When Oregon Food Bank (OFB) was looking to complete the last Community Food Assessment (CFA) for Oregon, they contacted OSU Extension Service, Union County for help in sponsoring the AmeriCorps RARE position that would complete this task. Union County Extension is a natural fit for this kind of work with programs serving the community in Field Crops, Livestock, Family & Community Health, SNAP Education, Master Gardener, 4-H and Forestry & Natural Resources. The goal of the CFA was to undertake a comprehensive inventory and capacity assessment of food system components in Union and Baker Counties to develop a better understanding of how our food is grown, marketed, and delivered to end users, in addition to the opportunities and barriers of our current system.
Tess Krampien started her AmeriCorps RARE position in September 2016. Tess established a home base at OSU Extension and then began exploring all aspects of the food system in Union & Baker Counties. The CFA is a community-based data gathering process that combines social science research methods and community organizing strategies. Tess met with producers and processors who grow and sell a range of products from vegetables to chickens, milk goats, barley malt, and a variety of meat products. She interviewed 53 people and surveyed restaurant owners, school food personnel, farmer’s market managers, public health officials, food bank managers, market owners and other community members. One highly effective technique used to gather information is to coordinate FEAST (Food Education Agriculture Solutions Together) events. FEAST is a community organizing process that brings together a variety of stakeholders and local food system experts to identify food system priorities and create a community food action plan. FEASTs facilitated by OFB and organized by community partners, were held in both Union & Baker counties and brought together about 60 people in all to discuss food system concerns.
The information gathered from the above activities identified key opportunities and resources within the community. As a result of the CFA and community partnerships that were developed several new activities are underway. Oregon Rural Action has set up a working group to explore developing a community kitchen and supporting cooking education opportunities. Two Cooking Matters for Adults programs will be offered this year in La Grande--the first for college students, and the second for parents of students participating in the Friday Backpack Program. Grants from Oregon Food Bank (OFB) and the First Presbyterian Church will help fund these classes. The Union County Local Community Advisory Council is exploring the possibility of implementing Veggie Rx program with the local hospital and clinics. In addition both communities are interested in developing gleaning programs to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables in the fall.
Results from the CFA were used to formulate a number of recommendations to help strengthen local food systems:
- Identify and promote community food system leadership in both counties
- Develop resources that facilitate information sharing
- Develop more market opportunities for local producers
- Support new and existing producers through access to farmland and loans, and opportunities to develop business and succession plans
- Increase access to local food at local markets
- Promote consumer support for local agriculture and local foods consumption
- Increase the capacity of the regional food bank and food pantries to store and distribute local products
- Improve access to healthy food, and education on health and nutrition.
Guided by the CFA OSU Extension will continue to work with partners to provide leadership for community food system work. The CFA is a valuable tool which documents our current production and marketing systems, thus providing much needed insights into the goals, opportunities and challenges of local farm businesses, farmers markets and healthy food programs.