FoodHub Director takes rural success story to White House

Release Date: 06-12-2012

Carolyn Holland

Vice President, Engagement
503.467.0754

Portland, Ore. — FoodHub director Amanda Oborne will return to the White House tomorrow to talk about the networking site’s growing success in finding new opportunities for rural food producers and buyers.

Oborne will join four dozen other rural innovators at the Forum on Regional Innovation in Rural America, to be held at the White House on Wednesday, June 13th. She’ll demonstrate FoodHub for members of the White House Rural Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division.

The White House Rural Council was formed last year to focus the Obama administration’s efforts in economic development and job creation in rural America. USDA Rural Development provides financial and technical assistance throughout the country.

“USDA Rural Development is proud to support FoodHub,” said Vicki Walker, USDA Rural Development State Director in Oregon. “This is a terrific example of a public-private partnership that improves the connections between healthy food and consumers while supporting our local and regional economies.”

“We think FoodHub has a great story to tell as it connects rural producers to new markets — especially urban ones,” Oborne said of the site, which launched two years ago.

Almost 700 of FoodHub’s 3,600 members in six Western states are in rural areas. Sellers range from farmers, ranchers, and dairies to fishermen, processors and producers of wine, beer and other specialty products. Buyers include many mainstay institutions like schools and hospitals.

Rural buyers and sellers are using the site to make new local connections, improving rural sales and keeping buyers’ money at home at a time when rural economies urgently need both. Among the states that FoodHub serves, Alaska buys just 1% of its food within its borders while the breadbasket state of Montana imports $3 billion in food each year. One study of Umatilla County in eastern Oregon showed that nearly 90% of food consumed there came from outside the county.

New food market connections can boost local economies. Ecotrust’s report The Impact of Seven Cents showed that every dollar spent by schools on local food returned an extra $.87 to the local economy. The USDA’s own research shows that growth in a community’s local food economy can improve that community’s employment and income.

Rural producers are also using FoodHub to connect with new urban markets. And they are using it to understand demand and refine their products.

“It has opened doors, by word of mouth, to chefs who have tried our products and then referred some of their friends to our farm,” said Cassandra Timms of Deck Family Farms in Junction City, OR. “We didn’t have to do the footwork or cold call them. They were just referred to us. That makes it worth those 10 minutes a day that we spend on the site.”

FoodHub’s growth is tied to a national resurgence in small- and medium-acreage farming, in which the trend is moving away from commodity cropping and toward suites of specialty and niche crops that go to a diversity of buyers. According to a study funded by the Farm Credit Council, organic, farm-direct and local sales totaled $8 billion in 2007. That same study found that a small 25-acre farm growing 75 to 100 different crops for a community-supported agriculture operation could bring in $90,000 in net profit. Comparatively, a 100-acre farm growing 15 to 20 crops might see $26,000 a year in net profit.

FoodHub is now actively growing its rural membership to supply run-away demand in both rural and urban areas for locally- and regionally-grown foods.

“Our focus now is on boosting rural producer membership to meet the burgeoning demand in cities and rural areas all across the West,” Oborne said.

Oborne’s visit will mark FoodHub’s third visit to the White House in a year. FoodHub founder Deborah Kane, now the director of the USDA’s Farm to School program, was named one of President Obama’s rural “Champions of Change” and met with the President and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a summit in July 2011. And in March 2012, Oborne joined U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan for a summit on food initiatives across the country.

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About Ecotrust — www.ecotrust.org
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 $500 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 in its work. Learn more at www.ecotrust.org

About FoodHub – www.food-hub.org
Launched in 2010, FoodHub is a project of Ecotrust. The tool was developed with private foundation, nonprofit and government resources, and intended for broad use throughout the food and agricultural communities. Now in its second year, FoodHub has invited more than 3,600 farmers, ranchers, dairies, fishermen, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and chefs to connect with each other and create a more robust regional food economy.