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Faith and Food Equal Fun and Nutritious Eating in Oregon

Cross posted from the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food blog.

The Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) is a statewide association of Christian denominations, congregations, ecumenical organizations and interfaith partners. Their comprehensive efforts around food started in 1994 with a mission to promote community food security among faith communities. Aided by a USDA Community Food Projects Grant in 2005, EMO started the Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership (IFFP).

Among many, many collaborations, IFFP is now partnering with Hacienda Community Development Corporation to provide cooking classes for families and middle school students as a part of Expresiones, an after school and summer enrichment program. The cooking classes along with the necessary supplies and food are provided by volunteer chefs from the Bon Appetit Management Company. Chef Micah Cavolo, who is a parent himself, recognizes that many kids don’t understand where their food comes from and how it gets to their plate.  Kids in the program are involved with the cultivation of a local community garden and use some of the vegetables they themselves have helped grow in class.

Chef Cavolo sees even greater benefits:  “I feel that to have a successful sustainable future, you need to engage and nurture the future and in my world I do that through food. The only thing more rewarding then being a chef is being a teacher also, lucky for me they are rolled up into one job.”

In Oregon, Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans experience a high rate of obesity in part due to lack of access to healthy, affordable food and safe environments for physical activity.  Building on their existing cooking classes and nutrition education, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon was recently awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to continue and broaden their work fighting childhood obesity. This work includes helping congregations assess their environments to identify ways to make healthy food and activity choices available to everyone through a new assessment tool called the Congregational Health Index (CHI). The project’s forthcoming website makes this tool accessible to congregations everywhere and provides other resources to help faith communities make a contribution to fighting obesity and fostering wellness.

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