ACCESS

Philip YatesPhilip Yates at ACCESS is the Nutrition Programs Director at ACCESS, a nonprofit located in Medford, Oregon. Yates has worked for the food program for 23 years.  “In all those 23 years, every single year, we’ve experienced an increase in need.” According to Yates, there are approximately 30,000 people in Jackson County who live below the federal poverty line.  Yates estimates that ACCESS serves approximately 25,000 of those individuals annually.  Philip explained how the high cost of housing affects resident’s food budgets, stating, “The high cost of housing is a huge thing in Jackson County. It has become a place where people want to retire so the housing rates have gone up and it’s very expensive for people to live. People in poverty are finding that they are paying fifty to seventy percent of their income on housing alone. So, we are looking at fifty to thirty percent left of their income to pay utilities and everything else…. Food insecurity is certainly a problem here.”

Currently, ACCESS host’s twenty-five food pantries throughout Jackson County. Individuals who utilize ACCESS’s food pantries are assigned to a pantry closest to their home and are allowed to go to the pantry twelve times in a twelve-month period. Yates explained that patrons receive a five-day supply of food but notes, “Often, that’s not enough.  In fact, in the last two or three years we’ve begun to take on more partner agencies, more nonprofits, that maybe can’t provide a five day supply but could provide some extra food for maybe one day or two days.”

In addition to food pantries, ACCESS has other programs that aim to reduce hunger in Jackson County.  One such program is their food share gardens, which began in 2010. Three garden sites were donated to ACCESS and were staffed with volunteers from each community. In their first year, the gardens produced 24,000 pounds of food. In 2014 ACCESS hosted six gardens that produced 62,000 pounds of food. Food from the gardens is distributed first to the community in which each garden resides; any excess food is distributed throughout the Jackson County.

Other programs are designed to address specific community needs. One example of this is ACCESS’ Cooking Skills Education demonstrations.  The Cooking Skills Education demonstrations were started after a 2013 study identified a need in the community for people to learn and build cooking skills in short repetitive experiences. During a Cooking Skills demo, volunteers teach local residents basic cooking skills that can be applied to a simple, nutritious, affordable recipe, often featuring  local whole-foods. The demos are conducted at food pantries, grocery stores, and Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Markets.

Other programs include the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which works to get nutritious food into local corner stores, and also partners with local schools that have a high rate of free and reduced school meals. Yates explained, “In Medford we are partnering with Jackson, Roosevelt and Kids Unlimited Academy elementary schools. We have fresh produce going to them every single week… distribution is done when parents are picking up kids.” Yates estimates that they distribute 1500-2000 pounds a week to the schools.

ACCESS’s food programs have changed in the last few years. Yates explained, “What’s really changed over the years that I’ve been food banking is there’s been a case of us looking more at providing more nutritious food because stats show that chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are growing all across the country and in particular here in Jackson County.”  Programs such as the Food Share Gardens and the Cooking Skills Education Demonstrations aim to provide residents with healthy food and the skills needed to prepare it.

ACCESS programs are mainly volunteer-run. To find out more about their programs, or to volunteer, visit their website at accesshelps.org.

 

Siskiyou Sustainable Coop

Siskiyou Sustainable Coop

CSAThe Siskiyou Sustainable Coop has been serving the Rogue Valley for thirteen years. There are eight farms in the Coop: Seven Seeds Farm, Dancing Bear Farm, White Oak Farm, Sun Spirit Farm, Wandering Fields, Barking Moon Farm, L & R Family Farm, and Wolf Gulch Farm. All of the farms products are certified organic.

Tom and Maud Powell are the directors of the Siskiyou Coop. Maud works directly with Coop members. She explains, “I really enjoy interacting with people and helping them figure out what size box they want and if it’s right for them.” Throughout the season Maud sends the members recipes and helps them figure out new ways to cook the food that they receive in the CSA share.

Running the Siskiyou Sustainable Coop involves a lot of coordinating and organization, which is overseen by Tom Powell. “We have eight farms that are all growing for one CSA so there’s a lot of planning that goes into it, like figuring out who is going to grow what and when because we want the boxes to be filled out and to be diverse,” explains Maud. Although Maud and Tom take on the role of coordinators, the cooperative makes all of its decisions as a group. In order to fill their boxes and get them ready for delivery, members of each farm meet at a central location once week to prepare the boxes and drop off their products. The shares are then dropped off at several pick-up locations throughout the Rogue Valley.

The Coop has grown in size over the years. According to Maud, they had about sixty members in their first year. They currently have two hundred and fifty members. Their growth, aside from the quality of the product, is due in part to their Workplace Partnerships program. The Workplace Partnerships is a program in which the Siskiyou Coop partners up with local businesses and offers their employees a discount on CSA membership. So far, the Coop has partnered with Lithia, Asante, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. To learn more about The Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative visit http://www.siskiyoucoop.com.

 

Tom Marks, Organic Produce Warehouse

tom marksTom Marks, founder of Organic Produce Warehouse, has been involved in many different roles in the food system. “I have been a farmer, I have opened two restaurants, I have been a produce manager, and I’ve worked in natural health food stores,” explains Marks.  About ten years ago Marks was working for another company, selling produce. His boss at the time offered to pay him in money, or in fruits and vegetables; Marks chose the later and began opening his own accounts.

From there on out, “One thing led to another and I realized that we didn’t have a local organic food facility, and that most of the organic produce being sold in the area was going through distribution sites in Portland and Seattle and then coming back to us on a truck everyday.” This process “seemed absurd” to Marks, and he decided he “Wanted to provide an opportunity for people to support local business and get their organic produce locally.” As a result, Organic Produce Warehouse was opened.

The goal of Organic Produce Warehouse, according to Marks, is to “Provide the infrastructure needed to have a thriving food system. In order for us to have food security we need to have healthy food businesses and in order to have healthy food businesses you need an advocate, you need someone in the food business who is going to help you succeed.” OPW strives to be that advocate. They work hard to connect with local businesses and consumers alike.  In addition to selling products grown or made by local people, they also keep community needs in mind. Currently, they are exploring the possibility of opening up a shared use / incubator kitchen.

If consumers in the Rogue Valley want to know which items are supplied by Organic Produce Warehouse, Marks suggests a simple method: Just ask. Produce managers will be able to tell you which products come from Organic Produce Warehouse. To find out more about Organic Produce Warehouse, visit http://opwfresh.com.