Community health and resilience

Oregonians are independent, hard-working, and innovative. But our communities struggle with economic and health challenges of food security, poverty, underemployment, addictions, suicide, and low graduation rates. We must invest in our communities’ health and resilience to create a vibrant future for all.

Vegetables and flowers growing in the Warm Springs garden box.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that it wouldn’t be possible for the Oregon State University Extension Service to conduct in-person learning garden classes at the Warm Springs K-8 Academy and OSU demonstration/learning gardens on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reservation. The pandemic also exposed the vulnerability of food insecurity on the reservation – even in the best of times, the reservation is considered a food desert.

With just one market offering groceries to a population of 3,200, most residents travel off the reservation to buy food. The entire Warm Springs school district qualifies for free breakfast, lunch and after-school meals. Stay-at-home orders and restrictions on school, travel and businesses created uncertainty for tribal members’ access to fresh food.

Growing community and home gardens is a proven method of assuring food security and an encouraging motivator to continue work in the development of food sovereignty, security, and resilience on the Warm Springs reservation. OSU Extension in Warm Springs collaborated with the Warm Springs Community Action Team to conduct a needs assessment to figure out food supply, food preference, and technical support needs.

That initial work led to Grow Where You Are, a project to help residents grow their own food at home through garden kits. Each kit includes a raised garden box, four bags of soil, vegetable seeds and two marigold plants. The kit also includes directions to set up the 2-foot by 2-foot garden box and planting, and OSU Extension Food Hero vegetable informational sheets, recipes and youth coloring pages.

Extension also leveraged grant funding to build protective garden fences at the Warm Springs Tribal Senior Wellness Center and Simnasho Community in Wasco County. These new learning gardens offer safe senses of place to participate in meaningful and purposeful actions, create additional platforms to encourage and spark interest in growing food, and build community and address and establish food security and food sovereignty.

Extension’s Warm Springs Agriculture and Community Gardening team spearheaded the effort. It includes John Brunoe, 4-H and Family Community Health educator; Ellise David, 4-H education program assistant; Tracy Wilson, Extension local liaison to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Spring; and Olivia Davis, Extension SNAP-Ed outreach coordinator and Family and Community Health educator.

In 2020, 110 raised garden beds were built and delivered to youth and their families. The initiative received funding from the Native American Agricultural Fund to create an additional 550. Families said they looked forward to growing vegetables and flowers with their children and one grandparent requested kits for her grandchildren.

Fresh produce grown from the Extension Warm Springs learning gardens and Warm Springs K-8 Academy School Garden was delivered to the Warm Springs Tribal Senior Wellness Center, Warm Springs Children’s Protective Services Center, and Warm Springs Community Action Food Cart. Staff from the Warm Springs K-8 Academy also benefited from the fresh produce grown at the school garden. Extension is working with the senior wellness center’s head cook and management to grow foods for the elder kitchen and creating a pleasing area for elders, staff and community members to participate in gardening activities.

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, OSU Extension distributed 205 take-home kits for the Kenton Kids Cooking Club

Each week during the summer of 2019, about 45 kids visited the Kenton Kids Cooking Club at the Kenton Farmers Market in north Portland, where they prepared Food Hero recipes such as Farmers Market Salsa using produce from the market. The market is one of five neighborhood markets operated by the Portland Farmers Market. The Kenton Kids Cooking Club is offered through Portland SNAP-Ed, a nutrition education program of the Oregon State University Extension Service.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a significant challenge for the club. While farmers markets were deemed an essential service in Oregon and operated with additional health and safety precautions, all in-person Extension community programming and tastings were put on hold. Portland SNAP-Ed brainstormed ways to continue to engage with its cooking club participants by adapting the Kenton Kids Cooking Club as a take-home cooking kit model.

