Eugene Hungry for Food Security

Eugene’s City Council will meet in September to talk about local food security — reliable access to healthy and nutritious food.

“It’s kind of a multi-level problem,” says Deb Johnson-Shelton, Lane County Food Policy Council president. “The more quality food you make accessible at more affordable prices, the healthier the nutritional environment is for everyone.” Food insecurity is strongly correlated with household income, she says.

Johnson-Shelton says local government can help by increasing the accessibility to small produce stands, like those outside of town on River Road, and educating youth and families on healthy cooking and eating practices.

“We live in such a fertile area where there’s so many resources to deal with hunger,” she says. “We are so well set to solve these problems.”

Yet a motion to establish a food security task force failed during the council’s June 25 work session and the topic was put on the table for future discussion. City Councilor Alan Zelenka, who introduced the motion with Councilor Greg Evans, says tabling the discussion will likely cause the city to miss out on grant money to start the task force — between $75,000 and $150,000.

Evans says he hopes to see an aggressive urban agriculture program that will allow the Willamette Valley to be self-sufficient and also grow food that could be marketed throughout Oregon, the Northwest, nationally and internationally.

“Eugene is poised to address an opportunity that has long been overdue,” Evans says. “We’ve been doing it with wine for years. Now we’re doing it with the microbrew … and I think that food is the next logical step for us.”

A Lane County local food market analysis, done by UO’s Community Planning Workshop in 2010, estimates less than 5 percent of Lane County’s $1.17 billion food market is produced locally.

The proposed task force would be largely focused on the economic side of food security. Its three main objectives would be: to summarize what’s been done, develop a gap analysis and make economic development and job creation recommendations.

A lot of work has already been done relating to food security, according to Councilor George Brown, who is also the owner of downtown grocery store The Kiva. “And really, the farmers and the food manufacturers make their decisions and they’ve been doing a great job and I don’t know that they really need our help.”

Councilors will discuss food security during a work session at 5:30 pm Monday, Sept. 8, in Harris Hall at 125 E. 8th Ave. The council takes a summer break from July 31 to Sept. 8. — Missy Corr