more, so he turned to his law enforcement colleagues. The first response came when the Mt. Vernon, WA police chief called with a donation from a local farmer – 40,000 pounds of surplus cauliflower! Then, a few days later, someone in Othello telegraphed with 60,000 pounds of potatoes!

By the fall, Shanahan and his fellow Rotarians knew that one call from a farmer could do what all the backyard gardeners could do in a single season. The focus of this small project became moving surplus produce from Washington farmers to large warehouses equipped to handle thousands of pounds of food in one donation. As the project grew, it became too much for volunteers to manage and an Executive Director was hired. Eventually, it outgrew the resources of a single Rotary Club, and Rotary District 5030 (Rotary Clubs in the Puget Sound area) agreed to make it a District Project. RFH continues to receive a large portion of financial support from the clubs in the local district and their members. Since 1982, RFH has gathered more than 100 million pounds of produce for food banks in Washington state and other needy parts of the Pacific Northwest.

This program has been so successful that RFH has inspired other state rotary clubs to follow suit. There are now RFH organizations in Florida and Oregon.

Go to Rotary First Harvest’s website to learn how you can start a similar program in your area, or to get involved with RFH organizations in Washington, Florida and Oregon.