Shop local food online, support local food bank

I count myself fortunate that my job allows — sometimes facilitates — weekly trips to local growers markets.

That’s because I’m privy to grumblings from co-workers who live in Medford but can’t squeeze in a visit to the Armory between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Thursdays, make a pit-stop at Hillcrest Orchards on Friday evenings or forgo Saturday-morning pursuits in favor of browsing the one at McAndrews Marketplace, soon to move to Bear Creek Plaza.

So the advent of an online farmers’ market, covered in this week’s A la Carte, is happy news for the ranks of would-be shoppers chained to computers all week. A point to clarify in regards to today’s story: Orders can be placed up to a week ahead of time and actually two days prior, but pick-up is still just once a week.

Whether customers actually purchase goods they must pick up themselves remains to be seen. The market’s nonprofit status may make all the difference in its viability, but as organizer Wendy Siporen stated, it has to break even.

It may seem strange that an endeavor like this could operate on a nonprofit basis. As the story stated, Rogue Valley Local Foods is overseen by THRIVE, a nonprofit economic-development and advocacy group. It’s also part of a larger educational effort by THRIVE and Oregon State University Extension in their joint Farmer Incubator program. Plus, as the story only touched on, the project is intended to garner donations for local food pantries.

As I understand, the donations come from two sources. Customers can choose — after purchasing their goods online and proceeding to check-out — to tack on a food donation, added to their total bill. Rogue Valley Local Foods, through THRIVE, also has $10,000 in grant funding to pay farmers for their surplus produce, which then is donated to ACCESS Inc., Jackson County’s emergency food bank.

It’s part of a larger effort for ACCESS to secure truly local sources for food, one that started within the past few years at community gardens tended by volunteers. This year, those gardens are expected to produce 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food apiece on just a quarter acre, says Philip Yates, the organization’s nutrition programs director.

While organic and local produce does cost more to procure for food pantries — meaning it doesn’t maximize the pound-per-dollar ratio — compared with some other sources, it hands-down maximizes flavor and nutrition for ACCESS clients. Plus, as Yates points out, the chances of a recall are slim to none.

“I know that the food grown locally … is going to provide more nutrition,” he says. “The last two years, there have been more food recalls than ever before — I find that hard to trust.

“We have got to do something different because we are losing resources,” he adds, referring to traditional supply lines, such as reclamation from grocery stores.

If you have a donation in mind, rest assured it won’t go to waste. ACCESS surveys, says Yates, show clients want fresh produce, even if they’re not well-versed in cooking it, a shortcoming ACCESS is trying to overcome with help from the Extension.

Since last fall, Extension Family Food Educators have been giving cooking demonstrations for fresh produce at local food pantries and providing take-away recipes, says OSU associate professor Sharon Johnson. The Extension then created a video of the demonstrations to be released upon approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is funding a related, statewide nutrition-education program, she adds.

“They don’t know how to cut some of the produce they get; they don’t know how to store it,” says Johnson of some food-pantry clients.

“People taste something, and they get a really easy-to-read recipe and then they can go get all the ingredients in the pantry.”

Those USDA-approved recipes are accessible through OSU’s Healthy Recipes website. Stay tuned for more recipes, like the ones in today’s food section, on Rogue Valley Local Foods’ site courtesy of manager Kristen Lyon.

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