Featured in East Oregonian: “Test Potatoes Harvested to Feed Hungry Families”

By Sean Hart East Oregonian

Workers at John Walchli’s potato processing facility work the sorting table for a shipment of potatoes donated by the Hermiston Agricultural Research & Extension Center to the Oregon Food Bank on Wednesday outside of Hermiston.
Spuds were once tilled over and destroyed, but farmer partnerships have allowed them to be added to food bank.
Truckloads of Hermiston potatoes that would have gone to waste will soon be delivered to needy families thanks to the collaboration between a variety of businesses and organizations.

For the second year, several acres of potatoes at Oregon State University’s Hermiston Agricultural Research & Extension Center were harvested Wednesday morning. The potatoes, planted from seeds provided by area growers, were part of a test plot funded by the Oregon Potato Commission that helped the growers determine whether any problems with their crop originated from the seed or something at their farm, HAREC director Phil Hamm said.

For the last 40 years, he said, the plot consisting of different varieties of potatoes were destroyed each year after the growing season. Last year, people and organizations came together to turn that waste into 160,000 pounds of food. This year the gross haul weighed in at 250,000 pounds, though the potatoes still needed to be cleaned.

“We are pleased to be able to provide potatoes that basically would have gone to waste to folks who can actually eat them,” Hamm said. “If you’re hungry, potatoes are potatoes. They all taste good. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”

Diana Quezada, a resource developer for the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon, helped bring everyone together. CAPECO, she said, serves as a regional food hub that supplies 17 partner agencies, such as food pantries, in Umatilla, Morrow, Wheeler and Gilliam counties. With a list of contacts who already helped the organization, Quezada organized the resources necessary to harvest, pack and transport the potatoes.

“It’s pretty significant for a single-day project, especially because they were just going to till it over,” she said.

The harvest benefits the 7,500 people served by CAPECO, she said, and the excess is donated to the Oregon Food Bank through the nonprofit organization Farmers Ending Hunger founded by Fred Ziari.

John Burt, executive director of the nonprofit, said last year’s donation from HAREC was the largest single donation the organization ever received at one time. Efforts such as this donation have helped the organization grow.

“We got 2.5 million pounds of donated stuff last year, and we’re going to do 3.5 to 4 million this year,” he said. “It’s growing, getting bigger — potatoes, onions, carrots, vegetable crops in the valley, fruit, fresh stuff, 22 head of cattle every month — a real mix of things. The fact that we exist gives a focal point for these growers to say, ‘I’ll donate through that.’ ”

However, getting the potatoes out of the ground, cleaned, packed and transported requires a lot of work. Stahl Farms stepped up to harvest the potatoes Wednesday morning, and Medelez & BJK Transport provided trucks to haul them for processing. John Walchli Farms and Paul Kern, from Botsford and Goodfellow, processed and packed them. Steve Walker Farms then provided transportation to another facility for holding until the food bank could pick them up.

Herb Stahl, from Stahl Farms, said it was nice to be able to give back.

“Farmers Ending Hunger is a great organization,” he said. “For us to be a part of it with the rest of the neighbors and farmers around here is wonderful. It’s a great opportunity.”


Featured in East Oregonian: “Farmers Ending Hunger Unveils SAGE Center Exhibit”

By George Plaven  East Oregonian

John Burt, left, and Fred Ziari unveiled the new Farmers Ending Hunger exhibit Saturday at the SAGE Center.
Farmers Ending Hunger debuted a new exhibit at the SAGE Center Saturday in Boardman.
By the time 2015 draws to a close, Farmers Ending Hunger expects to donate nearly 4 million pounds of fresh, locally grown food to the Oregon Food Bank for the year.

That’s a single-year record and about 1.5 million pounds more than the organization managed in 2014, but Executive Director John Burt said they can still do more.

“There’s a big hunger issue in this state,” Burt said. “We need people to get involved.”

A crowd of 85 people gathered Saturday evening at the SAGE Center in Boardman to celebrate Farmers Ending Hunger, including Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. The event also doubled as an unveiling for the new Farmers Ending Hunger exhibit at the SAGE Center — Boardman’s visitor’s center and regional agricultural museum.

Fred Ziari, president and CEO of IRZ Consulting in Hermiston, founded the nonprofit Farmers Ending Hunger in 2004 after learning Oregon was, at the time, the nation’s hungriest state.

Today, one in five Oregonians faces food insecurity. Ziari said he hopes the museum display will continue to galvanize Eastern Oregon farmers to help feed their neighbors.

“Just knowing this was happening in our own state was a shock to me,” Ziari said. “This display will educate permanently for hundreds of thousands of people coming through here.”

Farmers Ending Hunger represents a collaborative effort between more than 100 farmers, food processors and the Oregon Food Bank to deliver much-needed meals to families. On average, about 284,000 residents rely on emergency food boxes for meals. Of those, 34 percent are children.

Ziari said the organization was born not out of charity, but a labor of love. He recognized Amstad Produce for contributing 30 tons of potatoes per month; Hale Farms for contributing 25 tons of onions per month; and Threemile Canyon Farms for contributing 25-30 beef cows per month.

Enough wheat has also been donated for roughly 5 million pancakes, Ziari said. Much of that food ends up on the west side of the state, and Portland Mayor Hales said he wanted to thank those growers in person for their generosity.

Seventeen percent of Multnomah County’s population is food insecure, Hales said, or about 116,000 people.

“You are right on the forefront of an issue that profoundly affects the people I work for,” Hales said. “I so value the substance and the spirit of what you’re doing.”

Morgan, who has served as CEO of the Oregon Food Bank since 2012, emphasized hunger remains a big challenge in the state. However, the problem isn’t that there’s not enough food, she said, but a matter of gathering and distributing donations to the hungry.

The Oregon Food Bank stands ready to partner with Farmers Ending Hunger into the future, Morgan said.

“We will not rest until we’ve eliminated hunger,” she said.

Saturday’s event ended with a $10,000 donation to Farmers Ending Hunger from Northwest Farm Credit Services. Non-farmers can also donate the organization’s “Adopt an Acre” program.

Kenzie Hansell, a fourth-generation farmer with Hansell Farms, said that with everybody doing their part, they can continue to build on their success.

“As farmers, we have a responsibility to be stewards of the land,” Hansell said. “As humans, we have a responsibility to take care of one another.”

To learn more about Farmers Ending Hunger or to make a donation, visitwww.farmersendinghunger.com.


Contact George Plaven at [email protected] or 541-966-0825.