GOLD HILL — The aroma of baked squash and chatter of happy volunteers filled the old home economics room at Hanby Middle School on Monday.
Surrounded by bowls, trays and pans, a half-dozen volunteers from the Gold Hill Food Share Garden cooked, mashed and baked from morning to mid-afternoon, producing pumpkin pies for a good cause.
Monday marked the third in a trio of food-preparation workshops offered by ACCESS Inc. via master food preserver and family food educator Marian Traina.
After instructing volunteers on the ins and outs of pickling, dehydrating and water-bath canning earlier this summer, Traina agreed to teach volunteers to turn leftover garden squash into holiday pies for a local mission.
The community garden at Lampman Road Baptist Church provides produce to local residents three days per week during the growing season, and last year it started giving leftovers to clients of ACCESS Food Share.
On Monday, Traina rolled up her sleeves to check steamy banana and blue hubbard squash baking in a slew of old ovens, and instructed her students on the use of various kitchen tools.
A volunteer chuckled at the use of power tools to slice some of the larger fruits. Central Point resident Kim Freer joked about her boyfriend's gift of a food dehydrator following her earlier summer sessions with Traina.
Freer and Gold Hill resident Shiela Timmons patiently scraped an endless supply of bright orange flesh from chunks of squash the size of a large cantaloupe.
Freer said she didn't learn about food preservation growing up and enjoys her newfound knowledge, given rising food costs and increasing need in her local community.
"It's been really great. It's my second year volunteering, and I've learned so much," Freer said.
"I watched my grandma can, but never learned. I've met some great people at the garden and really learned a lot. Getting to do this part of it is something I wouldn't be able to do at home because of room or because I wouldn't know how to, and it makes such a difference for our community, too."
Timmons said she was no stranger to food preparation or gardening but was enjoying her first year volunteering for the community garden.
"It's been really fun. My son is 13 and we started volunteering this past spring because it was something we had just always wanted to start doing," she said.
Timmons credited volunteer garden manager Curt Shuler with not only keeping the garden in production but with encouraging community involvement and adding food preservation classes.
"My son doesn't help me in our garden at home, but he'll volunteer in Curt's garden," she said. "It's just a really great focus. I do all this at home, but I've never done it with other people and I think it's cool to have that whole community working together."
Shuler said the partnership with ACCESS and the educational component were crucial in helping feed local residents in need, especially with national food supplies in distress and prices on the rise.
"It's working out exactly the way community gardens were intended to," said Shuler, who grew up on a Texas farm.
"We provide the maximum amount of food that can be distributed three days each week to the local community, and any excess is picked up by ACCESS, so none of it is wasted."
After a second work session today, the pies will be delivered to the Men's Gospel Mission in Medford, to volunteers from a recovery group at a local church and to a handful of volunteers who tended the half-acre garden this year.
Traina was hopeful the effort to educate garden volunteers would continue and spread to all six ACCESS gardens.
"I just think it's a really wonderful thing," Traina said. "We're teaching people to grow and to prepare their own food and to help take care of the community."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.