Food Summit

Gathering will teach Rogue Valley residents about all things local, from produce to marketing
Free distribution of locally grown produce at Medford's Peach Street Market was one effort for improving local access to healthy food, a topic of this week's Rogue Valley Food Summit. Photo courtesy of ACCESS

Stocking convenience stores with fresh foods, funding more purchases at farmers markets and training volunteer cooking instructors are among the projects sprouting from a series of local workshops.

These and more initiatives are the bill of fare at the first Rogue Valley Food Summit, planned for 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, March 8. Open to the public, the daylong conference in Rogue River caps off a year of community effort to improve the region's food system.

If you go

What: Rogue Valley Food Summit, a conference hosted by ACCESS, Thrive and the Food System Steering Committee with funding from Ashland Food Co-op, Meyer Memorial Trust, and Jackson County Health & Human Services.

When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, March 8.

Where: New Beginnings Church, 270 W. Evans Creek Road, Rogue River.

To register: Go to www.tinyurl.com/b79dnl or call 541-618-4019. The cost is $20, which includes lunch.

"What we're presenting ... is really the vision," says organizer Hannah Ancel, community food-systems coordinator for ACCESS.

Participants will attend panel discussions about access to healthy food, local food marketing, mapping and measuring resources, cooking-skills education, food-system infrastructure and community gardening. The lecture topics emerged as top regional concerns last year in a series of workshops, dubbed FEAST (Food, Education, Agriculture Solutions Together). Since March last year, more than 400 people in 10 local towns met to evaluate the food system, set priorities and brainstorm solutions.

"We're all kind of moving toward implementation at this point," says Ancel.

The FEAST format was developed by the Oregon Food Bank to move beyond its mission of providing nutrition assistance to the poor. If regional food resources were fully utilized, so the theory goes, many residents wouldn't have to rely on food banks. Oregon counties have been hosting FEASTs and smaller Community Foods Conversations since 2009.

"They've done them all over the state at this point," says Ancel.

FEASTs aren't just producing plans that sit on agencies' shelves. Following a Community Foods Conversation last summer, a west Medford neighborhood became a one-day distribution site for free, locally grown vegetables and freshly prepared food samples. ACCESS has since worked with Jackson County Health & Human Services to obtain grants supporting "corner stores" that provide healthful foods, says Ancel.

"That's one of the most tangible," she says of efforts arising from local FEASTs.

Peach Street Market owner Nancy Murrish hosted the September event because the market's immediate vicinity was identified as a "food desert," meaning healthful, affordable food is difficult to obtain within a one-mile radius. The term often is assigned to low-income areas and indicates high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer among residents.

"This is way bigger than even the project with the Peach Street Market," says Ancel.

About 75 percent of the people ACCESS surveyed at the market received food assistance, says Ancel. Most said they wanted easier access to fresh produce and even space for their own gardens, she says. Of those who sampled a dish prepared that day by Oregon State University Extension volunteers, several told Murrish they made the recipe at home, adds Ancel.

Bringing cooking skills to the wider community has major momentum, with Ashland Food Co-op leading the charge, says Ancel. ACCESS and its partners also are looking at ways to match funds that food-assistance recipients spend at farmers markets. So far, ACCESS has received about $73,000 in foundation grants, the largest from Meyer Memorial Trust, for FEAST and related work.

The $20 fee to attend the summit includes lunch made from fresh, local ingredients.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.



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