It Takes a Village: First Tech Builds Community Garden to Help Fight Food Insecurity

Today, approximately 1 in 4 Oregonians is struggling to put food on the table.

Prior to the pandemic, the state’s food insecurity and hunger rates had been steadily declining, dropping below the national average in 2019. Then COVID-19 hit — and those figures more than doubled, currently impacting more than 1 million people, according to the Oregon Hunger Task Force. What’s worse, the OHTF reports that communities of color and single mothers “experience hunger at rates 2 to 3 times higher than the general population.”

Credit unions across the state are finding ways to lessen this struggle. They’re partnering with local nonprofits, food banks, backpack feeding programs, and other organizations to provide communities with greater access to nutritious food.

One unique approach to helping solve this problem comes from First Tech Federal Credit Union. Making use of the large green space located behind its new corporate headquarters in Hillsboro, Oregon, the credit union broke ground on a community garden last fall, a project brought to life from a staff member’s suggestion.

First Tech will donate the produce grown to Centro Cultural, a local organization working to remove barriers to health, well-being, and economic mobility. The nonprofit’s Free Food Mercado (market) provides culturally-specific free food to families and individuals struggling with food insecurity.

The First Tech Community Engagement team said partnering with Centro Cultural is a natural fit, as its values of equity and belonging closely align with First Tech’s. The credit union identified the organization after one of its team members learned about Centro Cultural’s plans to expand the Free Food Mercado.

“We’re honored to partner with Centro Cultural and be able to provide garden-fresh, culturally-specific foods that nourish children and families in need,” said Monique Little, Chief People and Administrative Officer. “As an organization, First Tech is dedicated to giving back, and the community garden gives our employees the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and leave a lasting positive impact on the community.”

This partnership, as well as support from the Oregon Food Bank and other organizations, is helping Centro Cultural complete that expansion to meet the changing needs of its community.

“In the spring, we’ll be opening the Centro Mercado in Cornelius, just a block away from Centro Cultural — a grocery-style food pantry that allows our clients to select their food with dignity and respect, said Banessa Guevara, Centro Cultural’s Director of Community Wellness. “Our partnership with First Tech Federal Credit Union will make more fresh foods accessible to our county.”

In addition to providing nutritious food, community gardens offer a host of other benefits. Research suggests they improve air and soil quality, increase physical activity, contribute to better mental health, and promote community cohesion. All of these factors inspired First Tech employees to pick up a shovel and get to work.

Today, the First Tech community garden is 2,300 square feet, with two ground garden beds and nine raised beds that are tended by First Tech volunteers. One garden bed is raised to a level that does not require bending, offering greater accessibility.

A key part of First Tech’s organizational culture is encouraging staff members to speak up when they have a suggestion or idea, the credit union said.

“We ask our employees to bring their ideas and feedback to the team so that the Workplace Services team can continually find ways in which to improve the workplace. When an idea is put into action, the team celebrates and uses it as an opportunity to encourage others to bring their ideas forward.”

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Posted in Community Impact, CU Difference.