On Saturday I stopped by the garden and noticed the first spinach of the season! We let it go to seed last summer so it would reseed itself, and it worked. I felt a surge of hope that spring is on its way, and ate a scrumptious leaf picked right off the vine in mid-February. What a treat!
One of my reasons for wanting to be part of a community garden is to enjoy the healthy, fresh, organic food that results. I want to share that experience with others because a) I don’t know a whole lot about gardening, so it’s great to compile everyone’s wisdom and knowledge so we can learn from one another; b) I hope that college students will take the joy of growing their own local, organic food with them into other communities and to enrich their own lives; and c) I want to bring a sense of unity to the Newberg community through bringing together the University and others in the community who would benefit from a place to grow some healthy food. I also want to promote a food system that doesn’t require us to mass-produce one crop and ship it all over the country (or world), using many fossil fuels in the process, using unhealthy pesticides and encouraging bugs to get stronger in order to survive the pesticides and feast on mono-crops.
I wondered where people in Newberg can get food if they don’t have enough, so I did a little research. As I said in my last post, it’s common to get SNAP benefits (food stamps), and these can be used at the Newberg Farmer’s Market or at some CSAs. But on the amount received from SNAP benefits, it would be difficult to buy enough organic food to feed a household for a month, and that doesn’t even take into account the ability to eat food produced locally.
For those who can afford it, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are a great option for local, organic produce, though they’re mostly only available in the warmer 20-22 weeks of the year. There are many in the area, and while the prices generally are fairly reasonable per week (ranging from $21/week at Mustard Seed Farms to $30/week at the Dundee Dirtbox), they are up-front fees, making it difficult for low-income individuals to participate. Although one could conceivably preserve a good deal of produce for the winter, the costs involved in preservation are not small. After factoring in the cost of a canner, jars, lids, canning tools, electricity and time, it is often cheaper to buy canned goods at the store—even organic ones. Drying and freezing have their own associated costs including food dehydrators, a big enough freezer and the increased cost these incur for utility bills.
Food resources for low-income Newberg residents:
- Newberg School District participates in the National School Lunch Program, which also provides free and reduced-price breakfasts to school-age children. This continues throughout the summer with free breakfasts and lunches available to all children at Edwards Elementary School, and sack lunches available at two church buildings located elsewhere in Newberg. Friday backpacks go home with kids so their family can eat over the weekend.
- Free dinners are available from Newberg churches weeknights except Tuesdays, and from a church in nearby Dundee on Tuesday nights. These weeknight meals are staffed by volunteers from the churches, who donate much of the food, and they also receive supplies from the Oregon Food Bank. Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ) coordinates these efforts, and also runs a homeless shelter for women and children. Volunteers bring home-cooked dinners to the shelter, and local churches donate supplies for bag breakfast for shelter residents.
- YCAP (Yamhill County Action Partnership). YCAP serves as Yamhill County’s distribution warehouse for supplies from the Oregon Food Bank. A third to half of the food YCAP receives comes from local individuals or groups. Some people bring in their backyard garden surplus, or intentionally plant an extra row of vegetables in order to donate the produce. She said that Farmers Ending Hunger donated 3,000 pounds of beans last year from local farms, and many other shipments of fresh (sometimes organic) produce that could not be sold to grocery stores. YCAP provides food boxes in McMinnville and distributes food donations to local partners including the churches providing weekly dinners in Newberg, and Newberg FISH. YCAP also helps to educate people about how to use the food they receive, including recipe suggestions, cooking and preservation classes, and information on how to store and prepare unusual produce.
- FISH is Newberg’s local food pantry. In addition to the food they receive from YCAP, they rely on community donations of food and funds. They use 100% of their monetary donations to buy food, unless the giver specifically designates it toward administrative costs. To keep their freezers and refrigerators running and to pay overhead, FISH volunteers collect cardboard from local businesses and individuals, selling this to Waste Management for recycling. Food boxes are available to families once each month, and the food lasts about 5-7 days (depending on family size). They serve 300-400 Newberg families each month. When FISH receives produce from local farms, clients are able to take as much as they want so it can be used while it is still fresh. Like YCAP, FISH receives donations of various sizes, from large-scale farms to backyard surplus. The produce is healthy, but it feels like feast or famine. It comes in large quantities throughout the summer but is scarce the rest of the year. Most other local donations are in the form of canned or boxed goods.
With all the services that are currently offered to hungry people in Newberg, each person and organization I spoke or wrote to during this research emphasized that there is much more need than they can fulfill. Organizing a community garden that is centrally located in the heart of Newberg and where people can receive and learn to grow organic food seems like it will help meet a very real need present in our town. As I begin thinking about what this kind of program might look like, I have several lingering questions and concerns. Will food insecure people have enough time and be willing to commit to being part of the garden for the whole season? Will there be enough buy-in from George Fox students to make this truly a piece of the educational portion of their college experience? Will there be enough interested individuals and families? Will there be too many?
Then there are the personal questions and doubts: Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I am not a master gardener—what if there isn’t enough food to make it worth people’s time? Will I be able to foster a community where each person is valued, or will there always be a division between the benevolent “servants” and those who are being “served”? Will all the pieces come together in a way that is worth my time and effort and that will truly meet a need in the Newberg community?
I’m excited to start working on this, too. I have seven interns working with me this semester, social work majors with a heart for helping those in need and for nurturing the Earth. I am grateful to know of all the good work that is already happening in Newberg, and to know there are resources throughout this town and county with whom I am building a network to support me when I’m stuck or feeling overwhelmed. I’m hopeful that the Newberg community will come around this endeavor and support it with supplies and tools. Overall, I’m looking forward to watching seeds become shoots, shoots grow into plants and produce buds, buds form into fruits and vegetables that nurture myself, my family and my community. I look forward to similar growth happening in relationships, built around time spent digging in the dirt, planting, weeding, harvesting and eating.