PORTLAND, Ore. – In the food system Amanda Oborne envisions for the Northwest and beyond, hospital and corporate cafeteria directors will be able to source crates of local tomatoes and sides of grassfed beef with the same ease that shoppers find regional delicacies at myriad Saturday farmer’s markets.
Oborne will continue to pursue that vision as Ecotrust’s new Director of Food and Farms, a role she took over on April 1.
The key, she says, is mid-sized agriculture — “Ag of the Middle” — a sub-section of food producers who have been squeezed recently between a legion of niche producers and the consolidation and growth of commodity growers.
“To truly scale up our regional food system and make it robust, we need to fill in that gap,” says Oborne. “And we need to help institutional buyers overcome barriers to buying local and regional food.”
“Ag of The Middle” operations — those too large to sell directly to consumers and too small or differentiated to sell on the commodity markets — are exactly the type needed to serve regional food systems. But these businesses have been disappearing at alarming rates in the last 15 years. The number of mid-market operations earning between $50,000 and $500,000 dropped 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
In her new role, Oborne will focus Ecotrust’s Food and Farms team and collaborate with partners to develop strong regional markets for locally produced food, build the new infrastructure required for regional food systems, and strengthen the businesses that form the heart of that system.
“I look forward to working with a broad coalition of partners to build a food system that nourishes us all,” Oborne says.
Oborne joined Ecotrust in 2010 as sales and marketing director for FoodHub, www.food-hub.org, and became project director in 2012. She helped build the online wholesale marketplace’s membership to more than 4,500 companies and organizations spread across six Western states. Fast Company named FoodHub one of the ten most innovative initiatives in food in 2011, and the site has become an asset for wholesale food buyers – particularly schools – looking to source food from regional producers. It has also opened up new markets for rural producers: 20% of members are located in rural counties, and FoodHub allows them to quickly find and connect with urban buyers.
Oborne has twice spoken at White House food summits and regularly appears at national forums on food and agriculture, including the National Good Food Network, SXSW Eco, and the Chefs’ Collaborative National Summit.
Previously, she worked in marketing for several leading brands, including Intuit’s QuickBooks and Levi Strauss & Co.
“We were looking for a leader who had expertise in food systems and skills in developing innovative business models,” says Ecotrust President Astrid Scholz. “Although our national search yielded an impressive candidate pool, we were pleased to discover that the best fit was right here in our midst.”
In addition to founding and developing FoodHub, Ecotrust has a long and winning track record of Farm to School advocacy and publishes Edible Portland magazine.
“Ecotrust is like the Otis Elevator of food,” Oborne says. “Much of our work is behind-the-scenes, we’re capable of a lot of heavy lifting, and we create space for serendipitous interactions and unusual alliances among the diverse stakeholders with whom we work every day.”
“We are focused on creating networks and platforms that facilitate connections and collaborations,” she continues. “And we must also reinvent ourselves regularly in the midst of fast-evolving markets and landscapes.”
Oborne has a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University (2000) and a BS from Washington University in St. Louis (1995). She lives in Northeast Portland with her two children, Olivia (8) and Hudson (6).
Ecotrust’s mission is to foster a natural model of development that creates more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems here and around the world. Over more than 20 years, Ecotrust has converted $80 million in grants into more than $800 million in capital for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California. Ecotrust’s many innovations include co-founding the world’s first environmental bank, starting the world’s first ecosystem investment fund, creating a range of programs in fisheries, forestry, food, farms and indigenous affairs, and developing new scientific and information tools to improve social, economic and environmental decision making. Ecotrust works locally in ways that promise hope abroad, and it takes inspiration from the wisdom of Native and First Nation leadership. Learn more at www.ecotrust.org