Background image of A man smiles out the window of a food cart.

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Breaking bread,talking business

A new pilot program focused on Latinx entrepreneurs aims to empower business owners with local purchasing know-how.

More and more people recognize both the value of food and knowing where it comes from. Yet the system of growing, processing, and distributing food too often fails to serve businesses at every scale.

One of the ways we are connecting the dots between local producers, buyers, and eaters is through a partnership with Hacienda CDC and the Portland Mercado. Their food business incubator funded by NALCAB, Micro Mercantes, offers business development training and commissary kitchen space to low-income food business entrepreneurs. As part of Micro Mercantes’ services, our own Food and Farms Coordinator, Aaron Vargas, teaches a course on local sourcing for small business owners.

Vargas, who teaches the course alternately in Spanish and English, said many attendees are not aware of how to start sourcing local food, despite a strong desire to do so. Through Micro Mercantes, low-income entrepreneurs of color have more resources to build a sustainable supply chain for their businesses.

The curriculum Vargas teaches offers tools for menu planning and marketing, spreadsheets of seasonally available items, and information on how to connect with local farms. For example, Adelante Mujeres, a long-time supplier of fruits and vegetables to local schools, is one such provider; with a drop site at Portland Mercado, they offer direct local-food access to food entrepreneurs.

“Participating in this program is a way to make Ecotrust and our expertise more accessible and supportive of direct-service organizations,” Vargas said of the program and the partnership with Hacienda CDC and the Portland Mercado.

“We’re helping make regional foods and the tools to acquire them available to food business entrepreneurs. We’re not working with institutions in this setting, we’re working at restaurant, food cart or catering scale procurement, but it’s one and the same: We’re connecting buyers to ag of the middle producers.

Photo: Antonio Asuncion of the food cart Mixteca greets customers during the lunch rush at Portland Mercado. Courtesy of Micro Mercantes.