Eastern Oregon community food systems gathering

On May 18, 70 people from nonprofit organizations, businesses, Extension Service, agencies, and others representing five eastern Oregon counties came together at the OSU Extension office in La Grande to talk about community food system development in the region. The event was organized by Oregon Food Bank and hosted by OSU Extension Service.

Community Food Systems means different things to people—so when we gathered on May 18th to talk about it, the discussion was animated. A diverse group of people representing five Eastern Oregon counties and interests – from food banks to farming, from nursing to Extension – came together to talk about food production, food security, food access and marketing. Oregon Food Bank sponsored the meeting and developed the agenda along with OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems (CSFCFS), and OSU Extension Union County. This gathering helped build relationships and partnerships between food systems advocates to improving local food systems across Eastern Oregon.

Lauren Gwin, of OSU’s CSFCFS and Sara Miller of Northeast Oregon Economic Development District introduced the 2016 Community Food Systems (CFS) Indicators Report, compiled by food systems consultant Matthew Buck. The report provides data from all 36 Oregon counties and highlights trends related to food access and insecurity, community capacity, the farm base, and market linkages. The report provides a CFS score and ranking for each county. An update on the Oregon Community Food Systems Network, a statewide collaboration that now has 44 nonprofit members across Oregon was provided.

The small group discussions that followed centered on food security and access, sourcing and distribution of agricultural products, education, and regional collaboration. Several of the local farmers markets are now accepting SNAP benefits. In addition, some markets like the La Grande Farmers Market received a grant to offer SNAP Match or “Double Up Food Bucks” which match up to $10 in EBT dollars with the equivalent in tokens to purchase fruits and vegetables.

Other ways the groups discussed to increase food security include school food pantries and Friday Backpack programs for school-aged kids. A variety of nutrition & cooking education programs for low-income families are being offered in the region including Seed to Supper, Cooking Matters, and OSU Extension SNAP Education and SNACZ programs. Garden activities to enhance food security include the Farm to School program in North Powder and Community Gardens in Joseph, La Grande, Baker City, and Ontario.

OSU Extension Union County has applied to host an AmeriCorps RARE member to conduct a Community Food Assessment (CFA) in Union & Baker counties beginning this fall. The May 18 meeting helped identify current issues and opportunities in the region that can be further explored in the upcoming CFA.

One of the interesting value-added agriculture activities in our region centers on barley. Currently the emphasis is on malt barley, but we would like to see an expansion into barley for local consumption as food. Several counties expressed an interest in developing better linkages between small- and mid-scale producers and restaurants or retailers to keep more locally grown products in the region. In addition to the CFA, the AmeriCorps RARE will be looking at ways to increase the availability of locally grown foods.

Another benefit of the CFS Gathering was that representatives from each of the counties met together to discuss existing local food system projects and partnerships in their counties as well as ways to strengthen them. Some key projects to support include Food Policy Councils, Community Food Collaboratives, and greater outreach to low-income families to ensure a healthy and consistent supply of food.

We look forward to continued conversations and a strengthening of our local, community-based food systems in Eastern Oregon as a result of this initial, successful convening.

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