The words "local" and "sustainable" have been on the tips of food-centric tongues lately. Restaurants tout their local meats and produce - some even grow organic vegetables in their own backyards. With the increased popularity of farmers markets and eating local foods, it seems the whole country is jumping on the local food movement bandwagon. Well, except for those who can't afford to join in.Next week, farmers, non-profits, food-related organizations and anyone else who wants to join in the discussion will meet at Central Oregon Community College to figure out how to make local, sustainable, nutritious food accessible for everyone in Central Oregon. Led by Sydney Leonard, an Americorps VISTA volunteer working on behalf of Wy'East Resource Conservation, the Food Summit is a one-day meeting that's been in the making for over a year.
What started as an assessment of the local food system has turned into a region-wide analysis of how our community accesses food.
"The community food assessment is like a tool to work with communities to figure out how to improve the local food system and food security in the area," says Leonard. She has surveyed local farmers, food pantries and food stamp users to identify areas that need development in order to increase access to local food. The results of the assessment will be presented at the Food Summit. Leonard has already facilitated food stamp acceptance at local farmer's markets, but she hopes the Food Summit will yield additional community action.
"The idea of food security is that everybody in the community has access to healthy food that's coming from a sustainable, local food source," says Leonard. "Now that we have this information [from the community food assessment] we need to move from assessment to action."
The Central Oregon Food Summit will include a keynote address by Mark Wiunne, author of Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, and four breakout sessions designed to organize community action.
Leonard notes that price is not the only deterrent to eating local, sustainable foods. "It's a whole different way of cooking," she says. "You're cooking with what's seasonal. You're cooking with a lot of raw products and from scratch, which a lot of people aren't used to. The farmers market is only for a few hours during the week."
Leonard says that local food pantries and soup kitchens want to offer cooking classes for the community. "That way [we all] can access healthier food and have the skills to prepare food from scratch, which is also cheaper and usually healthier," she says.
One of the supporters of the Food Summit is Slow Food High Desert, led by Judith O'Keefe. She hopes to gather even more ideas about how to increase access to local foods from Slow Food International's biannual conference in Italy, called Terra Madre. An international meeting of farmers, chefs and organizers, Terra Madre works to establish a system of good, clean and fair food production in local cultures around the world.
O'Keefe is one of three delegates from Central Oregon attending Terra Madre in October. "Terra Madre started by bringing peasant farmers together to share ideas," she says. This year, more than 150 countries will be represented at the conference. O'Keefe plans to host a panel discussion after Terra Madre so that the delegates can share their experiences.
Both Terra Madre and Central Oregon Food Summit are just two ways Central Oregon is working to increase knowledge about and access to local foods.
"The question is," says O'Keefe, "How can we help each other?"
Central Oregon Food Summit
9am-4pm, Friday, September 10. COCC Campus Center, Willie Hall. $20 registration, includes lunch (not guaranteed for late registrants). Registration available at event. For more information, visit cofoodsummit.yolasite.com