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Gorge Grown Food Network receives Meyer Trust grant

Gorge Grown Food Network (Gorge Grown), a Columbia Gorge-based nonprofit organization that supports local farms and locally-grown food, has been awarded three years of funding by Meyer Memorial Trust for a multi-tiered, region-wide project called the Rural Food Collaborative.

Three pillars support the project: community food leaders training, food enterprise incubation, and a regional food stakeholders’ forum.

Community Food Leaders is a training program that teaches everyday gorge citizens to serve as leaders in their local food system. Gorge Grown and partners offered the training program in previous years in Stevenson and The Dalles, and graduates have gone on to be highly engaged in food-and-farm-supporting projects, including a group working to open the Gorge Winds Community Grocery in North Bonneville.

The course empowers local people to create innovative community-based food projects that meet the specific needs of local communities.

“We know from experience that when a skilled and passionate local leader serves as the liaison between his or her community and Gorge Grown, lasting community-level change takes place from the ground up,” said Michelle McGrath, co-director for Gorge Grown.

The Food Enterprise Incubator aims to increase success of new and existing food-based businesses by using local business experts to increase the business and marketing skills of fledgling food entrepreneurs.

The project will allow Gorge Grown to connect sole proprietors, individual businesses and farms, and collaborative farmer-owned enterprises with tailored resources to enable greater enterprise success.

“We know that local food production is a powerful economic driver and job creator. We want food entrepreneurs and farmers to succeed,” McGrath said.

Gorge Grown will be working with the same business experts to evaluate and update their own income-producing programs, including the Gorge Grown Farmers’ Market (Thursdays in Hood River) and the Mobile Farmers’ Market (serving six rural gorge communities in 2013).

“We are focused on enhancing our organizational sustainability,” said Todd Dierker, co-director for Gorge Grown. “It is exciting to explore opportunities for programs that will serve the needs of our local food system.”

The third component of the project, the Regional Food Stakeholders’ Forum, will regularly convene health providers, local governments, businesses, educators, public health advocates, nonprofit organizations, farmers and citizens to discuss food access issues that impact the regional economy.

Several regional partners are supporting this project, including Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, The Next Door Inc., Small Business Development Center, WSU Extension and OSU Extension.

The goal is to build regional solutions with broad stakeholder support that create a better food system for the 5-county Columbia Gorge region of Oregon and Washington.

“Food affects all of us,” added Dierker, “so the more voices we can engage in the conversation, the stronger our regional food system will be”.

Gorge Grown will now join a group of Meyer awardees that are all working on community food systems projects within Oregon. The work will take place over four years, and Gorge Grown will conduct regular outreach about the progress of the Rural Food Collaborative.

Several regional partners are supporting this project, including Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, The Next Door Inc., Small Business Development Center, WSU Extension and OSU Extension.

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