January 19, 2009

Sowing seeds well before the last frost

by Nate Rafn

With hard economic times and frigid temperatures comes an ever increasing need for local food security. Prices for food have taken a dramatic jump in recent months, and the ability to pay for them, in many cases, is in real jeopardy.

According to Marion-Polk Food Share (Food Share), a regional food bank who’s bold mission is to “end hunger” in Marion and Polk Counties, an average of nearly 6,000 local families currently receive food box assistance each month.


“We live in tumultuous times,” says Jordan Blake, Garden Project Manager for Food Share. “With the rise in food costs and need for emergency food assistance, and more broadly, our need for a holistic strategy to create a healthful, self-reliant and sustainable way of life, a groundswell of food consciousness is rising within communities across the globe.”
Blake, who helps orchestrate a network of 16 gardens, including the 5 acre Marion County Work Center Prison Garden, sees cooperative food production as a fundamental component of the cultural health of our community.

In-fact, recent studies indicate that active community gardens actually improve home values. On top of that, proponents suggest that a healthy communal garden space reduces family food costs, conserves resources, reduces crime, and combats global warming.

While home gardening has been a popular activity in the Willamette Valley for generations, new crops of green-thumbed food activists continue to sprout. Non-profits, neighborhood coalitions, farmers, churches, and municipalities are partnering to make fresh foods, and/or the space on which to grow them, more accessible.

Blake meets with garden project participants each month to coordinate their efforts. Important issues up for discussion in January include strengthening resource connections and building a timeline of events for 2009, a year in which a community garden fair, a series of hands-on workshops, and harvest parties are scheduled.

“We are actually moving pretty fast with things,” says Blake, who expects to be out in the gardens as early as January, dropping off loads compost, straw, and manure.

As gardeners stock up on supplies this coming spring, nurseries, garden centers, small farms, and seed companies expect sales for garden-related products to increase. According to Sloan Aagaard, owner of Teal Creek Farms, customer demand for plants and seedlings will also rise.

“People want hope after winter,” says Aagaard, noting spring’s ability to facilitate growth and rejuvenation. “People can take something home [a small vegetable plant] and nurture it.”

Farmers in the Willamette Valley use winter’s dormancy as a time for reflection on the previous growing season, and as an opportunity for planning the next. For Teal Creek Farms, cold weather provides a period for storing potatoes, and seeding onions in the greenhouse. Expanded production of tomato, pepper, herb, and squash plants is planned for the months to come.

As the winter of 2009 continues, so too will the recession. And like winter, it is part of a cycle- it comes, it goes, and before you know it, the blossoms of spring reveal themselves. By forging alliances with our neighbors around common goals, we sow the seeds of prosperity.

“Now is the time to get involved in a process that creates a unique blend of community food culture,” says Food Share’s Jordan Blake. “…we are all better off knowing that we can rely on each other as a community.”

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