The kits were developed collaboratively with the farmers market manager, and contents included a seasonal produce item, an educator message, Food Hero recipes and activity pages for kids. Food Hero is a statewide initiative of the Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program and was developed by Extension in English and Spanish. All the recipes are tested according to criteria, such as overall flavor, color and texture. Food Hero meals are low-cost and feature easy to find ingredients, easy to follow instructions, and minimal preparation time.

The kits were distributed each week at the market from August through September. Participants were encouraged to create the Food Hero recipes at home and to learn about Oregon-grown produce.

A total of 205 take-home cooking kits were distributed to Kenton families, with 127 kids participating in the program, 31 of which repeatedly visited the market to pick up their kit. Many families reported having fun at home with the kits, and their kids were excited about trying new foods. A Kenton resident and first-time Kenton Farmers Market shopper, said, “I have three grandkids who will be so happy for something to do.”

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College Talk Tuesdays started in April 2020 via Zoom.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, almost all Oregon schools were closed and learning went remote. At least 45,000 graduating students had no or little access to information about college and postsecondary prospects and the mentoring that makes the process a positive experience.

Oregon State University Extension Service’s Open Campus realized an opportunity to help these students and their families connect with what they need for a successful journey from high school to college or other postsecondary prospects.

Under the guidance of Jennifer Oppenlander, Open Campus manager, and Jose Garcia, Open Campus coordinator, the team started a virtual, live program called College Talk Tuesdays to connect high school students, community college students and families to share information for making informed and practical decisions about continuing their education after high school.

Sessions started on Tuesdays in April 2020 via Zoom in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties. The digital format allowed students from around the state to participate.

“The pandemic brought out the benefits of being able to connect online,” Oppenlander said. “I feel like we need a lot more of that. Students respond very positively and we get a bigger audience that includes a wider range of people – teachers, partners, parents.”

The talks cover topics such as: how to apply to college and housing and then get involved on campus; how to sign up for work study positions or get financial aid; and how to upload immunization records. The program has been marketed through emails to counselors, administrators, mentors and through social media. The talks have been recorded and uploaded to the College Talk Tuesdays webpage and to the Open Campus YouTube channel.

Community members, educators and students, past and present, came together to make 91 videos – with more to come – that represent an extensive library of resources. The sessions were designed to be one topic at a time so students could focus on what they are most interested in.

In 2020, about 150 people around the state registered for the talks and the videos had been viewed more than 330 times. College Talk Tuesdays has given students the opportunity to personally connect with people who know the system and can unlock the mysteries of higher education. As an added benefit, the information is now available for educators who are working with students across the state.

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Every 4-H Central issue includes an activity that represents the four “Hs” that figure in the youth development organization’s name: head, heart, hands and health.

It debuted online on April 5, 2020, three weeks after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered Oregon’s schools closed and four days before Brown announced that schools wouldn’t reopen for the 2019-20 school year.

It was called “4-H Central,” a weekly e-magazine in English and Spanish developed by the Oregon State University Extension faculty and staff in Marion County. The first issue included activities for elementary-aged youth called “Code Your Name!” and “Show You Care/Write a Letter” and “Wheel of Service: Top 10 at-home projects to do for others.” There was a recipe for making apple sandwiches.

“We wanted to develop something that was digital but at the same time not dependent on going online and needing to have a strong internet connection,” said Dani Castillo-Davalos, 4-H program coordinator in Marion County and the magazine’s editor. “We wanted to provide simple, low- or no-cost activities at home, geared toward health and wellness.”

A year later, the 4-H Central team has kept it up, putting out 34 issues after shifting to bi-weekly in August 2020. Every issue includes an activity that represents the four “Hs” that figure in the youth development organization’s name: head, heart, hands and health.

The magazine has developed a regional and state focus. The main content creators are the Marion County 4-H team of Melanie McCabe, Kelly Noack and Abby Lewis, and Carly Kristofik, Marion County’s SNAP-Ed coordinator who contributes Food Hero recipes. 4-H volunteer Heidy Castillo designs the magazine and translates the text into Spanish.

By mid-July, posts on Facebook linking to the magazine had reached nearly 362,000 users.

