Farm and Ranch Resiliency Award Application
The High Desert is the land of resilience; lush sage steppe growing in as little as three inches of annual rainfall, gnarled and twisted junipers withstanding lows of negative 20 degrees and highs over 100 degrees, and delicate sand lilies that dance around the landscape despite drought or freeze or wind or blaring sun. To live in Central Oregon and tend this land, an inherent grit (and sense of humility) must lie within.
We (my partner David and I) have seen frosts in the first week of July and the first week of August (sometimes in the same year). We have been challenged with growing seasons as short as thirty days. We have experienced mid summer hail, torrential downpour, and wind gusts as high as 70 miles per hour. We have had a close family member pass away mid season. We have watched chickens die from no cause, crops fall prey to rodents and insects, and tree blossoms frost and wither. Yet, we accept these events as natural parts of being human and living in close proximity with earth.
What we find most heart wrenching, most unfair, and most disturbing is the state of our food system and our relationship with food as a broader society. We are concerned with food accessibility, food justice, and food security. We have a problem with low quality food (we define this as not nutrient dense due to chemical use, distance traveled/age, and/or highly processed) being the only “affordable” option.
During 2020 and the beginnings of the pandemic, it became very apparent that an even greater quantity of food would need to become accessible to food insecure individuals, and that a greater quantity of food would need to be available to Central Oregonians due to Covid-related disruptions in transportation and farm labor. The pandemic illuminated two very obvious issues in our food system: globalization of the food system creating food sovereignty and security issues, and limited resources for food insecure individuals.
In 2016, I began the “Fill Your Pantry” event, as a mechanism to (a) reach a broader audience to educate about the food system, (b) encourage seasonal and local eating, and (c) increase food security in Central Oregon. Fill Your Pantry is an annual bulk buying farmers market that encourages customers to stock up for the long high desert winter ahead, while giving bulk deals. The event also acts as a large revenue stream for small farmers, while also giving them the peace of mind of having empty barns and cellars (and not having to worry about rodents, temperature control, etc). The event has grown from a total revenue of around $11,000 in 2016 to approximately $85,000 in 2020. In 2019, we started offering the ability to take EBT, and in 2020 were able to offer a small amount of Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) thanks to our partnership with the Bend Farmers Market. In 2021, we hope to make the event even more accessible through additional DUFB funds and potentially transportation help in potential partnership with HDFFA.
A very brief overview of on-farm practices we have implemented to increase food security and growing capabilities include:
– Use of season extension practices including building four 20’x200’ high tunnels (thanks to NRCS and HDFFA high tunnel grants), using row cover, and growing high desert tolerant annual and perennial plants.
– A commitment to seasonal and local eating by predominantly eating what we grow, raise, hunt, forage, or purchase from a friend. We have committed to canning, preserving, freezing, and fermenting nearly all of our food for the winter. We have committed to eating from this place!
– Continuous work in educating the Central Oregon community about local food through volunteering and written activism. Megan has sat on the boards of HDFFA, Central Oregon Locavore, the Bend Farmers Market, and the Central Oregon Food Collective.
Having food that is accessible to all those who want to eat it has always been a top priority at Boundless. We have on-farm gleaning events, accept Farm Direct Nutrition Program vouchers (FDNP), donate to Bend Food Project, NeighborImpact, and HDFFA continuously, and have always sought to do more.
As our business became more financially stable, we were able to offer payment plans to CSA members (outlined as four payments between $105 and $158 depending on size) and have been flexible with whatever payment options are necessary. In 2020, we went through the process of being able to accept EBT/SNAP benefits and were accepted into a grant program to cover the costs of our Mobile EBT reader so that we can take EBT at the farm, farmers market, Fill Your Pantry, etc.
This year, we applied to be a part of a DUFB grant program with PNW CSA Coalition and were accepted. This program allows our CSA customers who are paying with EBT to receive a $200 match grant for their CSAs. For example, our small share CSA costs $420, for those using EBT, they will now only have to pay $220 for the entire season (paying approximately $40 per month) and will be matched the additional $200. This is an incredible opportunity and we are excited to reserve spots for more SNAP recipients next season.
To help create momentum and ease in more farms accepting DUFB, SNAP, and FDNP, I created a document outlining the process; how to apply, where to find resources, what to do and not to do, etc., and shared with the Central Oregon agricultural community through our local listserv, as well as our farm blog.
We are always seeking more opportunities to become more accessible and hope to implement more sliding scale options at the farmers market, as well as partner with some of the “Free Fridges” popping up around town.
Resiliency does not come from being a lone wolf or fiercely independent; resiliency comes from the strength of the community and care for the land. We are only as strong as our weakest part, so to grow and to flourish, we must commit fully to the land and fully to each other. As we have said before, we are dedicated to the earth, to our community, and to growing the best damn food we can.
Photo courtesy of Boundless Farmstead.