PORTLAND, ORE., May 14, 2015 – Before food ever reaches the table, it’s gone through an elaborate system of producers, brokers, distributors and other intermediaries, all of whom have a role filling the stores, restaurants and cafeterias where we eat and shop. A new study by regional powerhouse Ecotrust revealed last night that to support mid-sized farmers, ranchers and fishermen, and make fresh, local food more affordable and readily available throughout the region, will require broader investment in infrastructure for food aggregation, processing and distribution.
The findings reported by Ecotrust at an industry food forum follow 15 months of immersive research funded by Meyer Memorial Trust, resulting in the comprehensive Oregon Food Infrastructure Gap Analysis. The study, which combined economic and spatial data with in-depth interviews, identified an unmet need for market development support, as well as an opportunity for greater collaboration across food industries. Further, the study identified mid-size farm and ranch operations, described as the “Agriculture of the Middle,” as best poised to make a positive impact on human and community health in the region and to restore vital soil and water resources. To make the almost 250 page report digestible to everyday eaters, particularly those keen to invest their own time or money to the effort, Ecotrust launched an interactive summary of the report highlights, which can be found at http://food-hub.org/regional-food-infrastructure/.
“Oregon has the capacity to produce a mind-boggling diversity of food, the kind of high-quality products we need to support human health in our region,” says Amanda Oborne, vice president of Ecotrust Food and Farms and co-author of the study. “But we have nowhere near the infrastructure needed to get these diverse products to local eaters in an economically viable way. We are calling on investors and advocates to focus their efforts on developing the physical infrastructure and the relationships that will allow the local food system to grow beyond farmers’ markets and a few select stores and restaurants.”
A Living Laboratory in Inner Southeast Portland
The results of the study have already influenced Ecotrust’s own investment in The Redd, a two-block campus that will serve as a kitchen for the conservation economy under development in Portland’s inner Eastside. Two structures are being restored and retrofitted to facilitate aggregation, warehousing and last-mile logistics, as well as collaborative food processing, value-added food production and office space. B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery, an early partner in Ecotrust’s The Redd, will manage warehousing, cold storage, last-mile logistics and distribution.
“We know from experience that last-mile logistics are expensive and time intensive for rural producers,” says Franklin Jones, founder and CEO of B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery. “With the physical infrastructure at The Redd, we are adding tremendous growth potential for suppliers and producers by expanding their capacity and the ability to reach to retailers, restaurateurs and foodservice operators across the city.”
Ecotrust, a regional organization that has been leading restoration-based economic development since 1991, works to create more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems here and around the world. Ecotrust’s many innovations include cofounding an 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. Learn more at www.ecotrust.org or connect with @ecotrust.