The magazine received attention from the National 4-H Council, which linked to the publication on a blog called “4-H at Home: Helpers, Heroes & History.”

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A still from the virtual reality simulation of the Cascadia Earthquake.

Scientists predict there is about a 37% chance that an earthquake of at least 8.0 magnitude will strike off the Pacific Northwest coast in the next 50 years. When it occurs, the historic temblor will cause widespread devastation in Oregon.

In an effort to educate Oregonians to prepare for the Cascadia Earthquake, resulting tsunami and other geohazards, the Oregon State University Extension Service created a free online course that consists of four modules.

  • Module 1 shows the evidence of this disaster, also known as the also as the Cascadia Subduction Zone Event (CSZ).
  • Module 2 focuses on the experience of the shaking of five to seven minutes and the immediate steps you should take.
  • Module 3 explores the altered life after the CSZ and provides tools to be prepared.
  • Module 4 contains additional education for Extension professionals, neighborhood leaders, and emergency agency or organization employees or volunteers who can assist before and after the disaster.

Each module contains multiple narrated sessions and many additional resources allowing the participant to delve as deep into the focus of that module as they would like. Module 2 also includes a virtual reality simulation of the earthquake.

As a result of viewing the first three modules, a survey of those who piloted the course shows that 90% of respondents gained knowledge that helps them understand the probability and effects of the CSZ, and 95% said they gained knowledge “that helps me prepare for the earthquake happens and “helped me advance my disaster preparations.” Every respondent said they plan to recommend the course to others.

An additional survey of Extension professionals who completed all four modules was implemented, and statistically significant gains were recorded in all areas including knowledge about the event, feeling prepared to provide the information to Extension audiences about the earthquake, and the importance of preparing for the earthquake as well as having taken steps to prepare themselves and family.

In the late spring of 2020, Extension launched a Cascadia Earthquake Preparedness page on its website that curates and facilitates resources to help Pacific Northwest residents prepare for the historic quake.

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Over 120 flats of mechanically harvested blueberries from the North Willamette Research and Extension Center were delivered to area food banks in July 2020.

In July 2020, the North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Aurora found itself with 1,800 pounds of mechanically harvested blueberries ready for distribution. Normally the berries are harvested and purchased by Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener volunteers, with the proceeds supporting research at NWREC, one of the branches of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. This wasn't possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so staff from NWREC and the Extension Family and Community Health program in Clackamas County came up with a new plan.

The berries were loaded into a cargo van and delivered to local food pantries, including the Tualatin School House Pantry, Tigard High School Food Pantry, Clackamas County Gleaners, and the Clackamas Service Center. Collectively, these organizations distribute emergency food assistance to more than 10,000 families in Clackamas and Washington counties. Pantry coordinators reported that the berries “flew off the shelves,” and many grateful recipients commented that it was the first time during the season that they were able to take berries home to share with their families.

In a separate blueberry donation, the OSU-NRWEC Berry Crops Research Program harvested and gave fruit to Salem Harvest. In a typical year, the proceeds from the blueberries sale help support research at NWREC, a branch of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station.

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Pacific Islander and Micronesian Cooking Matters class participants after a cooking class dedicated to culturally based healthy recipes.

Historically the Micronesian and Pacific Islander community in the United States has faced inequitable health outcomes, exacerbated by a lack of access to health care services and social safety nets due to their special residency status.

Oregon SNAP-Ed is a nutrition education program of the Oregon State University Extension Service. Lahaina Phillip, a SNAP-Ed community health specialist for the Portland-area Micronesian Islander community, contacted SNAP-Ed colleague Elena Illescas, who teaches nutrition education in Clackamas County as part of a Spanish-language Cooking Matters class with community partners. Phillip and Illescas collaborated to design and deliver a series of nutrition education and cooking classes with the Micronesian community.

Last January, Illescas taught a six class series of Cooking Matters for the Islander community. Participation was excellent, due to the promotional efforts of Phillip, as well as class volunteers Madie Phillip and Myra Horn. The Oregon Food Bank donated grocery gift cards and paid for purchases of culturally specific ingredients. Two of the recipes prepared during class were added to the Extension Food Hero website: Chicken Kelaguen and Stir Fry Mackerel.

Phillip and Illescas expanded their partnership to form a Food Hero Cultural Toolkit Workgroup for Pacific Islanders to highlight traditional ingredients and promote healthy cultural recipes.

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Clackamas Kids in the Kitchen sixth-grader, Ren Suo, took this photograph of her Food Hero Cranberry Oatmeal Balls.

In the fall of 2020, Oregon SNAP-Ed, a nutrition education program of the Oregon State University Extension Service, started partnering with Todos Juntos, a nonprofit after-school provider in Clackamas County, to deliver Kids in the Kitchen to middle- and high-school students in Estacada and Sandy. Kids in the Kitchen is a SNAP-Ed nutrition and cooking program developed by University of Missouri Extension that encourages kids to eat healthy meals and snacks by providing them with hands on learning experiences that teach them how to prepare food.

Elena Illescas, an Extension nutrition educator in Clackamas County, has years of experience teaching the class to groups of students at Estacada Middle School. When the experience moved to the virtual classroom, with students preparing the recipes in their home kitchens, the group met with Illescas online weekly to discuss basic nutrition information, learn cooking skills, and share cooking experiences with each other.

Quela Cauich, from Todos Juntos, taught food photography and encouraged students to photograph their dishes. Funds for ingredients were provided by the Providence Healthier Kids, Together effort.

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The OSU Child Development Center is dedicated to discovering and communicating knowledge that contributes to the optimal development and well-being of young children and their families.

Research from the Oregon State University Extension Service identified Tillamook County as a child care desert – a county where there is not enough child care for demand. In 2019, only 4% of babies and toddlers up to 2 years old have access to child care. Children ages 3-5 only had a one-in-five chance of finding child care.

In response, community partners organized the Tillamook County Early Child Care and Education Task Force in 2019. OSU Extension’s Open Campus program co-led the task force to facilitate collaboration between community stakeholders in Tillamook County.

The COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse in the county. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, Tillamook County was awarded $841,000 in aid to offset expenses related to the pandemic. With guidance from the task force, Extension and Tillamook YMCA, $131,000 of those dollars were allocated to Tillamook child care providers.

The relief funds were distributed to 17 providers so they could continue caring for children. Four new child care facilities opened with the funding. As a result, child care expanded from 62 spots to 230, and total hours served per child went from 3,520 to 26,653. The money supported tuition reimbursement for families, personal protective equipment, facility improvements and supplies. A long-term plan for increasing child care availability is being planned.

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Balloons at the first Latino dance in the history of The Dalles High School in 2019.

Latino students, which make up about 37% of the student body at The Dalles High School, have few options for organized social activities. Dances primarly play songs in English. So, the student club at the school, Juntos Council, decided to get school support to have a Latino dance not only for fun but also to spread cultural awareness.

The Juntos Council is part of the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Juntos program in Wasco County. Juntos, launched by OSU Open Campus in 2011, is designed to provide knowledge and resources to prevent youth from dropping out of high school and go on to pursue a post-secondary education path.

Teresa Esiquio and Yajaira Madrigal, Juntos Council members, joined Andrea Flores, Juntos coordinator in Wasco County, when she met with Vice Principal Phil Williams. The students made their case for a Latino dance, contending that it would create inclusivity at the high school. The school administrators approved the idea.

On April 23, 2019, the first Latino dance in the history of the school drew about 200 students. The Juntos Council scheduled a dance in 2020 but it was canceled due to COVID-19. There are plans for a dance in 2022 and it will be known as the Juntos “Together” Dance so it is more inclusive of classmates that don’t identify at Latino.

Students on the Juntos Council that made the dance happen were Teresa Esiquio, Yajara Madrigal, Elena Hernández, Selene Heredia and Tilaima Paulo.

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Packed meal boxes at the Boardman Food Pantry.

Boardman, a town of just over 5,000 on the shores of the Columbia River in Morrow County, boasts the lowest rate of unemployment and highest median income in Oregon. But food insecurity is a very real issue in Boardman, with few resources for emergency and everyday needs. All of its elementary schools qualify for free and reduced lunches for students.

Prior to last summer, the nearest food pantry was 12 miles away in Irrigon and it was only open one day a week for limited hours.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a local church established a food pantry with the intention of providing food during the stay-at-home restriction but needed more funds and resources. In response, Oregon State University Extension Service quickly rallied to hold community meetings that led to a committee tasked with looking for options. The committee established a non-profit business with board members, bylaws and mission.

Between March and December of 2020, the newly formed Boardman Food Pantry raised $300,000 in grants and donations that enabled the purchase of a building and furnishing it with shelving, refrigerators and freezers. The pantry has been providing food boxes to approximately 60 households and nearly 200 people per week.

Due to pandemic restrictions, the Oregon Food Bank wasn’t able to certify the space, which is required before getting distributions of food from the state agency. To fill the gap, volunteers shop and sort donations. It is anticipated that in 2021 the new, much-need pantry will be certified to provide food on a larger level and serve more of the community.

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Adult Workplace/COVID-19 Mini-Poster.

Each year about 6,000-15,000 migrant and seasonal farm workers arrive in the Columbia River Gorge from late May through early June to work in orchards, packing houses and on farms to harvest, pack, and process the region's cherries, apples, peaches, pears, blueberries and wine grapes. In 2020, these workers and their families were among the most vulnerable groups for COVID-19, given their congregate traveling, working and housing conditions. COVID-19’s spread threatened the region’s local agricultural sector, posing both a humanitarian and economic crisis.

In response, a team of community organizations that included the Oregon State University Extension Service mobilized for the 2020 harvest season to support migrant and seasonal farm workers. Hundreds of hours were spent in dozens of coordination meetings developing a collective response. Wasco and Hood River counties mobilized their emergency operation centers and incident command.

Extension faculty played a critical role in supporting these workers with food, quarantine housing, personal protective equipment, communicating about COVID symptoms, testing and prevention. They also supported new technology for regional medical providers to offer telehealth and for children to participate in distance learning. Faculty members Lauren Kraemer, Ashley Thompson and Lynette Black serve on local emergency operation center and incident command committees. Kraemer served on the Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Taskforce, a food support subcommittee and separate Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Advisory Board and Evaluation Team meetings. Thompson supported the agriculture sector in the region, offering webinars, training and support and evaluation to local orchardists. Black managed volunteers and supported personal protective equipment donations and distribution.

An Extension summer intern, Daniela Valle, developed plain-language pictorial public service announcements and infographics about COVID-19 symptoms, prevention, face coverings and care and that were shared via email as posters and flyers, as well as through Instagram and Facebook posts. Kraemer also worked with the Extension Food Hero team and colleague Glenda Hyde to adapt existing High Speed Hand Washing (HSHW) materials for adults in the workplace. Extension faculty distributed hundreds of thousands of disposable face coverings and over 4,000 reusable cloth face coverings among the region’s agricultural communities. They also handed out HSHW materials on waterproof paper to local agriculture partners to encourage efficient and effective handwashing practices.

As a result, Extension’s multi-pronged approach resulted in fewer cases of COVID-19. In Wasco County, the COVID-19 infection rate among migrant workers was 0.41%. There were zero deaths or hospitalizations among migrant and seasonal farm workers and zero cases in Wasco County packing houses. Free hand sanitizer, WiFi hot spots, and other actions saved orchardists an estimated $45,000. In a January 2021 Wasco County Advisory Board meeting, two local orchardists, a county administrator, and county commissioner shared their deep gratitude and pride in Extension organization for its response to COVID-19 and the support provided to the region.

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