Back in 2005, Oregon was No. 1 in the entire U.S. for food insecurity, with a whopping 25% of the population consuming less than one meal every day.
After learning about these statistics in a meeting with Oregon Food Bank, Fred Ziari, a farmer from Hermiston, was shocked, and decided to do something about it. It made the most sense to him to approach the problem from the most obvious angle, get food for the hungry. So, he met with several of his friends who were farmers, and with his friend Jim Youde of Vancouver, Washington founded Farmers Ending Hunger in 2006.
The goal, both then and now, according to Executive Director John Burt, “is to increase the amount of high-quality food delivered to the Oregon Food Bank Network through a partnership of farmers, ranchers, food processors, Oregon Food Bank and the public.”
Today, according to Oregon Food Bank’s website, the rate of food insecurity (being without access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutrition food) in Oregon is 14.6%. This accounts for 552,900 Oregonians, of which 194,070 are children. Farmers Ending Hunger is working hard to change that number.
“Long term we would like to work ourselves out of a job and end hunger,” Burt said.
Farmers Ending Hunger starts with Oregon farmers who are already raising large quantities of produce, grains, and cattle. These farmers each donate a small amount of their product, simply one or two acres, which, when compiled, makes up thousands of tons of fresh product ready for donation.
Next, a team of processing facilities process the food into products that can be distributed by Oregon Food Bank’s network of local facilities. Most of the fresh crops need to be processed into versions that are shelf safe so that they don’t expire before they get into the hands of the hungry.
The program’s first donation was 173,000 pounds of frozen peas, but as of this year, they have donated over 30 million pounds of food products.
“Our leading food commodities are potatoes, onions, fresh cherries, wheat for baking mix, cattle for hamburger, hazelnuts, and vegetables,” Burt said.
Locally, Farmers Ending Hunger partners with Linn Benton Food Share to help support the local community. Burt says that there used to be some vegetable growers in the program from Corvallis, but unfortunately, they were not able to continue working with the program after the closing of Norpac.
Farmers can get involved in the program, with any type of food crop, by contacting Farmers Ending Hunger. The organization will work out how to get the crop into the Oregon Food Bank Network, and often are able to cover the cost of processing as well. Not only can farmers donate to this program, but the public can as well, through the “Adopt an Acre” Program.
“Adopt an Acre” allows the public to donate anywhere from $25 to “adopt a row” which feeds 190 families of four whole grains for one day, to $500 to “Adopt 2 Acres” which feeds 1,000 families of four fresh vegetables for one day. These donations also help to cover any “additional costs associated with processing, packaging and transportation,” explains Burt.
Fundraising has taken on several more challenges this year, as the organization works around the COVID-19 regulations.
“We have had to cancel every fundraising event we had scheduled including our ‘Farmers Ending Hunger Day’ at the Pendleton Round Up and Happy Canyon this past September 2020.,” Burt said. Luckily, it looks like they will be able to keep doors open, at least for now. “Fundraising is never easy, but we have sustained as an organization.” Burt added.
It’s a simple solution to an ever-evolving problem, going straight to the food source to feed the hungry. Burt summed it up well: “I think the remarkable thing is the willingness of the farmers and ranchers to step up and donate. People who grow food for a living understand the idea of feeding hungry people. None of them want to see food go to waste and none of them believe anyone should be hungry.”
For more information about Farmers Ending Hunger, or to Adopt an Acre, you can visit the website.
If you or someone you know are food insecure and need help, check out Linn Benton Food Share for options.
By Kyra Young