Bridging the Community Food Divide
by Ramona Taylor
I’ve just finished up another great field trip to the garden and I’m standing on the tailgate of a pick-up truck documenting and counting everything I can: how many students, adults, volunteers, women, and veterans? I snap a few more quick pictures, trying to get just one more picture-hoping for that perfect one that captures the moment and can show our funders we’re doing a good job. After five years of helping to host fieldtrips, workshops, and events, I’ve learned to take a moment to bask in the sun, to reflect and enjoy.
Here, Mikaila Polmateer does her own basking, taking pride in a carrot she helped to grow at Junction Elementary School.
I take off my “reporting hat” to watch as the gaggle of students and teachers are walking back to the school. Two students break off from the group at a run in the opposite direction…five years ago, I may have reacted differently, trying to make sure everyone was “doing what they were supposed to,” but instead, I casually ask the boys where they are going. As they rush by, over his shoulder, one boy yells, “We’re going to get moooorreeere kaaaaaale!” Sure enough, they ran back to the garden, picked some kale and were happily munching it as they rejoined the group and headed back to their classroom. Apparently, contrary to popular belief, some kids do like kale!
In that moment, feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside, I jumped down from the pickup truck and I know we have made a difference. We’re not just making a difference because now we have a community apple press and a whole array of tools, equipment and infrastructure to grow, gather, process and store food. We have made a difference because the way we think about food and they way we relate to food and to each other has changed.
This month our community will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Orleans Bridge and over the next few months, the MKWC Community Foodsheds program is winding down a five year food security grant, “Enhancing Tribal Health and Food Security in the Klamath Basin of Oregon And California by Building a Sustainable Regional Food System.” The project, also known as the Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Project, is a collaboration with the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Basin Tribes, UC Berkeley, UC Extension and endless community partners including schools, other non-profits and volunteers.
Local school kids evaluate their school garden harvest, comparing carrots from Year Two to carrots grown in Year Five.
For evaluation purposes, the questions we answer are: “Did we make a difference, have things changed, are we more food secure or independent?” At first glance, I really don’t know. I can’t help but draw the comparison of the of the food security project with the Orleans bridge building. When a bridge is complete, you have a tangible result. It can be counted and as long as it provides a way to cross from one side of the river to the other, it is deemed a success. But really, what you get is the connection between two sides of the river, two opposite sides of community that are now connected. However, funders & Congress like to see the numbers & count the bridges.
So to be accountable, we count and take pictures. I think we’ve done a good job at documenting the numbers, but I think our success is more intangible. It has been about building bridges. Clearly not the kind that cross the Klamath, but bridges that connect the communities up and down the river corridor. We’ve created networks and discovered who some of the movers and shakers are (around food) in each community. Our pictures capture not just what we can count at the time, but the change over time and the bridges we’ve built. Children in those early photos have graduated and moved into high school! School gardens have expanded, or been installed, and grown food that students eat in their lunches (or snack on during trips to the garden). Heirloom fruit trees nearing the end of their life span have not only been saved from likely extinction, but the oral histories of the varieties have been written down for future generations and in some cases, returned to the families that planted them long ago. We also have a community fruit press that families borrow in the summer and fall. I love that people stop to talk to our staff about what to do with all these extra eggs/fruit/veggies or how to establish a new bee hive or how do I [insert food or garden topic here]?
We are not just counting the infrastructure changes and the attendees. We are building bridges that connect people to place and people to people. We are developing relationships and sharing knowledge in a hands-on, peer-to-peer setting that will last far beyond the “scope and five year time frame” of the funded project.
With our food security funding winding down, people have approached me, concerned and wondering what will happen to the MKWC Community Foodsheds Program when the funding runs out? I am happy to say I don’t really know. It seems like there is so much going on around food these days!
Locals participate in a workshop in Orleans demonstrating how to build your own chicken tractor!
I believe the community will choose. It doesn’t have to be what was written into a funding proposal. It can be whatever, we as a community, choose to make it. Even without all the numbers to back me up, I know that our community has changed. We can literally count our blessings and under the funding, we have purchased some of the equipment we need to gather, process and store food.
Locals in Happy Camp make good use of the Foodsheds Program cider press!
You could say we are building a more sustainable, independent or sovereign food system. I think we are building bridges in our community centered around food. This is the real accomplishment that is impossible to count. These are the intangible results that are worth more than any bar graph or chart or excel sheet.
Reflecting back on what we’ve done in the last five years I am proud to say, that even if nothing else has changed, at least I know those two boys in the garden really like kale!
Want to get involved? You can check us out on facebook Mid Klamath Food Shed or check out all of our gardening resources for the mid Klamath area at our website http://mkwc.org/programs/foodsheds/
This blog post is partially funded by the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Food Security Grant # 2012-68004-20018.
We are so thankful to the many partners, volunteers and participants who helped span the distance between us and create more Middle Klamath food security in the process. We owe our program’s success to YOU!
Ramona Taylor is the Director of MKWC's Foodsheds Program, an effort that addresses community food needs by building strong relationships, organizing peer-to-peer workshops, events and projects based on seasonal food activities, supporting ongoing initiatives in our community, and providing technical support for building strong school, community and family gardens.