Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Jan. 29, 2020

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Fruit Valley reaps vegetables of its labor

Improved access to healthy produce is goal of outreach campaign

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April Jones, an organic CSA farmer from Ridgefield, left, distributes fresh produce to Fruit Valley resident Michelle May. Jones now delivers several CSA shares to the Fruit Valley neighborhood.
April Jones, an organic CSA farmer from Ridgefield, left, distributes fresh produce to Fruit Valley resident Michelle May. Jones now delivers several CSA shares to the Fruit Valley neighborhood. Photo Gallery

Clark County Public Health is helping Fruit Valley residents find new ways to increase their family’s healthy food intake without busting their budget. Two free workshops to share advice from local residents and technical experts begin at 5:30 p.m. in the River’s Edge Church gymnasium, 3801 Fruit Valley Road. The workshops target Fruit Valley residents, but if space is available, others also may sign up. Potential contributors are welcome.

o Oct. 21: “Buying Food Together” will discuss setting up and finding resources for money-saving “buying groups.”

o Oct. 28: “Growing Food Together” will cover gardening basics, where to find thrifty resources, and sharing space, produce and expertise.

Register: Kathy Hammond, Clark County Public Health, 360-397-8000 ext. 7302 or kathy.hammond@clark.wa.gov.

Efforts to get more fresh produce to Fruit Valley residents are ripening nicely.

Few are happier than Michelle May, who jumped at the chance to buy vegetables and fruit from a community supported agriculture farmer this year.

Clark County Public Health is helping Fruit Valley residents find new ways to increase their family's healthy food intake without busting their budget. Two free workshops to share advice from local residents and technical experts begin at 5:30 p.m. in the River's Edge Church gymnasium, 3801 Fruit Valley Road. The workshops target Fruit Valley residents, but if space is available, others also may sign up. Potential contributors are welcome.

o Oct. 21: "Buying Food Together" will discuss setting up and finding resources for money-saving "buying groups."

o Oct. 28: "Growing Food Together" will cover gardening basics, where to find thrifty resources, and sharing space, produce and expertise.

Register: Kathy Hammond, Clark County Public Health, 360-397-8000 ext. 7302 or kathy.hammond@clark.wa.gov.

Every other Friday, May picks up fresh carrots, zucchini, eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes or other food delivered nearly to her doorstep by Ridgefield organic CSA farmer April Jones.

“The corn on the cob (fresh-picked) is to die for,” May said. “I made the best BLT with the best heirloom tomatoes. Ah, delicious!

“It’s opened up the variety of foods that I eat, which has to be good,” said May, 46, a seventh-grade teacher at Vancouver’s Gaiser Middle School. “I’ve received food from her that I’ve never seen before.”

Jones offers new ideas and recipes, and she’ll experiment with items such as wild mustard and other greens for use in broths and other dishes.

“That’s kind of the fun of it: ‘What is this, and what am I gonna do with it?’ ” May said.

Her nutritional growth reflects an ambitious outreach effort by Clark County Public Health this year.

A $50,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente Northwest and the Northwest Health Foundation allowed the health department to tackle Fruit Valley shortcomings made apparent in a citywide survey in 2008.

That August, the health-geared nonprofit group Community Choices quizzed residents for a study of Clark County’s food system. The survey underscored Fruit Valley’s uphill battle, literally, to obtain healthy fresh produce.

In sum, Community Choices found: “The median household income level is $25,185, and 36.3 percent of its 2,000 residents live in poverty. There are two (local) convenience stores offering few nutritional foods, limited fruits and vegetables and no low-fat milk options. C-Tran bus routes connect Fruit Valley north to south, but do not provide an east to west connection to nearby grocery stores. Many residents must make multiple bus transfers to access a full-service grocery store.”

The latter are miles away, across the BNSF Railway tracks that split Fruit Valley from west Vancouver.

The good news?

Fruit Valley has strong community ties and a sharing spirit, nurtured by active neighborhood leaders, business sponsors and churches, and, at its epicenter, the Fruit Valley Community Learning Center, the area’s elementary school.

County health officials tapped those resources as they engaged the neighborhood this year.

In April, they surveyed 285 residents on topics related to access to healthy food, then acted.

Health officials recruited Jones’ Gus & Co. farm to serve new Fruit Valley customers. May read the notice in the neighborhood association newsletter and snapped up the last local CSA share available, she said.

Besides her paying clients, Jones also delivers three shares to the Community Learning Center. The CLC bought the seasonal shares with the help of private partners including Cadet Manufacturing, the local Evergreen Women’s Club chapter and the Fruit Valley Foundation.

That food goes to about 20 participating families, said Staci Boehlke, family resource liaison at the school who also sought more takers during the summer break.

Also central to the county’s outreach is teamwork to spread residents’ own homegrown produce among more of their neighbors.

“A fairly large percentage of residents raise or grow their own food,” said Tricia Mortell, health department coordinator for the grant.

The idea is to capitalize on diverse strengths.

“I’m great at growing tomatoes, but you’ve got more room, so maybe you grow corn, and we share across the table,” she explained.

Boehlke said that’s already happening, as residents swap tomatoes and zucchini to supplement the new CSA service.

“It started to get the ball rolling,” she said. “Fruit Valley is just a hub of partnerships. The community here just works so well together.”

Further steps might include a neighborhood, homegrown market; setting up new food-buying groups with either CSAs or area food markets; and nudging local convenience and food stores to carry more fresh produce.

Two free workshops this month are designed to catalyze efforts, “to localize what we’ve learned,” said Mortell, who welcomes additional business or community leader support.

An Oct. 21 session will cover basics of money-saving “buying groups.” An Oct. 28 workshop session will highlight shared gardening.

May, the teacher, just wants to keep Jones’ succulent produce coming. At her regular Fruit Valley Park rendezvous, she bagged carrots, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, lettuce and other goods — including a bonus: table grapes — that Jones pulled from her van.

“It is hands-down the way to go, supporting our local farmers, getting fresh, local food from less than 20 miles away,” May said.

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“It is fresher, it is crisper, it has a more intense flavor and it seems to last longer,” she said.

Staying power isn’t a problem for Desiree Moreno, 26, who has only to walk across Fruit Valley Road from her apartment to pick up her CSA share.

Three sons, ages 2 to 7, ensure the fruits and vegetables barely last the weekend, Moreno said. Her youngest covets peppers adorned with cream cheese and a bit of bacon, she said. This visit, Jones explained how to make even beets more attractive.

“They’re weird children. They’ll eat anything,” Moreno said, smiling, glad to feed them all the healthy vegetables she can.

It’s music to the ears of Jones, 34. She supplies a few restaurants and a Portland grocery but takes most joy in serving CSA clients with food grown and eaten right here in Clark County, she said.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to get local food back in Fruit Valley,” Jones said of the county’s outreach work. “It’s great.”

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