Forest Groves growing food group hones interest in local food, gardening

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Robin Lindsley, a founding member of the Dairy Creek Community Food Web, serves up locally grown food during the All Town Meeting in Forest Grove last month.Digging in the dirt is a big part of part of cleaning up the community. At least that’s the message from members of the Dairy Creek Community Food Web.

“We are a group of interested citizens,” said Robin Lindsley, a founding member. “The future of food needs to come back to local production. If we don’t connect people with their food, we are really missing something as a community.”

This month, members of the Web will celebrate two years of convincing people to put their hands in the garden dirt and seek food grown in the area. The group strives to educate the public about local, healthy food sources by connecting area organizations and resources through work in community gardens, classes, educational programs and gatherings, as well as supporting young farmers and family farms that maintain healthy land.

Members are dedicated to the cause, believing that local food is healthier because it’s fresher and more nutritious, and that it's better for the environment because it isn’t shipped hundreds of miles. Keeping money local and supporting area businesses is better for the Forest Grove economy, too, Web members say.

“We’re keeping local people involved,” said Lindsley. “We’re making connections between people, organizations and agencies in order to strengthen our food system — all of these things need to be webbed.”

Demand for events

Since the Web’s start, participation has increased along with the demand for more events.

“It’s an exciting time to learn. Our community and our nation are becoming more aware,” said John Schallberger, director of the Forest Grove Senior and Community Center. “With the university in town and being an agricultural community, people here are invested in how to obtain good food and in good nutrition.”

Members of the Web meet at the center and host monthly soup and salad dinners made from community-grown produce.

“We had the space and the Web needed some,” said Schallberger. “It’s a win-win. It’s a good use for the center and the community. It’s nice to find other organizations that need our resources.”

With a $2,000 community health grant from Kaiser Permanente members of the Web helped secure, the center built raised garden beds on its Douglas Street property, some of which are demonstration gardens maintained by Oregon State University Master Gardener Jerry Anderson and others that are open for community use. All the gardens display planting techniques for small spaces and are handicap accessible.

An herb garden will fill one of the beds this year and the bounty will be used to create the free meals offered daily at the center.

“It all dovetails nicely with the mission of our center for social and educational enrichment,” said Schallberger.

Partners with Adelante Mujeres

That’s the same reason Adelante Mujeres and the Web have made a successful pairing. “We have a lot of the similar goals and interests,” said Kaely Summers of the Forest Grove nonprofit organization that works to provide empowerment and knowledge to Latina women and their families.

Ellen Hastay, retired director of Pacific University's Center for Civic Engagement and a Web member, runs the Forest Grove Maple Street community gardens with Adelante Mujeres. The one-acre parcel has 104 plots that fill up every year and are open to locals who want to grow their own food.

“A lot of people can’t afford organic vegetables or meat that has been fairly raised and isn’t full of bad stuff,” Hastay said. “So we are helping people grow their own. We are working for an alternative to the industrial food system.

“At Pacific, I became greatly aware of the industrial food system that has taken over this country. We are opening peoples’ eyes so they can make their own decisions. If they choose to buy corporate food anyway, that’s their decision, but people should know.”

Lindsley, who helped other Web members gather local food for Forest Grove’s Annual Town Meeting last month, admitted the difficulty of eating seasonally this time of year. The Web’s events are designed to help local residents find local food even during the winter and enjoy the food they grow all year through preservation methods.

What about bananas, oranges, lemons and grapefruit?

“There’s no easy answer to that question,” Lindsley said. “If you want to truly eat locally you have to substitute foods that don’t grow here,” which is easier to do when there are spaces available to grow all year.

Bilingual classes

Adelante Mujeres offers bilingual agricultural businesses programs and the Forest Grove City Library will be offering free classes this spring and summer designed to nurture an appreciation for growing food.

Shannon Romtvedt, a Forest Grove adult services librarian and a new gardener, organized the classes with the OSU Extension Service and the Web.

“I thought there would be great interest in it because in Forest Grove we have the Dairy Creek Food Web and community gardens and a lot of organizations based around food,” she said. “We are getting more aware of each other and what each (organization) is offering.”

Locals may have the opportunity to buy fresh produce all year at the Forest Grove Farmers Market organized by Adelante Mujeres. Summers has been communicating with the City of Forest Grove about the potential for a year-round market, although “it’s quite a commitment and we are taking baby steps,” she said.

This year, she hopes to extend the market season through October.

“Giving people the resources and access is hugely important in community food security,” Summers said. “We’re making sure we have food available if something happens and the food can’t make it to Safeway.”

Lindsley, a retired educator, thinks every generation must be involved to create a truly local food system.

School gardens at Forest Grove’s Joseph Gale Elementary, Tom McCall Upper Elementary, Dilley Elementary, Neil Armstrong Middle School and the Forest Grove Community School are a step in the right direction to connecting children to where food comes from, Lindsley said.

“By encouraging student involvement at every step of its planning, development and care, the garden will empower students to become active stewards of our land. By participating in growing and preparing fresh produce, students will learn the value of growing healthy food for their bodies and their communities,” reads the community school’s mission statement.

“If we’re going to grow as a community, we need participants,” said Summers. “It takes investment from a lot of people to complete the sustainability puzzle.”

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