As people across the nation struggle to provide nutritious food for themselves and their families, it becomes ever more important that food waste is minimized as much as possible. The issue of hunger is less a problem of not enough food being produced, and more of a problem of disparity in who can access it. So much food that gets thrown away is perfectly edible and could be used to feed the hungry. This is why Montavilla does its part to support struggling people in the Portland area by donating unsold foods to several gleaning organizations that frequent the market, including Food Not Bombs, Urban Gleaners, and (until recently) Birch Community Services. The vast majority of vendors at Montavilla contribute to gleaning efforts at the market, thus helping to redistribute food to the places and people that need it.
“Gleaning” is a process in which unsold edible produce that would otherwise be thrown away is collected and distributed to people in need. This food can come from more than just farmer’s markets; it can be collected from any establishment or event that finds itself with extra fresh food at the end of the day (such as restaurants and large public events.) Much of what food banks receive from donors is non-perishable, processed food items such as canned vegetables and packaged meals. This can unfortunately limit the diet of people relying on food banks, and deny them access to nutrition they need. The gleaning activities at Montavilla therefore help to improve the availability of fresh groceries for food-deprived families.
In particular, the produce gathered from the market contributes to the accessibility of vegan and vegetarian foods for Portland residents with limited budgets. One of the organizations that gleans at Montavilla focuses specifically on collecting vegan goods. Known as Food Not Bombs, this organization distributes fresh fruits, vegetables, and starches to hungry families, workers on strike, and victims of natural and political disasters across the world. The organization has over a thousand different chapters, including the Portland chapter. Said Portland chapter distributes collected food by setting up stands in Portland city parks, such as their current location of choice, Colonel Summers Park. Their efforts – and the efforts of Montavilla’s vendors, by association – help anyone who wishes to eat vegan, access vegan foods that would often be too expensive to obtain otherwise.
Food gleaned from the market also goes towards efforts to fight child hunger in the Portland area. Another organization that collects foodstuffs from Montavilla Farmers Market is the nonprofit Urban Gleaners, which distributes gleaned food through programs directed particularly towards children and their families. Urban Gleaners is the founder of their own Food to Schools program, which ships 500 pounds of fresh food to twenty-three different schools across the county every week. Furthermore, the organization also hosts “Summer Free Farmers Markets” every year for the sake of feeding Portland kids while school is out. Unlike Food Not Bombs, Urban Gleaners doesn’t only glean and redistribute vegan groceries. Instead, they focus on providing the schools in their program with organic produce, grains, and dairy products that contain nutrients children need. In this way, food donated by Montavilla vendors helps provide children of low-income families with the energy they need.
Gleaning at Montavilla has also supported efforts to improve the self-sufficiency and agency of low-income people. Simply feeding struggling people is not the only reason for gleaning; even if a given person or family can technically pay for their own food, it can take up such a high percentage of their budget that there is nothing left for savings or other essentials. That’s why Birch Community Services focuses on taking care of the essentials for struggling families so that they may put more of their resources into improving their economic standing. Until recently, this Portland-based nonprofit gleaned at Montavilla, and ultimately gained a total of 139,618 pounds worth of food from the market’s vendors. Food donated to BCM by Montavilla’s farmers has contributed to BCM’s efforts to prevent the foreclosures and bankruptcies that plague low-income households, and provide said households with the support they need to (hopefully) improve their financial situations.
Creating fair access to food via redistribution is crucial to fighting the ever-present problem of hunger. This is why farmers selling at Montavilla take the time to donate their unsold goods to these gleaning organizations. When so many go without dinner at night, it seems unconscionable that so much edible food should be tossed into dumpsters. So by contributing to gleaning organizations, Montavilla Farmers Market expands its benefits for Portland residents beyond only selling locally-produced farm goods – this way, the market also helps out those who may not be able to afford the goods sold at the market. By supporting Montavilla and the local farmers that participate in it, patrons of the market help to ensure that Montavilla can continue to be a resource for the gleaning organizations that do so much good for the Portland community.
Each Sunday morning Javier Lara can be found chatting with neighbors about the products at his booth, laughing, and giving out samples. He’s the type of warm personality that sells you produce with a story. Since coming to the United States from Mexico more than 20 years ago, Javier has been working as a farmer, a community leader, and an activist for human rights. His philosophy on farming stems from a deep connection to nature, and his practice mimics those beliefs. Javier says farming is “more than just local or organic. It has to do with community. And human beings are part of this system.“
Javier has been working directly with Oregon’s only farm workers union and has found himself in the role of a teacher. He uses the example of a 19-year-old boy who Javier has been working with. He says teaching the boy about farming is not enough. “Whatever the standard may be, it’s important to go beyond.” For Javier the larger lesson in farming is respecting the process. “Tradition and culture – we don’t just farm to impose our power on Mother Nature. We ask for permission. We ask for blessings. We do ceremonies. We have celebrations. And then, after that, we start planting. We come from indigenous communities, and we are proud of where we come from.”
In addition to leading new generations of farmers, Javier has been an ally for victims of wage theft. In the state of Oregon alone, lawsuits are filed each year totaling multi-millions in unpaid wages. Javier describes this as the deep and dark secret that most people know very little about, and no one likes to talk about. People want cheap products and produce, but at what cost? Javier reminds us that someone somewhere is always paying that extra cost. Javier himself has a personal history of being exposed to much injustice. “It taught me a lesson about what I would never do to another peer. You are more than an employee. We see the worker as a relationship.” Javier loves sharing this message and believes farming is a privilege. If you share similar values, he is honored to share with you. From farming techniques to seeds, Javier sees no reason to “hold our secrets,” but rather has made growing and sharing food a truly communal celebration.
If you believe good intention can be tasted in food, Javier is the real deal. This year he will be bringing Mexican herbs along with other traditional Mexican vegetables to the Montavilla market. Right now, you can find huauzontle at his table. If you’re new to this plant, Javier recommends using it to make Huauzontle Cakes with Pasilla Chile Sauce. We couldn’t be more excited to see what more Javier has in store to share!
For information about Oregon’s largest labor union and Latino organization, visit http://www.pcun.org. Read more about Javier’s work in the Willamette Week: Breaking from custom, one small Oregon farm pays strawberry pickers by the hour, and with Adelante Mujeres: Can a farmer be successful without exploiting workers and land?.
Cover photo by Lisa Waters.