News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Battling hunger with fresh vegetables

According to Susannah Morgan, director of the Oregon Food Banks, “our state is in the 100-year flood of hunger.” Confirmed data from Neighborhood Impact and Feeding America show the number of our neighbors in Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook county who worry about feeding their families has increased by nearly 30 percent since the onset of the pandemic. Many were already struggling to get food on the table before the pandemic hit.

The numbers have skyrocketed to nearly 40,000 families in our area who have relied on food pantries on a monthly basis in 2021. In comparison, 28,000 individuals were utilizing food pantry resources each month pre-COVID-19. Many dimensions and factors overlap and contribute to hunger; in the face of this complex issue, the nonprofit, Seed to Table Oregon (S2T), is increasing efforts to ensure that a lack of fresh foods is not a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When funds get tight, often one of the first things cut is low-calorie items, such as fresh veggies. Nutritious, organic and local produce not only contains a vast array of vitamins and minerals, but also brings a sense of community connection. Decreasing consumption of these foods can impact overall health and vitality. Local food banks and the community have done an amazing job of stepping up to support increased demands at the two local food pantries. However, local produce offerings still face various challenges due to the need for refrigeration, weekly deliveries, and quicker expiration.

The food pantries cannot simply receive a month’s worth of lettuce in one go, unlike other staple items.

Seed to Table Oregon believes access to fresh food shouldn’t be a luxury, but a right. To achieve that end, S2T staff and board are striving to fill the gap in fresh food availability by increasing on-farm cultivation and distribution programming. By ramping up efforts, S2T will be able to further support long-standing community organizations, including area food banks, schools, the Family Access Network, Deschutes Public Library-Biblioteca en Camino program and more for years to come.

“Last year we grew nearly 5,000 pounds of fresh produce which was distributed to the two area food banks — that’s a lot of salad,” said Audrey Tehan, Seed to Table Oregon’s executive director.

An additional 5,000 pounds of Sisters-grown veggies were allocated to COVID-19 relief programs and an additional 30,000 pounds nourished community members through schools, outreach, partnership programs, the Sisters Farmers Market and produce shares.

“Even with all this, there’s still a vast and increasing unmet demand in our community. The waitlist for our produce shares in 2020 was 50 families and we had to cap distribution through partnerships, despite requests, simply due to a lack of growing capacity,” said Tehan.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, S2T had been brainstorming about a farm expansion plan to address increasing demand. Once the pandemic hit, it became apparent the time to expand production was now. Support from individuals and grantmakers were key to farm expansion, including funds from the Oregon Community Foundation, Autzen Foundation, Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund, The Roundhouse Foundation, and more.

Through doubling the size of the farm plot, adding new greenhouses, and beginning to utilize mechanical cultivation techniques, the S2T team is projecting that in four years the farm’s annual output will double to nearly 100,000 pounds of fresh veggies.

“Increasing on-farm efficiency so we can focus on harvesting and getting food to our neighbors will be a key focus of our expansion,” explained Farm Manager Madeline Steen, who is in her third year of the role.

“We’re fortunate to have community support in expanding to serve our community’s local organizations, neighbors and families. We’re ready to make our biggest impact so far in access to fresh foods,” said Tehan.


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