Hear ye, hear ye consumers of local bounty: Our hale and hearty farmers, fishermen, foragers herbalists and ranchers are set to … well, aptly put, spring into action, as seeds sprout, ideas germinate, spring Chinook make their way upstream, and fields and fertile forests wake up from winter naps.
Wind, rain and hail followed by more wind, rain and hail – and don’t forget the occasional snow flurry. Spring on the North Coast: when Mother Nature often makes spring’s arrival a little dubious. Unless you happen to be part of our area’s North Coast Food Web (NCFW), where not much, if anything, dampens spirits or plans. While the sissies among us whine that spring hasn’t quite sprung, NCFW is busy with big plans for what’s to come.
First on the NCFW 2013 agenda: Gather in Astoria Saturday, April 6, or choose Cannon Beach or Grays River, Wash., Saturday, April 20 – and Meet Your Farmer. The series of three events invites the public to meet the folks who make local food, talk to them in person, ask questions and sign up for Community Supported Agriculture options.
NCFW board member and local farmer Kelly Huckestein pitched the Meet Your Farmer idea to the board based on an event she attended in Eugene, where farmers displayed information about their farms, what they grew and how people could sign up to buy food. “It was really effective and a lot of fun for everyone who came,” Huckestein said. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a system where customers pay a farmer at the beginning of the season for a share of the farm’s harvest, usually delivered as a weekly box of produce for a set number of weeks. “There are some local farms who offer CSA programs, but there are also local farmers selling eggs, berries and produce, or beef or lamb by the half or whole, who don’t use that model,” Huckestein added. “Some sell wholesale to stores and restaurants, some sell at farmers markets and some just sell to their neighbors. Plus we have great local fishermen who sell direct as well.”
NCFW’s goal is to connect interested eaters with the people producing food locally – or as the group is fond of saying, “we like connecting the dots.”
“The North Coast Food Web is all about cultivating a thriving regional economy and healthy communities through food and agriculture. That’s us in a nutshell,” NCFW board member Merianne Meyers said. “Although we’re scarcely two years old, we have managed to get some real work done toward that end mostly due to a volunteer board of directors that is populated with dedicated, hard-working people who happily have many skills.”
The NCFW board is made of 12 high-energy go-getters with a wide range of talents who know what they are doing and practice what they preach. Some of the knowledge they bring to the NCFW table includes community and home gardening, a wide scope of large and small businesses operations, native habitat development, soils, economic development and K-12 education. There is an agriculture programmer, there are professional writers, a broadcaster, hands-on food bank management operations, foster parents, there is a nutritionist, a chicken farmer, a bee keeper, a butcher, a meeting facilitator, workshop leaders and one high school senior super volunteer.
“It’s amazing. We’ve had a quite a rocket ride since our inception,” said co-founder and board member Teresa Retzlaff.
“It’s been a fast and furious evolution. There seems to be an urgency to what we’re doing, and it’s a good urgency,” agrees co-founder and board director Kristen Frost-Albrecht.
“In 2009, we began exploring the need for a food web. We found that there were little isolated islands of people doing isolated things: a few dairies, some livestock here and there, blueberries and some cranberries. No one knew for sure who was where doing what. We wanted to rebuild those islands through better communication,” Retzlaff said. A healthy food system has lots of different avenues. It has producers, local distributors, consumers, production facilities, processors, social workers, health workers, educators, school kids and outreach programs – so many means to a good end.
The River People Farmers Market is one of those means. Volunteers run the market, and it operates in the Astoria Indoor Garden Supply lot, at 1343 Duane St., Astoria, from 3 to 6 p.m. every Thursday, June through September. The all-food farmers market provides a chance to meet the people who grow locally. The market accepts Oregon Trail Cards and has a SNAP Match Program: Spend $10 on an Oregon Trail Card and the Market will match it with another $10 worth of market food tokens.
Another trend-setting NCFW project has been the Mobile Garden Project – gardens in grocery carts. The fleet of gardens on wheels immediately took off and continues to grow. A real community project, the grocery carts were donated, and the landscape cloth liners were made by women at Astoria’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The carts are filled with soil and planted with vegetables, herbs and flowers. Many of them are used by local schools as gardening projects, and, in a “mobile garden library,” they are available for “adoption” to anyone who wants to grow some food but lacks space. For people who have a yen to garden and aren’t too mobile, there’s no problem tending to the crop. And in dwellings located above the ground floor, the gardens are “elevator accessible.”
The staff of NCFW, in partnership with the Family Community Health Department of OSU Extension, also teach gardening curriculum at Astoria High School and Astoria Middle School – and will soon begin teaching at
Warrenton Grade School and Cannon Beach Elementary School. At Astoria High School, kids and adults work together in a once-neglected greenhouse that now is alive and thriving with plants in pots, planters and grocery carts.
On a recent Friday, NCFW board member Renia Ydstie mingled among four of her avid student gardeners. Josh McConnell wheeled out “Take me for a Spin-ach.” Marysol Ochoa’s cart, “Gunter,” was named after a spunky TV character. Ali Espinoza’s “Pram” holds seedlings and baby sweet peas, and Cheyenne Valenzuela introduced me to “Herb-y the Love Buggy,” full of fragrant – well, I bet you can guess what. Last year, the students gathered their bounty of produce, named them Nuevo Greens, and sold them at the River People Farmers Market. As NCFW board member, Loaves and Fishes chef and community educator Rod Nichols said, “Sustainable living is ever evolving and often in unexpected ways. It’s all about community and making connections.”