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High Desert Food & Farm Alliance Makes Fresh Food Accessible

High Desert Food Alliance Bend Magazine

How do we reduce the average distance a piece of produce travels from farm to consumer in the United States from 1,500 miles to a country mile? High Desert Food and Farm Alliance may have the answer.

High Desert Food and Farm Alliance at the Bend, Oregon farmers' market
Photo by Joshua Langlais

“Produce starts to lose nutrients as soon as it’s harvested,” said Food & Farm Director Jess Weiland of High Desert Food and Farm Alliance (HDFFA). The seven-year-old, Bend-based organization focuses on programs—from consumer education to marketing for farmers—that facilitate community access to fresh food that is grown sustainably within the local food system. “We want to make nutrition as easy as possible,” said Weiland. “We want to meet people where they are and be responsive to the community.”

Get a Taste

Taste Local Thursdays highlight a restaurant’s relationship with local farmers and ranchers, shining a spotlight on local ingredients. “Over and over we hear that people care about local food,” said Weiland. “It’s availability in Central Oregon is a thing of pride here.”

Food and Farm Directory

It’s free and it will whet your taste buds. The High Desert Food and Farm Directory, available in print and online, has sprouted from a trifold into a deeply rooted, 147-business strong resource for where to buy food grown locally.

Sixty-two producers and eighty other food-related businesses filled last year’s guide and Weiland said more are signing up. Farmers and businesses can enroll annually for a nominal fee to become an HDFFA partner. For partners who do online sales, the web directory links consumers directly to that producer’s e-commerce.

“So many—I would say around half—of local farmers also have other jobs. They are so busy,” said Weiland regarding the value of the directory as a centralized marketing tool for producers.

“Farmers are really producing a lot but they may not have time to market it and develop distribution avenues. Providing more consumer access points is key.”

Cheap + Healthy = Possible

Preparing meals from scratch can be both healthful and economical with the right set of skills and some fresh ingredients.

Part of a national curriculum implemented through state funding and carried out regionally by HDFFA using chef and nutritionist volunteers, Cooking Matters classes are available to food insecure families across Central Oregon this fall in six-week sessions.

“Cooking with families naturally lends itself to a conversation about nutrition and food budgeting,” said Weiland. “There is an important link between food and health. This is preventative care.”

Food For All

The local food bank is fresher thanks to HDFFA’s Grow and Give program, an initiative benefitting NeighborImpact. At farmers’ markets in Bend patrons can donate to the program in $5 increments and be entered to win a prize at the end of market season. The Madras, Redmond and Sisters markets also take donations. HDFFA then buys the equivalent amount of food from farmers at the end of the market, curating purchases based on food bank needs.

“Food insecurity is a prevalent issue but it can be a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said Weiland, noting that farmers’ markets play a vital role in our community and provide a good space to facilitate discussion of the issue.

Statistically, one in five people in Central Oregon is food insecure—meaning they might not know where their next meal is coming from. The program represents a new frontier of food recovery (a term meaning food waste mitigation).

“Farmers see it as a value add,” said Weiland. “They harvest more than they may need to be sure they fill demand at farmers’ markets throughout the region. The funds help to support the farmers’ bottom lines, aid in food recovery and shore up the region’s food bank supply.”

An anticipated 15,000 pounds of food recovery will go to NeighborImpact this year.

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