'They just went out and did it'

Noting that the Ashland Food Project — and its Food Project spinoffs in other cities — has made a "profound impact on the community," Gov. John Kitzhaber honored 100 volunteers and donors on the organization's third birthday and its passing of the half-million-pound mark in food collections.

The governor was completing a two-day tour of the Rogue Valley that ended at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, which gets almost half its food from the food project — then went next door to Brammo, maker of electric motorcycles, where he toured the 60-worker complex and talked tax credits and jobs with owner Craig Bramscher.

"The primary benefit of the food projects," said Kitzhaber, "is not just that they feed people in need, but they also build community. People yearn for a sense of community. Here, they didn't wait for it to happen; they just went out and did it."

Kitzhaber said hunger is not necessary and is one of the "root causes of poverty," along with lack of education, mental health issues and substance abuse.

Sketching out her own life in poverty, Kitzhaber's companion Cylvia Hayes told the crowd of more than 100 that she grew up in want, often without electricity and running water, and knows what it's like to choose between buying food and paying rent.

"Poverty is strenuous and exhausting," she said, noting that kids who grow up with "untreated hunger" cost Oregon $2 billion a year and cost the nation $500 billion a year. Such children often end up earning low incomes as adults and are more often in the criminal justice system, she added.

"It's totally unacceptable when we have such rich resources. I'm passionate about stamping out poverty. It's time to turn it around," said Hayes, pointing to Kitzhaber's Oregon Prosperity Initiative, which will take inspiration from the Ashland Food Project.

Pam Marsh, new manager of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, said the Ashland Food Project is a "phenomenal asset to us, and a source of wonderful food in a steady, predictable flow that we can depend on every two months, not just at Christmas or during the postal food pickup."

The Food Project is now operating in Ashland, Medford, Phoenix, Talent, Jacksonville, Eagle Point and Central Point and has spread to Roseburg, Florence, Eugene and Portland, as well as three cities in Washington, 10 in California and one in Georgia, said one of the founders, John Javna, adding that 25 percent of Ashlanders are now involved.

"It's an incredible success," said State Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland.

"It's astonishing," said Ashland Mayor John Stromberg.

And the new food bank, now at 560 Clover Lane, "is wonderful," Stromberg added. "They've tried to normalize the experience here and make it like a store so people are not embarrassed to get food."

Kitzhaber also made stops in Medford at the Maslow Project and the Sustainable Valley Business Incubator.

Of Brammo, the governor said that, given the finite oil supply and rising gas prices, the company "potentially could be a much larger employer — and we're working to help them. And the technology they've developed can have a broader application."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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