Feature photo courtesy of the Oregon Food Bank.
Oregon farmers are doing their part to end the fight against hunger. Approximately 800,000 people in the state deal with hunger insecurity issues, or one out of every five people. Who better to help feed the hungry than those who are already growing our food?
That was the thought behind Farmers Ending Hunger, an organization founded by Fred Ziari in 2004. Since 2006, the organization has been a channel for farmers and ranchers to donate to the Oregon Food Bank. Executive Director John Burt says that Oregon farmers, ranchers and food processors have continually stepped up to the challenge when faced with hunger issues.
“Farmers understand feeding hungry people,” Burt says. “When they know there’s a hunger problem and an urgent need to address food insecurity, they help out.”
The process is simple. Producers donate a portion of their harvest. Food processors donate services, and the organization uses cash donations from individuals to help with sorting, storage, trucking and more to deliver food to the hungry.
“It really grew through word of mouth,” Burt says. “We do publicize and go to growers’ meetings, but people in the organization knew a lot of growers and connections that helped spread the cause.”
Burt says farms such as Amstad Produce in Sherwood and River Point Farms in Hermiston are some of their biggest donors, supplying thousands of pounds of potatoes and onions. “They’re giving us first-cut product, right out of the harvest,” Burt adds.
Other growers donate specific amounts of products, whether a certain number of bushels, cows for fresh hamburger, milk and more. Burt says there’s always something new and different, and they’re constantly trying to reach more growers.
Anyone can participate in the organization’s Adopt-an-Acre program, which helps fund the costs associated with handling and packaging the farmer’s crop. Options range from “adopting” one row to as much as 2 acres, which can provide fresh vegetables each day to 1,000 families of four.
“It’s so important to get the word out to the public that Oregon agriculture is giving back and feeding people in our community. They see what farmers are doing and that they want to do the right thing,” Burt says.
Last year was the organization’s most impressive yet, with 4.2 million pounds of food donated by Oregon farmers and ranchers.
Katie Pearmine, strategic sourcing manager at the Oregon Food Bank, says that farmers are such a natural fit in the fight against hunger because they’re rooted in community.
“They’re neighbors and friends who have a real vested interest in getting healthy food to folks that need it,” she says.
The Oregon Food Bank Network, which is made up of 21 regional food banks across the state and southwest Washington, serves 900,000 people per year on average. Pearmine says they are shifting the focus from collecting any and all food to strategically sourcing food that assures those facing insecurity have access to food that promotes health and wellness including produce, proteins and pantry staples.
“We’re so grateful for the generosity of the food and agriculture community,” Pearmine says. “We couldn’t do this work without them. It will take everyone to end hunger, and growers and producers are leading the way.”