— Gaye Lee Russell, EDN
Households throughout our community are struggling to make ends meet with rising food costs and a shaky economy. With one in three Lane County residents being eligible for emergency food assistance, it has become increasingly important to develop and be involved with alternative community resources and community organizations to create, distribute and maintain nutritional stability for those in need. Gardening and home food preservation including canning, drying and freezing are also healthy ways for individuals and families to stretch food dollars while raising their awareness of the nutritional and organic content of what is being eaten.
The Willamette Valley hosts a lush and fertile growing environment to create the resources needed to help fill the gaps of our growing nutritional needs, but it takes community volunteerism and awareness to keep them thriving. There are several community organizations that are utilizing grass-roots efforts to grow vegetables and fruit, maintain the gardens, harvest and distribute, and most import to teach sustainable living and nutrition to those who are interested. There are many ways to become involved and there are a number of interesting agricultural programs in Eugene. Whether your interest is hands on gardening, food preparation, harvesting, food preservation, food safety awareness, nutrition education or teaching others your valuable skills, there is a niche for interested volunteers and learners.
Food For Lane County heralds three gardens in the Eugene area. The Grassroots Garden on Coburg Road, The Youth Farm in Springfield and The Churchill Garden all provide on-site gardening opportunities and workshops while growing fresh organic produce for distribution through the Food For Lane County network. Yearly, hundreds of volunteers and garden staff harvest over 160,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce from the three area gardens. Approximately 100,000 pounds of this food is distributed to low-income households through the Food For Lane County Network, the remaining 60,000 pounds are sold through a youth-run farm stand and a community supported agricultural program. The gardens are providing a much needed resource for community education and involvement for kindergartners to adults to learn about gardening, hunger issues, food preservation and community cooperation. More information about volunteer participation and garden hours is available at [email protected] or by calling 541-343-2822.
The Eugene Area Gleaners are another group that utilizes cooperative involvement to harvest and distribute food for it’s members and for Food For Lane County networks. A “Gleaner” is a person who will collect leftover crops from farmers fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Gleaning is is a great way to add to your own pantry while helping the community as well. The Gleaners are a valuable resource for people that are interested in canning and preserving food without spending a great deal of money on produce while also sharing with others in need. Many local gardeners and organic farmers also contact and invite The Eugene Area Gleaners to pick their over abundance of fruit, nuts and vegetables throughout the growing and harvesting season. The Eugene Area gleaners can be contacted at [email protected] for further information about gleaning programs and becoming a member.
An accessible, valuable agricultural information resource in Lane County is The Oregon State University Extension Service for Lane County. They offer a wide range of programs such as food safety, master food preservation, home gardening, nutrition education, farming and online educational resources. The OSU extension office in Eugene can be contacted at 541-344-5859. The Nutrition Education Program can be reached at 541-344-0249 and The Master Food Preserver Program at 541-344-4885. The extension service can be found on-line at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/
It has become increasingly important to raise community awareness of the overall advantage of sustainable food cooperative networks and to maintain a common sense local agricultural dialogue. In Eugene organic gardening is stressed and practiced widely in our community garden programs. Many of the local produce growers selling their produce to local restaurants and indoor and outdoor markets are organic farmers. With an increase of imported produce and a decrease in environmental checks and balances, the bulk of the produce occupying our major grocery outlets may not live up to healthy ingestible standards for safe human consumption. Supporting and purchasing locally grown produce also keeps your dollars in this community. You can learn more about the origins of food that you consume at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/global-grocer/
The Food For Lane County Gardens, The Oregon State University Lane County Extension Program and The Eugene Gleaners are just a few ways of becoming involved and aware of the options for nutritional choices both personally and within our communities. Your interest and involvement can also assist the Eugene community by learning and informing others about the cooperative benefits of gardening, teaching, preserving food and sharing our local bounty with less fortunate persons and families. These are win-win organizations that are doing their part to make our Eugene community a better place to live, work and raise families. They will continue to prosper with the participation and awareness of volunteers and interested learners.