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Residents get real about local food systems assets, challenges

Representatives from the Oregon Food Bank called a meeting in Banks last week to discuss the community’s food system assets and challenges as part of an ongoing food assessment of rural western Washington County. Similar meetings have already taken place in Forest Grove, Gaston and North Plains.

About 20 people showed up to the discussion.

“I thought it went great,” said Christy Greagor, a Banks city councilwoman. “We had representatives from all aspects of the community.”

A few folks involved in 4H, the Dairy Creek Community Food Web and local service organizations — as well as the Banks library and the county offices — attended.

“Some key people were there,” said Leslee Sipp, the family resource coordinator for Banks, which is affiliated with Forest Grove’s YMCA Family Resource Center. “Most of them were the same people that show up to everything else. It’s an important discussion for all our little communities.”

Local food producers, a full-service grocery store, strong 4H programs, a city that focuses on how to financially support itself and cooking classes at the Banks United Methodist Church were identified on the list of assets.

Stand-out challenges include a hunger rate that’s higher than most people realize (especially among seniors and those who are isolated in rural areas); a lack of access to a commercial kitchen; a dearth of restaurants; a lack of summer meal programs in the schools; communication issues; securing volunteers; and a divide between the community’s longtime families and those who moved in with the development of new housing in recent years.

Sipp said the level of need at Banks’ food pantry has increased in recent years.

“People always want to help each other but sometimes they don’t know how,” Sipp said. “Often people don’t even know how to prepare food they receive. We need to teach them to cook and save food they get and grow their own food. We can to teach them to do for themselves.”

Sophie Ranger, a 14-year-old Banks 4H member, runs a small garden at a local 4H leader’s house. She and her fellow 4H-ers — as many as 25 volunteers work in the garden at a time — donate all the produce to Sipp’s food pantry.

“We never ever have any trouble of getting rid of the food,” Sipp said.

“It struck me as something that needed to be done in the community,” Ranger said. “It’s something I can do that helps my community. It’s not a big organization, but it’s still making an impact.”

The students plant onions, radishes, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, kale, squash, tomatoes and more.

“The kids put a lot of work into it and don’t get anything out of it except giving everything to someone else,” said Jennifer Ranger, Sophie’s mom. “I love Banks and I want to see everyone taken care of — and I want to see people come together.”

Goals identified by meeting participants include a community soup festival, a regular newsletter, expanded food classes and a community garden.

“I think it opened everybody’s eyes to the directions we could go,” Greagor said. “I think everyone took something away from it.”

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