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ILC Update: Oregon Portion
Ten Ecuadorians and five OSU students led by Joan Gross and Mark Edwards spent September 8 – 22, 2019 exploring the vitality of food in Oregon. This lntercultural Learning community (ILC) was developed jointly by food activists in Ecuador and Oregon in 2013 to de-colonize the typical study abroad program. We do this by forming an international, multicultural group of people who are invested in some aspect of the food system and feel that humankind can do better. We looked for ways in which the practice of sustainable foodways can address some of today’s most pressing concerns, such as environmental degradation, climate change, the proliferation of ill health and marginalization of people. Through cross-cultural dialogue, collaboration, and experiential learning, participants further developed their knowledge, social networks and their capacity for engaging with food practices as global citizens, rooted in local realities.
We began the tour in Portland with a visit to the Oregon Food Bank (OFB). The OFB is at the forefront of state food banks in taking a food systems approach to hunger. They don’t just hand out commodity food (though they do a lot of that), they advocate for changes that address the root causes of hunger and they work hard at building community-based food systems. We saw evidence of this in the farms next to the warehouse where people who have no access to farm land grow culturally specific foods that they share with their communities. While in Portland, we also visited places that helped small scale food producers get their products to market: the Redd, Zenger Farm Kitchen, and OSU’s Food Innovation Center. At the OSU Portland Center, PSU’s Megan Horst presented an historical view of Portland’s food system and Kathy Bethel and Claudia Knotek presented a model of how New Seasons Market deals fairly with farmers and fishers. They understand that they need to support local food producers if they want to sell the best possible local food. This has meant that they pay fair prices and have sometimes even paid producers in advance when boats or greenhouses need to be bought to produce the food the desire.
Our next stop was the Warm Springs reservation where Wilson Wewa organized a full day for us: visiting the school gardens that John Brunoe has created, eating a wonderful meal of traditional foods cooked by Berlyn Yazzie, and hearing about the significance of salmon, deer, roots and berries with Warm Springs elders. We ended the day at the Warm Springs Museum.
We spent the next 10 days back in Corvallis, doing day trips in all four directions. We visited several OSU agrifood research and outreach projects: Pat Hayes’ barley project; the fermentation lab; the Linus Pauling Institute; the creamery; the Small Farms Program; and campus food gardens. We also traveled to OSU projects off campus, learning about organic certification and farmer-led research at the North Willamette Research Center; ocean acidification and bacon-flavored algae at the Hatfield Marine Science Center; and SNAP Education at the Linn County Extension Office.
We learned about current farming in the Willamette Valley. We explored economic, social and environmental pros and cons of the incredible growth of monocultures of hemp, wine grapes and hazelnuts. We also heard about the efforts of Camas Country Mill to bring grain and bean production back to the Willamette Valley and were thrilled to tour Alan Capular’s greenhouse at Peace Seedlings and see the Andean crops that he has adapted to the Willamette Valley using open pollination.
We paid special attention to people of color who are often marginalized in the food system. This was highlighted on our very first day when we spoke to African American, Native American and Latina farmers at the OFB and our day in Warm Springs where we learned how early Europeans brought in salt, sugar, wheat and alcohol, followed by diabetes and heart disease. We spent an afternoon at Grand Ronde and toured their project to regenerate native food plants and we spent a morning with Jaime Arrendondo in Woodburn, hearing about the challenges and successes of the Latinx Community in Oregon. Laura Bennett took us on a special tour of Gathering Together Farm during which we were brought out to meet the women’s field crew and we were able to converse with them in Spanish.
We always like to highlight the work of ILC members, both present and past. This year we included presentations of 2019 participants, Tamra Wiggins-Wahlert and Megan Fehrman. Tamra’s family owns Wild West Seed Company and Megan has been instrumental in Friends of Family Farmers and Rogue Farm Corps. We included a stop at 2016 participant Sara Chonaiew’s store, Urban Ag and spent the afternoon with 2013 participant, Michaela Hammer who runs the Food for Lane County Youth Farm. We are looking forward to visiting the projects of our Ecuadorian participants in December.
One of the aims of the ILC is to engage physically as well as intellectually with the food system. We lent our 34 hands to the Linn Benton Food Share to pack food boxes for hospital patients; to the OSU Organic Growers’ Club to weed the brassicas, and to the Food for Lane County Youth Farm to trim harvested garlic. In addition, we cooked an excellent Ecuadorian meal for Slow Food Corvallis and several of our presenters and host families. We were lucky to have two professional chefs in our group and they coordinated beforehand to bring ingredients like lupin beans (chochos) tostados, chifles, and a rare white cacao bean called Macambo.
It’s difficult to include primary research in such a packed agenda, but we managed to do so by focusing on the Corvallis Farmers Market. We first had an introduction to the market on Friday by its manager, Rebecca Landis. Then we discussed questions we were interested in asking vendors and buyers at the market. We formed pairs of researchers and spent the next day wandering the market, observing, and asking questions. We got back together after lunch to discuss what we had learned. First of all, the Ecuadorians were very impressed with the Corvallis market. Several of them who sell at markets talked about ideas that they would try to implement back home. One pair documented ways in which vendors brought people into their booths. Another interviewed women producers about challenges they have faced in this work. Land access was another topic and one pair focused on Latino shoppers asking what drew them to the market. Everyone was impressed with the number of times that “community” arose in their conversations. Here are some things that surprised the Ecuadorians: that the meat stands were so neat and sterile, no sign of whole animals either dead or alive; that amaranth was being used as a flower in bouquets; that the prices were fixed and posted; that most of the vendors had finished college; that some vendors had photographs of their farms; that there was a booth for children to be occupied while their parents shopped; that there were musicians and artists making the market an attractive place to be.
We were very pleased when our presenters could give their talks and answer questions in both English and Spanish. Pat Hayes, Tina Dodge-Vera, Javier Fernandez-Salvador, Jaime Arredondo, Emma Sharer, Ricardo Contreras, Daniel Lopez-Cevallos, and Laura Bennett actively engaged with us in both languages and it was very much appreciated. When our presenters did not speak Spanish, bilinguals in the group stepped up, but Lisa Grabinsky was our go-to interpreter and did an incredible job. Not only is she perfectly fluent in both languages, but she was very familiar with the often arcane vocabulary used by specialists in agrifood research.