People who care about eating healthy, organic foods often face a tiresome but persistent critique—that organic foods are somehow “elitist.”

And it comes from not only predictable industry champions of chemical farming and GMO crops, but also organic supporters like celebrity chef Raymond Blanc. Organic foods are more expensive, runs the argument, and therefore inaccessible to anyone but white, upper-class liberals.

Counter-arguments in defense of organic include the fact that organic foods are subject to the same market pressure as any labor-intensive product, and that dollar for dollar, the value of organic foods outstrip other options for taste and especially nutrition.

But this surface he-said, she-said masks a deeper and more troubling problem: the fact that, in the richest country in the world, millions of people lack access to nutritional food from any source. One in six people in the U.S. struggle with finding enough food to sustain themselves, according to the organization Feeding America.

The organic food movement isn’t causing this problem. On the contrary, it’s an important part of the solution to hunger. In its broadest form, organic farming emphasizes sustainable farm practices, local distribution, self-sufficiency, and direct farmer-consumer relationships. Built upon these principles, a growing number of organic-focused organizations are not only feeding the hungry but teaching them how to feed themselves.

 

One of these organizations, Friends of Zenger Farm, is located just 20 minutes outside of downtown Portland, Oregon. With a three-pronged focus on education, urban farming, and environmental stewardship, the group has exposed more than 40,000 people to the principles of organic stewardship since it formed in 1999.

All three missions share a common goal of “talking hunger with sustainable food solutions,”  according to Portland city commissioner Nick Fish, a supporter of the organization, who says Zenger Farm is “leading the way” in bringing food justice to low-income families in the city.

Examples of this leadership are legion. The farm’s CSA was one of the first in the nation to accept benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Zenger-sponsored farmers market, which specializes in international farmers and cuisine, provides a matching program for SNAP shoppers to increase their purchasing power. Since successfully implementing these programs, they’ve helped other markets and CSAs around the country to adopt them.

Zenger Farm also provides educational opportunities for all ages through field days, summer camp programs, and a farmer training project. And the farm’s “Healthy Eating on a Budget” classes bring hands-on cooking and critical-thinking skills out into communities impacted by a lack of access to fresh foods and nutrition information.

The impact of the organization is poised to grow, with a nearly finished 6,600 square foot facility, the Urban Grange. The new center will include a commercial kitchen with rental potential, which will provide a new source of income. And it also allows the group to expand its reach. The Healthy Eating on a Budget class, for instance, is being built into a broad program of classes and workshops both on the farm and in the community.

Programs like these, says director Jill Kuehler, go far beyond the principles of organic farming. “It’s about building a system that supports whole family health and develops resilient communities where people have access to nourishing food and opportunities to succeed.”

Organic Valley is committed to supporting its local communities and is happy to sponsor Friends of Zenger Farm for its impact on the lives of community members.