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Governor lauds rural food program

Siskiyou farm cooperative helps feed Oregonís hungry

Mail Tribune

The Little Applegate Valley looked postcard-pretty Wednesday as Gov. Ted Kulongoski drove up to Kris Hoienís farm on Yale Creek.

Swallows swooped over lush, spring-green pastures, and snow glistened on distant ridgetops as the governor walked Hoienís farm and talked about ways that Oregon farmers can feed their hungry neighbors.

Oregon has the biggest hunger problem of all 50 states, according to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture. In 2001, nearly 600,000 Oregonians received food from emergency food pantries.

A USDA study found Oregon had hunger rates nearly twice the national average ó about 6 percent of Oregon households were going hungry, and more than 12 percent of households were "at risk of hunger" because they could not consistently afford an adequate diet.

Kulongoski said hunger is as much a problem in rural areas such as Jackson County as it is in Oregonís metropolitan areas, but itís harder to see outside cities.

"Hunger often gets masked in rural areas," Kulongoski said. "Itís out of sight, out of mind."

The governor praised Hoien and a dozen other farmers who organized a cooperative to market their produce. Their Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative works on the principle known as "community supported agriculture" ó people "subscribe" for produce at the beginning of the season and agree to buy a weekly basket of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The subscriptions assure growers of a market and a reliable income stream.

The Siskiyou co-op and community-supported agriculture groups in Eugene and Bend are enrolled in Oregonís Farmersí Market Nutrition Program. Low-income seniors and women with young children receive coupons that they use like cash to buy fresh produce from Hoienís co-op or from any of the other participating producers of fresh fruits and vegetables. The farmers redeem the coupons for cash, which comes mostly from the USDA.

"Over $1 million goes directly to farmers and provides better nutrition for seniors, women and children," said Laura Barton, a representative of the Oregon Department of Agriculture who joined Kulongoski on the tour.

Hoien encouraged Kulongoski to find more funding to expand the program. "Weíd love to see it grow," she said. "Last year 300 people signed up, but we could only take 100."

The governor said Oregonís current hunger problem can be traced to the gradual disappearance of well-paying jobs in the timber industry over the past 25 years. As the costs of housing and medical care have increased, many people have been forced to choose between "paying rent or putting food on the table," he said.

Oregonís hunger rate stayed high, even during the boom of the 1990s. Incomes for the poorest one-fifth of Oregon families actually fell, and by 2000 about one-fifth of Oregon renters were paying more than half their income for rent.

Kulongoski said he wants to promote Oregon agriculture to encourage economic growth in rural areas. Oregonís reputation as a place that values quality of life can make Oregon products attractive across the United States and around the world, he said.

He said agricultural practices that are designed to succeed over the long term are the key to the future, just as long-term forest health is the key to successful forestry.

"Weíve got to do things smarter," he said.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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