Grand Ronde Food Bank hosts resiliency event
By Danielle Frost
Since the term “food desert” was coined in the mid-1990s, there has been much research on the effects that a lack of access to healthy, nutritious foods has on rural and urban communities.
Food deserts lack whole food providers who supply fresh protein sources, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, and instead rely on convenience stores that typically provide processed, high-sugar foods, known contributors to a variety of health conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Rather than wait years for a grocery store to be built, many communities have taken matters into their own hands, creating small farms, learning food preservation and teaching people how to garden, a movement known as “food resiliency.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 5, the Grand Ronde Food Bank– iskam mfkHmfk haws– joined in as one of several live-stream sites for the “Communities, Food, Resilience” event, sponsored by Oregon State University Extension Service in celebration of its 150th anniversary.
It included several speakers on food resiliency, the role of land grant universities, Oregon’s community food systems and partnerships. One of the keynote speakers was David Lewis, a Grand Ronde Tribal member, historian and ethnohistory researcher.
In a food security context, resiliency is defined as a household’s ability to keep a certain level of well-being (being food secure), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This definition considers both actions that reduce the risk of households becoming food insecure and those that help households cope after a crisis occurs.
The local event, held at the Grand Ronde Community Center, attracted 18 people and included lunch, a resource fair and speakers from the Extension Service and Polk County.
Grand Ronde Food Bank Program Manager Francene Ambrose volunteered to live stream the event, organized local three-minute “food ignite” talks and prepared lunch.
Talks were given by Ambrose, Master Food Preserver Marie Clement, Master Gardener Gayle Birch, SNAP Nutrition Education Program Assistant Christopher Scadden and Agriculture Program Coordinator Victoria Binning.
“This is an opportunity for us to network with others across the county who are doing their own food sovereignty,” Ambrose said. “We are doing it from a Tribal perspective but can learn from others, such as growing small farms. We have a lot of people who have land here and can use this information. … This is also a good way to see what our community is interested in.”
During the live stream, Lewis highlighted the traditional ecological knowledge of the Kalapuyans in the Willamette Valley. They are one of the five main Tribes that make up the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
“The whole valley was home to them, but we have had to deal with discriminatory discussions in science for a long time that we simply ‘wandered the landscape,’ with no higher knowledge,” he said. “We were thought of as passive and non-permanent. … When do we get to a point where we think of Native people as responsibly managing the landscape?”
Lewis noted that oral histories are as much a part of the record of Native people as written history and sometimes more accurate.
“However, they have been disregarded by science with the assumption that oral histories were mythological,” he said.
During his research, Lewis found stories that documented flooding in the Willamette Valley some 8,000 years ago, which resulted in a fundamental change to the environment.
Native peoples began what Lewis calls “seasonal rounds,” which were different harvesting camps for seasonal foods.
“In the fall, there was the wapato plant and lots of things were added to that to create soups and stews in the winter,” he said. “They planned ahead and knew in winter there was less food to eat and it was horrible to have to go outside your plankhouse to search for food so they were ready.”
Lewis added that fires were planned in advance every year to renew the prairie and keep the soil rich for crops.
“When the settlers came, they removed Tribal culture and influence and created monocultures,” he said. “The loss of the prairies caused a loss of indigenous food species and extreme fire events every 30 to 40 years began.”
In the last 40 years, there has been what Lewis calls a “Tribal Renaissance,” with a more holistic living environment and return of some lands, hunting and fishing rights, and utilization of traditional foods.
“We need to start going with the traditional cycles the earth gives us,” Lewis said. “We need to develop systems for growing and developing Native foods.”
Ambrose said that the live-stream event and complementary local talks gave the community an opportunity to learn more about food sovereignty.
“Some barriers to healthy eating here are transportation and being able to access more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We are thinking of having the C-Store do an expansion and use it as a contractor space for people to sell fresh produce. We may not be able to build a big grocery store here, but what are the little things we can do? We can also see if the other convenience stores will add at least a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.”