Edible Corvallis Initiative: Grows Vegetables and Community

You’ve probably run across an aspect of the Edible Corvallis Initiative—after all, there’s a lot to it. The program is responsible for everything from Corvallis’ community gardens to beekeeping workshops, the SAGE Garden, and the Farm-to-School program. It’s hard to believe the program only launched in 2008.

A creation of the Corvallis Environmental Center, the program grew out of a garden program for at-risk youth. In 2008, the program reorganized and expanded.

Beyond the program’s community gardens at Dunawi Creek and Avery Park, one major aspect is the Starker Arts Garden for Education, or SAGE Garden. It’s an “educational production” garden, about an acre in size. All the produce that’s grown goes to hunger relief agencies in Corvallis. Each year, more than 600 community volunteers visit the garden to help out with the daily work of planting, weeding, watering, and other tasks. The results: fresh veggies, lots of them, for the South Corvallis Food Bank and Corvallis Stone Soup.

“Last year they grew about 8,000 pounds of produce,” said Jen Brown, director of the Edible Corvallis Initiative.

The program hosts tastings at the food bank so people know what to expect of the veggies they see on the shelves.

The other half of the equation is education: youth summer camps, a sustainable agriculture internship program, and programs for anyone in the community who’s interested. It’s offered basic beekeeping, composting, and seed-saving in the past; organic gardening for beginners is on the list of future offerings.

“Our goals are to educate our community about food issues and increase the amount of locally, sustainably produced food in this community, and to model agricultural practices that sustain the environment,” Brown said.

The Edible Corvallis Initiative is a nexus for local organizations such as the Ten Rivers Food Web interested in helping low-income families or just learning about sustainable food practices. Businesses such as Hewlett-Packard bring in employees for monthly work parties in the year-round SAGE Garden. Elementary school students on field trips, homeschooled students, retirees, OSU students, and individuals who just want to learn about gardening and farming also lend a hand.

“We’re really involved with other organizations,” Brown emphasized. “We have companies that come out and do work days or service days, or faith-based groups will come.”

Every Tuesday, the SAGE Garden hosts open work parties—anyone is welcome to stop by, grab a pair of gloves or a shovel, and pitch in with weeding, planting, or harvesting.

“It’s been really expanding over the last four years,” said Brown. “Anybody’s welcome to help us out. Some people come out every week because they just love doing it.”

Thanks to a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Edible Corvallis Initiative has held its Farm to School program in the Corvallis public school system since 2008. All of the elementary schools and middle schools in the district host monthly tasting tables, where more than 4,000 kids sample fresh produce from local farms. That month’s featured fruit or vegetable becomes an option on the school menu until the next tasting.

“This year, it’s expanding out to Monroe and Philomath schools,” Brown noted.

Run by five paid, part-time staff, several AmeriCorp members, and a vast array of volunteers, the Edible Corvallis Initiative is a program of the Corvallis Environmental Center. Show up on Tuesdays between 4 p.m. and dusk to lend a hand to the SAGE Garden. For more information, visit www.corvallisenvironmentalcenter.org.


Supper at SAGE Sept. 15

The Edible Corvallis Initiative hosts its second annual benefit dinner on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the SAGE Garden, SW 45th Place and Country Club Drive. The evening features appetizers by Fireworks, artisan pizzas from a cob oven, and tastings by 2 Towns Ciderhouse, Full Circle Creamery, and Red Hat Melons—plus garden tours, music, and an outdoor art gallery featuring local artist Rebecca Waterhouse. A four-course dinner rounds out the night, prepared by Chef JC Mersmann of Gathering Together Farm and other local food artisans. Tickets are $60, available through www.brownpapertickets.com or at the Corvallis Environmental Center’s downtown office: 214 SW Monroe Avenue; 541-753-9311. Proceeds benefit the Starker Arts Garden for Education and the Corvallis Farm to School programs.


By Jen Matteis



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