Photo project honors food, community as farmshare enters fifth year

January 10, 2019

Katie Watson was born and raised in the Lents neighborhood, crunching on corn and carrots, and savoring the raspberries she picked from her great grandmother’s garden. She kept up a garden as she raised a family of her own. But with her third pregnancy, bending over in the dirt became too much.

Deborah Abney joined the CSA last season and jumped at the chance to take pictures.
That’s when her prenatal care provider at Mid County Health Center told her how to get organic farm-fresh produce every week, for a fraction of the retail cost.

And so Watson became a member of the Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) Partnerships for Health, a project of area farms and primary care clinics, with financial support from Providence, Kaiser Permanente, CareOregon, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, and the USDA. But Watson also got something else in her weekly share. Last fall they handed her a digital camera.

“We took pictures of the things we cooked; I took pictures of collard greens,” Watson said.

About 27 members of the popular CSA program participated in a PhotoVoice project.

“We posed the question: How does the program impact your life,” said public health researcher Allea Martin, who worked on the project. “It was really moving to see how strong those social connections were.”

The project included focus groups in which members shared their experiences. One member struggled with how to prepare eggplant, and then other members chimed in with their own recipes.

“It was really sweet to watch that unfold,” Martin said. “Food is really the way we connect.”

Susye Anderson, a dental client at Wallace Medical Concern, used the PhotoVoice project to deepen her connection to her granddaughter, 4-year-old Emberlee. They went together each week to pick up their farm share, and Emberlee even carried her own bag.

“She was more excited to come home and cook,” Anderson said. “She loves to cook.”

They came out together Wednesday night to Zenger Farm on SE Foster Road, to see their photos on display and to celebrate with CSA and clinic staff. Emberlee entertained herself with a carrot costume, purple glitter top hat, and a paper bag cut into a makeshift mask. When she saw a photo of herself, holding a fresh bunch of mispoona greens, she jumped for the photo, pointing.

“This program provided my family with a variety of beautiful fresh produce we wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” one participant wrote.

“It motivates us to take care of our health and value nature,” another client wrote.

“Everyone deserves access to healthy food,” a third photographer said.

“These comments definitely resonate with me,” said Dr. Tamara Sanderson, who has studied the health effects of produce consumption on patients with Multnomah County. “We are a nation full of people with chronic conditions who can be treated with dietary changes. In a developed country, why are we struggling with that?”

The subsidized CSA sought to address just that, when it launched as a pilot in 2015, with 25 patients at Mid County Health Center. Patients paid $5 per week to receive about $25 worth of produce grown at Zenger Farm.

Zenger has since been joined by Schoolyard Farms, Full Cellar Farm, Mudbone Grown and 47th Avenue Farm, and served 250 families in 2018.

Deborah Abney, a longtime patient at the East County Health Center, joined the CSA last season and jumped at the chance to take pictures.

“This was so fun,” she said. “It brought out an appreciation for the basics. You get to really appreciate your food.”