June 20, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Encircle Films: How can we support local food security?

9 min read
Local farmers talked about the challenges of wearing gas masks during the peak harvest season when the Air Quality Index tops 300, or even 500.

DJ Suss D: A coalition of food distribution organizations spoke at the November 2023 Encircle Films screening.

Melissa Fery: Hi, I’m Melissa Fery with Oregon State University Extension Service. In Lane County, we have our office here on 10th and Jefferson. And we are the local arm of Oregon State University, and we work with our community all around a bunch of different topics, including youth development, gardening, community family health forestry, and in my realm, I work with agriculture production and small farms, specifically.

[00:00:36] Kara Smith: Hello, I’m Kara Smith. I am the food resource developer at Food for Lane County. We are one of 20 regional food banks across the state of Oregon. And we’re sort of the central collection, food donation collection, solicitation, and distribution hub for about 150 organizations across Lane County who are helping our friends and neighbors in need.

[00:01:00] DJ Suss D: The farm bill is all encompassing. Everything affects farmers. Encircle Films board member and web and media marketing manager Eric Schiff asked what people can do to support food security.

[00:01:13] Genevieve Schaack: Hi, I am Gen Schaack. I’m the executive director of Willamette Farm and Food Coalition and we work in the areas of access awareness and agency in the local food system. So we try to let people know what’s out there and help them connect with it.

[00:01:31] I think one of the biggest challenges in food systems in general is that subsidies happen at some level all the time. And Big Ag has subsidies and that’s where they lie right now.

[00:01:43] And what a lot of the people on the stage right now are working towards is maybe a little bit of redistribution and support at lower levels. So, like, our program like Double Up Food Bucks, in which people who are on SNAP or food stamps can go to the farmer’s market and pay $20, but they get $20 free in fresh fruit and vegetables. Those kind of things to sort of subsidize and amplify efforts instead of being in the position of putting, you know, millions of dollars in subsidies towards crops insurance and unhealthy food. So I think, yeah, redistribution of where money goes and keeping equity in mind when we make those decisions is one of the biggest challenges.

[00:02:23] One of the biggest successes is the Farm-To-School work that’s been going on. School districts, large and small, are making moves, recognizing the improved health outcomes of better food in schools, the fact that if we feed kids, they do better in school and kids who do better in school, then are better members of our community.

[00:02:44] It’s a whole thing. It’s really great. And then ways people can get involved: I would say volunteer with Jen (Denson) or Food for Lane County. They’re great, you know, boots on the ground, but also affecting systems change in ways that are really meaningful.

[00:02:58] Check out the platforms of the Native Farm Bill Coalition and the National Young Farmers Association. They have some really good things that they’re moving forward. And they just extended the farm bill for another year.

[00:03:09] So we actually do have a year to do some advocacy. And the farm bill is very important because it is where SNAP and food stamps are housed. It is where a lot of the funding for climate smart agriculture is now coming from. So it is a very broad landscape. But we do have another year. And those would be the folks I would say to check out their platforms and advocate with your local legislator to support those.

[00:03:36] I was able to do a little bit of food rescue, because of connections with farmers and firefighters and the Red Cross. And so I was able to bring several hundred pounds of food to the evacuees at the Lane Events Center. But there also needs to be, like, I need someone to give me $25,000 that’s not on a grant cycle, so hopefully I don’t have to spend it on this; that I’m not going to lose this funding because of the way grant funding works.

[00:04:03] But so that way, every single time that this might happen, that I can have a system in place to go rescue that produce from the farmers and take it to the people who have evacuated their homes and actually really want a salad. They really do.

[00:04:21] And there’s ways to build these systems.

[00:04:23] Jennifer Denson: I’m Jennifer Denson, executive director of Burrito Brigade. We’re a unique organization. Hunger Relief is our newest model. We make 700 burritos every weekend. Then we run a free pantry Monday through Friday. And then we facilitate the 52 Little Free Pantries around Eugene and Springfield.

[00:04:45] We started our free pantry in March of 2020, we work in collaboration with Food for Lane County, I would like to say, because we do things in between that, the things that they can’t do, we do. So we pick up food that can’t be used immediately and we re-portion it. We were fortunate to get our own building. I guess the biggest challenge of this last year was we got our own building at 6th and Chambers. And so we rebuilt the kitchen for it to be a commercial kitchen.

[00:05:15] But then the point is, that there is so much food waste, even with the stuff that Food For Lane County doesn’t pick up that we are picking up. As of last week, we had picked up 190 tons of food through our organization that was just not what Food For Lane County can pick up.

[00:05:35] So because we are this little, like, ally, I want to say, with Food For Lane County, that we pick up things that they can’t pick up. And we pick up restaurant food and then we re-portion it and we get it to the unhoused or we incorporate it into our burritos or we put it in our food pantry,

[00:05:53] There’s so much food waste. And, just tonight I was offered a few pounds of imperfect garlic, something bruised, like a bruised apple. We will give away boxes of bruised apples because people will either turn it into sauce for their kids for the winter or turn it into juice. The fact that something is ugly does not mean it’s not edible.

