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Lisa Loving of The Skanner News
Published: 30 July 2012

The farm stand opens outside the Muslim Community Center each Friday afternoon. Photo by Sean McEvoy

Farmers markets in the city are great, but many local families see them as a luxury they cannot afford.

The Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is trying to change that with an innovative idea aimed at improving community health with fresh food that won't break the household budget.

The Skanner News connected last week with the EMO's food justice coordinator Sean McEvoy, and  program associate Alison Warren, to learn more about the organization's work and how local households can get involved.

The Skanner News: First of all, what is the Farm the Congregation Program?

EMO: The Farm to Congregation Program is focused on increasing access to healthy, affordable produce for everyone while providing opportunity for small farmers, especially new and immigrant farmers. It is one of several projects of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership (IFFP). Partnerships include farmer tables (farmer sells produce before or after a service), community supported agriculture and a wholesale buying club. Through these partnerships IFFP strives to increase access to healthy, affordable produce for everyone.  Some of the ways that IFFP works towards this is by encouraging the farmers we work with to apply for an EBT machine to be able to accept SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC (Women Infant and Children) checks, and senior's coupons. We also encourage congregations to think up ways to buy extra produce for a food pantry or community meal or offer a CSA share to a low-income family at a reduced rate. Along with supporting low-income families, these partnerships also provide a relatively low-risk opportunity for farmers who face the challenges of starting up a new business and/or language barriers, to gain a new market and build relationships with a caring customer base.

TSN: How many people are you working to impact with this project? And is there a way that the different communities ever come together within the program?

EMO: This year we are facilitating farmer tables with five congregations within the Portland Metro Area, along with a buying club at a congregation in north Portland. We encourage each of the congregations participating to also get the word out to their surrounding community. The congregations participating vary in size from a hundred members to over a thousand members. We hope to create a space where the surrounding community and congregation members can come together, making the farm to congregation partnerships a source of healthy food as well as connection. In the past we have held a year end get together for all the participating congregations and farmers to meet each other and celebrate the season. We also organize field trips to visit with our farmers and learn about their farms and farming practices.

TSN: The EMO has for many years organized unique service programs that connect communities of varying faiths. Is there a way that diet, wellness and faith go together?

EMO: IFFP strives to promote the connection between food and faith. From eating nutritious food to keep our bodies-temples of the Divine- healthy to making informed decisions to support farming practices that keep our land and water healthy, faith and food go hand in hand. As people of faith we are also taught to care for the most vulnerable among us. Working to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, healthy, locally and sustainably grown food while at the same time ensuring farmers are able to make a living wage is one of the ways we can do this. We better serve our Creator when we are healthy, and our faith centers make it more possible for members and neighbors to live a healthy life.

TSN: How can The Skanner News readers support your work and participate in Farm the Congregation?

EMO: Drop by a farmer table or join our buying club and support local farmers and build relationships in your community! Take some fresh food home and have a meal with your friends and family. Volunteer with us! We are always looking for volunteers interested in helping out by distributing recipes, sorting produce, assisting with cooking classes and more. Join us in October for our food justice fundraiser featuring Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating. Email foodandfaith@emoregon.org if you would like to help out. Donate to IFFP to support projects that make the connection between food and faith and contribute to a healthy, local food system. Donations can be made here, be sure to select "Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership."

2012 Farm to Congregation Partnerships

Farmer Tables

Muslim Community Center

3801 NE Martin Luther King Blvd

Portland, OR 97212

Every Friday 12:30-2:30pm

Highland Christian Center

7600 NE Glisan Street

Portland, OR 97213

Biweekly on Sunday, 12:30-2:30 pm, next date July 29

St. Philip Neri

2408 Southeast 16th Avenue

Portland, OR 97214

1st  and 3rd Sunday of the Month, 9am-12:30 pm

Waverly Heights

3300 SE Woodward Street

Portland, OR 97202

2nd and 4th Sunday 10:45am-12:15pm

Kairos-Milwaukee UCC

4790 Southeast Logus Road

Milwaukie, OR 97222

Every Sunday 11-12pm

Farm Fresh Buying Club

The Farm Fresh Buying Club is operated out of Holy Redeemer (25 N Rosa Parks Way). The buying club offers local produce on a weekly basis and dry goods on a monthly basis. Because members are placing their orders together they are able to get wholesale prices from the farmer.  There are no order minimums, you can order as much or as little as you would like. Orders can be placed by email or phone and pick-ups are on Wednesday from 4-5:30 p.m. The buying club accepts cash, checks, SNAP, WIC, and senior's coupons as payment. Email foodandfaith@emoregon.org for more info. and to sign up.


IFFP coordinates cooking classes for low-income families. Classes will be held at Holy Redeemer church, 25 N. Rosa Parks Way. To register email foodandfaith@emoregon.org or call 503-221-1054 x215. Upcoming classes include the following:

Aug. 29: Introduction to Canning: Learn how to can and preserve fresh foods throughout the winter! This lesson will teach your how to can your own homemade salsas. [$30 Class, scholarships available]

IFFP has a number of different toolkits and resources available including the Congregational Health Index (CHI), an assessment tool and planning guide that helps your faith community identify strengths and areas for improvement and create an action plan for health-impacting changes. The CHI can be downloaded off the www.faithandwellness.org website. This website also contains resources and inspiration around faith and wellness.

Other toolkits available on the IFFP website include "Food Sovereignty for All: Overhauling the Food System with Faith-Based Initiatives" and "Creating Opportunity through Micro-Enterprise: Faith Kitchens as Micro-Business Incubators."

The Rockwood Voices for Food Justice project will start in September in Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood. A team of low-income residents reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood will conduct an assessment in culturally appropriate ways to find out what challenges residents face in accessing food and what their ideas are for creating more opportunities for healthy food.

We have been working with congregations to improve the ministry value and environmental stewardship of their lands, especially those who don't have a lot of financial resources. This includes creating community gardens, wildlife habitats with mediation areas to nourish us spiritually and reduce stress, and storm water projects that can reduce water and sewer bills, beautify grounds and purify our local waters. We and our community partners would love to help more congregations.

The Farm to Congregation Partnerships are open to the public.  By supporting these partnerships you are supporting local farmers, sustainable agriculture, and creating better access to food for low-income families.  Also, you learn about your local food system and the kinds of policies that are needed to keep it viable and accessible for all over the long term.  This is primary for being a good food citizen. For more information about the Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership, contact Alison Warren at 503-221-1054x210 or foodandfaith@emoregon.org.

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