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Organic squash creates a bountiful harvest for ACCESS

It's not quite Thanksgiving, but you wouldn't have known it Saturday morning in the kitchen of the Olsrud Family Nutrition Center in Medford.

More than 30 ACCESS volunteers spent the day scooping seeds from winter squash trucked in by Wandering Fields Farm owner Ben Yohai, who plans to sell the seed to other organic farmers. 

In return, the organization got to keep the more than 5,000 pounds of  leftover squash.

Philip Yates, nutrition programs director for ACCESS, said Yohai first approached him a two weeks ago with the idea, asking if ACCESS would be interested in the squash if volunteers could help scoop the seeds for market.

"He wanted to know if we could do that process," Yates said. "We'd done this kind of project a few years ago, but not the saving the seeds part of it."

Yohai said there's an endless demand for organic seed crops.

"A lot of organic farmers are mandated by their certifiers to use organic seed," Yohai said. "But there's not a lot of breeding work that's been done to maintain open-pollinated varieties. Not all seed crops are equal, some are challenging to pull off, but they're all very much worthwhile."

Once the squash were sliced open and the seeds removed, volunteers loaded them onto trays to bake in the center's commercial-grade ovens. The cooked squash was then mashed and packed into freezer bags for distribution at ACCESS food banks.

"The freezer bags, on the outside, will have two recipes, two basic recipes to use," Yates said. 

Organic produce is nothing new for ACCESS, which operates a network of 24 food pantries throughout Jackson County.

"We have five of what we call food-share gardens, and all of them are organic," Yates said. "Probably 100,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables come through our doors (a year)  in some way or another," 

The organization tries to maintain a network of volunteers capable of teaching cooking with whole foods.  "About 70 volunteers have been trained," he said.

Yates said the next training for demonstration volunteers will be held in December, and anyone interested should call 541-690-3989 for more information.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Ben Yohai, who operates Wondering Fields Farms in the Applegate, helps process squash that he donated to ACCESS in Medford in exchange for a little elbow grease from some volunteers. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Johnnie Kyzer, a volunteer with ACCESS, helps process squash at the Olsrud Family Nutrition Center in Medford Saturday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch