Central Oregon group breaks down barriers to food access and production

HDFFA Rural Food Security Coordinator Emily Ralston displays a Fresh Harvest Kit, one of dozens she helps deliver to Warm Springs each week.

This Saturday in Warm Springs, chef and co-founder of Tahoma Peak Solutions Maria Givens will kick off a free event with a presentation about using Native foods as medicine. Following the presentation, attendees can stick around and enjoy snacks with Native and culturally significant ingredients. Click here for event details.

This event and others like it are part of a growing partnership between the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance (HDFFA) and the communities of Central Oregon, including the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Based in Bend, HDFFA works to address barriers to food access and production across Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties, as well as northern Klamath County.

HDFFA was founded in 2014 and started with one employee. Today, with eight employees, the group offers programs, resources and workshops across the region that support “a prosperous food and farm network with equitable access for all Central Oregonians.” By connecting regional organizations such as local farmers and food pantries, HDFFA is able to pay fair market value to farmers and ranchers, while simultaneously bringing nutritious food to those with limited access.

We spoke with HDFFA’s Rural Food Security Coordinator, Emily Ralston, to learn more about some of the group’s core programs.

Meal Kits

The Fresh Harvest Kits program purchases produce from local farms and collaborates with food pantries to supply other ingredients to build ready-to-make meal kits. Each kit also contains a step-by-step recipe published in English and Spanish, as well as general guidance for recreating the meal with ingredients that you may already have on your shelves at home.

photo of a table with green produce and grocery bags
Ready-to-eat Fresh Harvest Kits available in Warm Springs

“All of our recipes are adaptable,” Ralston said. “We provide everything that you need to make a meal, and then you can do it your own way or follow the recipe.”

HDFFA regularly surveys customers at the food pantries to update recipes.

“Based on the feedback that we’ve gotten, we’ve really shifted this past year. We try to use only recipes that don’t require an oven and are adaptable so folks can make it their own,” Ralston said.

The meal kits are distributed for free at eight local food pantries and community-based organizations throughout Central Oregon.


HDFFA’s VeggieRx program provides free boxes of fresh produce to people experiencing food insecurity who have diet-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. This summer, HDFFA’s VeggieRx senior manager, who is a nutritionist, is working with local farmers to provide fresh vegetables (for pick-up) on a weekly basis at locations in Bend and Warm Springs.

Community members can apply for a free VeggieRx membership online, or by texting “veggie” to 797979.

Tribal-led programs

HDFFA is partnering with the Warm Springs Community Action Team (WSCAT) on a food sovereignty project, which aims to bolster and sustain the Tribe’s connection and access to its traditional foods. Ralston co-leads HDFFA’s programs in Warm Springs and is particularly excited about one project.

“HDFFA has provided funding for supplies and volunteer support for a ‘children’s learning garden’ in Warm Springs,” Ralston said. “Children are able to learn gardening skills and can take food home, and we’re currently in the process of building a greenhouse on-site.”

photo of about 10 people building a greenhouse outside.
HDFFA staff and Thermo Fisher Scientific volunteers build the greenhouse in the Children’s Learning Garden in Warm Springs this May

The greenhouse is funded by Ford Foundation and Thermo Fisher Scientific, and HDFFA staff along with volunteers from Thermo Fisher are doing the construction, which will be completed this spring.

HDFFA is also supporting the renovation of a truck that had serviced the entire reservation as a bookmobile. The truck is being converted into an insulated mobile food pantry, which will reach Tribal members who can’t easily get to the town of Warm Springs. The reservation stretches across 1,000 square miles of Central Oregon.

Warm Springs is also included in the Fresh Harvest Kit program, which will launch Wednesday, June 21, at the Pi-Ume-Sha Health Fair at the Warm Springs Community Center.

What’s next?

Ralston said HDFFA is hoping to continue to expand their existing food access programs to reach more people.

“The most important part of my job is building relationships, and I am excited to continue to connect with amazing community leaders throughout Central Oregon,” Ralston said. “We plan to continue to gather feedback from the community through our Food Security Advisory Committee to better serve Central Oregon through our food access projects and programs.”

To learn more about the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance, visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.