PENDLETON, Ore. — At its heart, the Pendleton Round-Up — like most rodeos around the West — is an ode to the working class farm and ranch lifestyle, and a celebration of the region’s agricultural roots.
So when the Round-Up Association agreed to a three-year partnership with Farmers Ending Hunger earlier this year, both sides agreed it was a natural fit.
Wednesday marked the first ever Farmers Ending Hunger Day at the Round-Up, raising awareness and support for the organization’s mission of eliminating hunger statewide. The group also received cash donations of $5,000 each from River Point Farms and Northwest Farm Credit Services, which were presented just outside the Round-Up Grounds.
Farmers Ending Hunger was founded in 2006 by Fred Ziari, of Hermiston, upon hearing that Oregon was one of the most food insecure states in the country. According to the Oregon Food Bank, about 644,000 Oregonians do not have access to enough affordable, nutritious food, of which 223,480 are children.
Ziari, who serves as CEO of IRZ Consulting, reached out to colleagues and local farmers to see if they would be interested in pitching in to help solve the problem. Without exception, he said the farming community was on board.
“We shouldn’t have hunger in our state,” Ziari said. “Agriculture is our business, but food is all Oregonians’ business.”
This year alone, Farmers Ending Hunger has been responsible for donating 5 million pounds of ready-to-eat food to the Oregon Food Bank. Roughly 80 percent of those donations comes from Eastern Oregon, where farmers grow more than 200 different types of crops.
Top contributors include Amstad Produce, which gives 30 tons of potatoes every month. River Point Farms, the country’s largest grower and processor of onions, also kicks in 20-30 tons of produce every month. Threemile Canyon Farms contributes 20 beef cows every month, which are processed into hamburger meat.
“All the food is given by the farmers for free,” Ziari said. “This is what you buy at Safeway and grocery stores. It’s the same quality.”
What is not free is the packaging and transportation to ship that food to food banks across the state. That’s where Wednesday’s cash donations come in handy. Members of the public can also sign up to “adopt an acre” to help cover those costs.
Bob Hale, president of River Point Farms in Hermiston, said the company has contributed to Farmers Ending Hunger since the very beginning.
“I think it’s in the spirit of agriculture in general,” Hale said. “We want to make sure everybody gets to eat equally. We think it’s all part of the process, to feed people. It isn’t just business. It’s a way of life.”
The partnership with the Round-Up was finalized in May during the annual Portland Rose Festival. Rodeo royalty joined with Farmers Ending Hunger to help pack food boxes at the Oregon Food Bank, which are then distributed among a network of 21 regional food banks and 970 partner agencies, including CAPECO in Umatilla, Morrow, Gilliam and Wheeler counties.
John Burt, executive director of Farmers Ending Hunger, said the Round-Up started as an agricultural event, and the partnership between the two groups only seemed natural.
“To recognize the bounty of this area at harvest time makes sense,” Burt said.
Burt made no secret of his excitement for the partnership as he unfurled the large “Farmers Ending Hunger Day” banner, describing it as a huge milestone for his organization. He hopes to see it evolve into an annual celebration;.
“To be sought out and asked by the Round-Up, that is just huge,” Burt said. “To me personally, that means we’ve arrived.”
To learn more about Farmers Ending Hunger or to make a contribution, visit www.farmersendinghunger.com.