Living in a land of plenty, Oregonians have access to some of the freshest and most delicious foods in the nation.
To help consumers take advantage of those foods, several organizations within the state are providing not only access, but education as well, showing people how to cook and enjoy fresh Oregon products.
Zenger Farm is a 24-acre nonprofit farm and wetland in Portland helping consumers create a direct connection with their food. The farm grows more than 150 varieties of vegetables, with new ones each year.
“Since 1999, Zenger Farm has been teaching people where good, healthy food comes from, how it’s grown and the importance of eating it every day,” says Maya Edelstein, development and communications manager for Zenger Farm. “Our goal is to be a place where communities come together to find access to nourishing food, connect with resources, participate in food and farming education, and teach, learn, and share.”
One of the most successful ways the farm puts that mission into action is through its CSA program, or Community Supported Agriculture. Founded in 2011, the CSA program provides access to fresh, organic vegetables, which can be paid for with SNAP benefits. Each subscriber to the farm’s CSA receives a share of seasonal vegetables that were grown on the farm and harvested that day.
Bryan Allan, a farmer at Zenger, says in 2015, the farm partnered with Multnomah County Health Department’s Mid County Health Center, about 2 miles away, to create CSA Partnerships for Health. The program offers a solution to prevent and manage chronic diseases with fresh, healthy foods. In 2018, Zenger Farm will provide 22 weeks of vegetables to over 150 families.
The farm also knows that providing the food is just the beginning – consumers need to know what to do with it, too.
“We really concentrate on cooking skills, so members can cook what they have on hand,” Allan says. “We created a CSA Skills Sheet on how to store vegetables, how to stir fry, make quick pickles, grill vegetables and so on.”
He adds that the farm offers a range of programs along with its CSA about where food grows and how to cook it.
Oregon State University’s Lauren Tobey wants all Oregonians to have easy access to fresh food and resources on food preparation. As the statewide coordinator for Food Hero, a social marketing campaign funded by Oregon SNAP-Ed, Tobey works with her team to increase fruit and vegetable consumption – with an ultimate goal of helping to decrease obesity. An important component of the campaign is the Food Hero website, which provides tasty, quick and low-cost recipes featuring healthy ingredients, especially local produce. Each month, the campaign highlights a key ingredient in the Food Hero Monthly publication, which can be found on the website, offering tips on how to purchase, store and cook the ingredient, and how kids can help. The heart of the campaign is the nearly 150 educators covering all Oregon counties who promote these resources and more on the ground.
“We connect with Oregon families almost daily,” Tobey says, “to learn more about how fruits and vegetables fit into their lives. Every decision Food Hero makes is informed by research with parents and kids who tell us what resources they need to choose healthy foods.” The program also works with commodity groups and a broad network of statewide and community organizations. “We have an expansive community toolkit on the website, and educators and partners really draw on that,” Tobey says. “We’re on the ground in schools, grocery stores, food pantries, churches and more.”
Michelle Ratcliffe, Ph.D., of Rootopia is also on a mission to make healthy eating easy for kids. Dr. Ratcliffe has worked on farms, big and small, for more than 20 years, and researched ways to make it easier for food to get from field to table and advocated for policies to do just that. In creating Rootopia, a website filled with recipes, activities, blogs and more centered on healthy eating, Dr. Ratcliffe combines education and entertainment to change the story of how we eat, grow and cook together.
“Through Rootopia, we promote all Oregon producers and processors,” Dr. Ratcliffe says. “It’s less about ‘fresh’ and ‘distance’ and more about an authentic relationship with knowing the people and place that brings you your food and fiber.”
Visitors to the site can find tips on how to engage kids in choosing healthy foods (“Reach for a Rainbow”), helping in the garden and cooking together.