The 2014 Community Health Needs Assessment identified food insecurity as one of the top social and economic needs in the Columbia River Gorge region’s Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).
The Columbia Gorge Health Council (Coordinated Care Organization) and One Community Health, (the region’s federally qualified health center) conducted a survey in 2015 specific to food insecurity. With more than 2,000 responses from throughout the region, this survey demonstrated that one in three residents worry about running out of food, and one in five miss meals.
In a region that has relied on the agriculture industry for more than a century, this level of hunger is disconcerting. An informal group of Columbia Gorge community members approached Oregon Solutions in late 2015, and following an Oregon Solutions assessment, Governor Kate Brown officially designated this effort an Oregon Solutions project in a March 29, 2016, letter.
Governor Brown appointed Ken Bailey (Vice-President and Shareholder, Orchard View Farms and a Governor’s Regional Solutions Committee member) and Mark Thomas (Director of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital) as co-conveners to lead a team of producers, distributors, social service agencies, health care providers and community members to create a coalition to cooperatively decrease hunger and increase access to quality food throughout the Columbia River Gorge. Inherent to these goals was strengthening the entire Columbia Gorge food system from producers to consumers.
A coalition of more than 20 participating organizations was created. It represents a significant step towards reducing hunger and increasing access to fresh and healthy food in the Columbia Gorge. The project team’s work evolved into focusing on gaps that address two interwoven yet distinct challenges: food insecurity, or getting food to people experiencing hunger, and improving the whole regional food system of the Columbia Gorge. The project team identified an extensive list of gaps in the food system and winnowed the list down to those that coalition members wished to prioritize.
The coalition committed to working together through the work group structure. Gorge Grown Food Network successfully secured grant funding for a half-time coalition program manager position. Liz Oberhausen was hired. Now that the Oregon Solutions phase has ended, she will be the lead staff person for the coalition.
For more information about the Gorge Grown Food Network, please contact: Liz Oberhausen, 203 Second Street Hood River, OR 97031, 541-490-6420.
• Collaboration between tribal members, the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Food Bank led to the beginning of monthly deliveries of produce and food to Celilo Village.
• Orchard View Farms and Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital split the cost of a freezer for a Cascade Locks site providing meals to people experiencing hunger. They are coordinating with the Oregon Food Bank and others.
• A partnership is emerging between Gorge Grown Food Network and Azure Standard. Azure is excited about shifting some of their national focus more locally.
• The City of The Dalles applied to be a Blue Zones Project City. Numerous coalition member organizations wrote letters of support for this application.
• Co-convener Ken Bailey and Orchard View Farms donated 14,000 pounds of cherries a week to the Oregon Food Bank and other food distributors.
• A potential partnership is emerging between Oregon Food Bank and Community Harvest Cooperative Grocery.
• Project Management is in place to continue to staff the coalition’s work.