[00:06:16] Shelley Schuler: My name is Shelley Schuler. I primarily—I’m a farmer and a food artisan with Moondog’s Farm. We grow tree fruits and vegetables and we do a lot of value-added processing of our products. You’ll see us at the Lane County Farmer’s Market on Saturdays as well.

[00:06:34] And additionally, I founded Lane County Bounty in 2020 as a local food delivery service to fill the gap when restaurants and farmer’s markets closed.

[00:06:45] We’re still in operation delivering local food primarily grown by small farms and looking to expand our food-hubbing activities and looking for more ways to support small farm businesses to be successful.

[00:07:01] Government spends a lot of money subsidizing large-scale farming. We’re not going to run out of soybeans or commodity corn. But what we really need to support is fresh, nutritious, organic, or sustainably-raised produce. We think that small farmers, in order to stay in business, stay afloat, doing what they love to do, which is feed the community, we need a lot of help.

[00:07:29] We need subsidies on the small scale. We need access to better infrastructure and services that can, in community organizations, that can pull in government funding that we as maybe for-profit businesses would have a harder time accessing. So, Food for Lane County was one of my biggest customers in 2020.

[00:07:55] You got so much funding to buy local food and redirect that into the community. So, we miscalculated how many hakurei turnips our customers would buy. By a lot. Like, a lot. And, like, every day you don’t harvest them, they just get a little bit bigger. And bok choy as well. We had a massive amount of bok choy. It’s really easy to grow, really hard to sell.

[00:08:19] So, I was so grateful that we connected and I was able to box up hundreds of pounds of produce. And instead of composting that or attempting to feed it all to my chickens (which wouldn’t have worked) I was able to put money in my bank account. I was able to support my staff members. I was able to continue farming.

[00:08:40] So, I also want to say that there’s two conversations sometimes in separate circles. There’s food access and making food affordable for everybody, especially our poorest community members. And the burden of finding a price that those folks can pay for should not fall on farmers.

[00:09:02] We should not be asking sustainable small farmers to lower their prices because you’re just asking them to just back right out of business.

[00:09:10] The added challenge of needing to farm in (poor) AQI (air quality index) that will impact your long-term health: I don’t know if it will shave days or months or years off of our lives if we decide to do eight hours of labor in AQI over 300 or 500.

[00:09:30] But we do that and that’s how dedicated we are. So it has just added an additional challenge and an additional physical impact.

[00:09:38] My farm was a mile and a half away from the edge of the Holiday Farm Fire and we were in Marcola. So, Upriver Organics (or formerly Rednecks), they were, they almost burned. And those community members who live on that farm needed to flee in the middle of the night.

[00:09:56] We were luckier than that. But we were still pretty worried and we needed to evacuate for we were in like the red level for about a week and a half or something. Mid—this is like peak harvest season.

[00:10:12] We had the most produce out there and going to the farm in a gas mask to check on the chickens and looking at the climax of our productivity sitting on the vines, and making the personal choice to not put myself through the impact of working that harvest season, it was really challenging, it was really very hard. And it’s become a regular thing.

[00:10:40] Not to mention the farmer’s markets themselves. People are not going to go down to purchase our stuff, and those are some of the most important markets for farmers. That August market with melons and the tomatoes is where we make up for some of our slower shoulder-season days. So it’s really critical.

[00:10:58] Carly Boyer: Hello, I’m Carly Boyer, and I’m a program manager for Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, also known as ORCAN. I’m also a land advocacy fellow for National Young Farmer Coalition.

[00:11:12] To tell you a little bit more about ORCAN, we’re focused on soil health, and we do that through partner relationships with state, federal, nonprofit, for-profit organizations that serve farmers. So this is technical service providers, farm service providers, and we collaborate to help farmers and ranchers on the ground to get both resources and to advocate for them through policy in Oregon legislature.

[00:11:40] We don’t quite know what major issues we’re going to be pushing for the next session, but generally to support farmers, I would recommend looking to Friends of Family Farmers. They’re always really right on the pulse and they really help us to get a lot of things passed that are super critical.

[00:11:58] You can check them out. I could, I don’t know that I could accurately exactly say all the things that they did in the last session, but they accomplished a lot. They did. They got a lot. They stopped CAFO (confined animal feeding operations) and then also, like, milk, there was like a raw milk one that they got passed. The farm direct stuff.

[00:12:17] Yeah, there, there are huge advocates for small farmers across the board. Also there’s probably going to be some significant more nitty-gritty details on how money gets moved to fund farmers. And that can be a little harder to navigate.

[00:12:33] Distributing money to farmers to purchase land: That’s a federal program and it would be an annual fund, which is right connected to another bill that was passed last year that was $100 million of one-time (funding) for land access. And this is just asking for it to be a permanent program that is funded annually to keep distributing money out for young farmers.

[00:13:00] So that’s a really big one and we’re pushing a lot for that right now. And I’m really hoping that that gets passed.

[00:13:06] You can always follow ORCAN, my organization, because we do share about some of the particulars, just like, kind of the fine-tune details. And ORCAN is Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network.

[00:13:18] DJ Suss D: For KEPW News, I’m DJ Suss D.

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