From 2007-2010, Gorge Grown conducted a comprehensive 5-county community food assessment. Drive in any direction along the Columbia River in Oregon or Washington – north, south, east, west – and you’re bound to see acre upon acre of agricultural land. The Columbia River Gorge Region produces a diverse bounty of food, including orchard fruits, grains, livestock, vegetables, and more.
Much of the region’s land base is devoted to agriculture, and farms, ranches, and the businesses that serve them are a primary driver of the regional economy. Yet every day, some Gorge residents go hungry. Others are forced to make the choice between healthy food for their families and rent, medical bills, and other expenses. More residents than ever are accessing local food banks as supermarket prices rise along with the cost of living. This is not a scene seen only in the Gorge. For the last 50 years, the US agricultural system has been dominated by international interests as our rural communities and local infrastructure have suffered. Family farmers and small food processors have found it increasingly difficult to make a living growing and selling real, fresh, healthy food, even as federal subsidies rendered some food products – highly processed ones made from commodity crops – artificially cheap.
A family can purchase a six-pack of soda for less than the price of a pound of fresh, healthy, local cherries. Where does the food we grow go? And how can we ensure everyone who lives here has access to the food they need? Most of us know very little about where our food comes from, and much less about how it was grown, packed, sold or shipped to the store. But food is a basic human need and a major economic driver in our community.
A CFA is a collaborative, participatory project that takes a big picture look at our food system in all its parts — production, distribution, consumption — so we can learn how it works and how to improve our food and farms. It shows what our most pressing needs are, as well as the key community assets on which to build. It is a resource and an organizing tool. Actions identified in this CFA approach issues of real need in Columbia Gorge communities, and the information gathered here helps make that case.
This purpose guided our work: to identify both resources and needs in the community surrounding food security, agriculture, and health, and to ultimately improve access to locally grown food, especially for people with low and moderate incomes.
For example, we’d like to expand the number of community gardens in the region as a way to increase residents’ self-reliance and our regions’ food security, but first we must gather information on how many people are interested in growing their own food, cooking with it, and how many would like to learn how to preserve some of the excess produce from their garden for the winter or for sale at a local farmers’ market? Who has land available for a community garden, how many people have interest in the vicinity of that land?
If you use these documents as reference materials, please cite our work – we are glad to share!
We are happy to share survey templates and other tools with organizations looking to launch their own CFA.
This project was supported financially by the generosity of the following organizational partners and grants: