How to Find Food-Related Positions as an AmeriCorps Service Member

by Lela Nargi

Published: 3/10/23, Last updated: 3/10/23

With spring in the air, application deadlines are approaching for aspiring AmeriCorps service members. Founded in 1993 under President Clinton’s National and Community Trust Act, this federal agency offers myriad opportunities for people looking to give back to their communities while also building up work experience in fields they want to pursue. AmeriCorps grant-funds organizations from California’s tree-planting non-profit TreePeople to many local food banks to place some 200,000 people aged 17 and up in community-based projects. Some members are retirement-age volunteers; others are adult service members paid county-specific living allowances ranging from around $37 to $66 a day as well as health insurance, childcare benefits, future schooling stipends and deferrals on student loan repayment. Service members may teach, assist in disaster-relief efforts, or help to promote a non-profit’s programming, for example. The agency received $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan in addition to its usual Congressional allotment to expand its reach.

Types of Food-Related Programs Available

Some AmeriCorps service members work specifically to mitigate food and nutrition insecurity in a host of ways, via local, state, and nationwide programs. As CEO Michael Smith explained to Civil Eats, “AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers help food banks and pantries meet higher demand by organizing volunteers, packing meal kits, participating in food distribution events, and delivering food to homes. They provide meals and groceries to vulnerable seniors, support students through school food distribution sites and food delivery, and care for community gardens that provide fresh, healthy produce to food banks.” It’s critical work at a time when food insecurity is back on the rise as Congressional pandemic spending to address it runs out.

Broadly speaking, AmeriCorps also helps make the connection between public health and food and nutrition security. In 2022, the agency received $60 million worth of public health grants that might be used, in part, to hire service members to build gardens, staff food banks and offer nutrition education in their cities and towns. “For people looking to make a real, tangible difference on hunger, nutrition, and food security, AmeriCorps offers a number of different pathways to serve their community,” wrote Carly Bruder, Acting Director of AmeriCorps VISTA, in an email.

Finding a Service Position That’s Right for You

AmeriCorps is a sprawling organization and it can be challenging to navigate the opportunities it offers if you’re interested in applying to be a service member. Basically, though, it has several different branches that operate in slightly different ways:

  • State and National Direct Service opportunities place people 17 years or older in schools or nonprofits for a year of service (although it is not unusual for people to enlist for a second year). Examples of large, well known programs include Teach for America, City Year and FoodCorps (more below).
  • VISTA corps members are 18 or older, also compensated for full- and part-time service at nonprofits, for stints of a year; it also offers short-term summertime positions. VISTA is different from the National and State direct positions in that these positions are intended to build capacity at the local organization, so that VISTAs eventually won’t be needed. “Right now, we’re particularly excited to recruit for AmeriCorps VISTA summer associates, a program that offers Americans the opportunity to serve on a short-term basis and expand capacity for local organizations that focus on alleviating poverty,” wrote Bruder. “Past summer VISTA summer associates have worked on projects like supporting vaccine and food distribution with [the] Michigan Community Service Commission,the state’s agency for volunteerism under the Michigan Office of the Governor. This is an ideal opportunity for college students, recent graduates, and other adults looking to build their networks and gain new skills – all while addressing the most urgent needs in their communities.”
  • The National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) enlists compensated Corps members aged 18-26 (17 in some instances) for stints of 10 months; they are deployed to parts of the country that are in current need of assistance — alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for example, to “restore communities” affected by natural disasters. NCCC also offers a “Summer of Service” that lasts 3 months.
  • Seniors aged 55 and up can volunteer through three programs, with a small stipend available to those who qualify, to serve in programs like Meals on Wheels.

Some organizations that work with AmeriCorps service members allow you to apply directly through their websites (although you’ll also find their listings on the AmeriCorps site). First you check your eligibility (i.e., for VISTA, you have to be at least 18 years old with a high school degree or GED, and you can’t have served four previous AmeriCorps terms).

One example of a program you can apply directly to is FoodCorps. FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps grantee, places and trains servicemembers in 13 states and Washington, D.C. to teach schoolkids about food in the classroom and the garden, and help school nutrition directors access healthy local, culturally relevant foods. The application deadline to work with FoodCorps is March 27 for the 2023-24 term, which lasts a year. This could be a great fit if you love working with kids, since a large part of your job will be growing food out in a school garden, giving cooking demos, and convincing kids to try new foods.

In terms of other farm to school oriented service, there are currently AmeriCorps opportunities in Wisconsin (a state not served by FoodCorps). Wisconsin’s application process is set to open in April and you can keep track of when it goes live here. This is an annual placement, although you can choose to work full- or parttime; again, it helps to like kids since that’s who you’ll be empowering to make healthy food choices as well as teaching about nutrition and related concepts.

Farm Fresh RI seeks to increase community access to local foods through farmers markets, food recovery programs, and culinary job training, as well as farm to school in the state of Rhode Island. The organization currently has listings for several full- and part-time AmeriCorps servicemembers to staff some of its programs. Check their site for deadlines, some of which are upcoming, others of which are opening on a rolling basis.

GrizzlyCorps, in California, is a newer initiative, begun in 2020. It places 35 recent-college-grad Corps members into rural communities across the state for 11 months (note that college degrees are not required for most AmeriCorps service programs). The goal: to boost climate resilience in agricultural and forest environments. Corps members work directly with farmers and ranchers to increase their knowledge of regenerative practices to improve soil health, and to help them switch up their irrigation practices; they also work with forest-related groups to boost carbon uptake and reduce fire risk. The application for GrizzlyCorps closes on March 31.

If you’re unfamiliar with AmeriCorps’ service positions, figuring out which sorts of food-related programs might be right for you will take a bit of time and patience. To start, visit AmeriCorps’ fit-finder page to get a better understanding of the programs. Then hop over to the agency’s listing portal. Here you can type in your parameters, selecting for National or State Direct or VISTA, say — you will find the most food related opportunities in those — then choosing fulltime, part-time, or summertime work; your preferred state or region; and your service areas of interest.

There’s no specific food or nutrition parameter but many of the listed “service areas” include food and nutrition related work, although you might have to fiddle around to get the results you’re looking for.

You might select service areas that include Hunger and Public Health. At this writing, that pulled up 719 results that included jobs like a Vermont-based food coordinator who assists homeless and at-risk youth with a variety of needs, like access to food. A marketing and communications position in Puerto Rico supports an organization seeking to assist with community-based economic development and hunger mitigation. Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania will expand an on-campus farm that seeks to address food security both at the university and in the surrounding community. Members of the Hunger Action Corps will work in a food bank to mitigate food insecurity.

Add Community Outreach, Children/Youth and Education to the mix and change your preferences to summer work and you’ll pull up 88 results that range from land stewardship opportunities on urban farms, to working in a mobile food pantry, to ensuring that kids get fed during summer break.

Top photo courtesy of FoodCorps.

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