Ag of the Middle

Local food at scale

Ecotrust is helping re-build the “Agriculture of the Middle” (AOTM) — a broad category of small and mid-sized farms and ranches that are larger than those selling via local farmers’ markets or CSAs (community supported agriculture), but smaller than those supplying globalized commodity markets, and who want to sell locally.

Why focus on this size? Our team is working to revolutionize the food system, and we need scale to do it! While farmers’ markets and CSAs are ideal ways to buy food — the freshest harvest, opportunities to meet farmers in person and spend money directly at the source — only a tiny portion of our communities actually shop there. Most of us still get the majority of our food via traditional grocery stores or eating out. If we want to change the food system, we need to get farmers’ market values at wholesale scale. Mid-sized, locally-focused farmers and ranchers can help do it.

Investing in these producers is also important to our region. AOTM producers tend to farm or ranch in ways that restore soil and conserve water, they hire proportionally more local labor, buy more of their supplies locally, and engage actively in their communities, relative to commodity suppliers. In short, AOTM producers are economic development drivers, job creators, and good neighbors.

Building up the Ag of the Middle is key to an equitable, restorative, prosperous, delicious food system.

It’s a tough road though. To grow, these producers must often expand on many fronts at once — land and animals, employees, production facilities, distribution contracts, insurance and legal support, regulatory compliance, and of course, sales, all while trying to manage the usual agricultural risks like storms, drought, and disease that are often beyond human control. Growth with integrity can be expensive, stressful and complicated.

We’re working to ease the burden and smooth the path. Ecotrust offers several programs to support small, socially responsible producers keen to grow with integrity:

The Redd on Salmon Street

A working hub for local food, the Redd on Salmon Street offers warehousing, cold storage, distribution, fulfillment, CSA/CSF drop sites, as well as office, co-working, and meeting space via anchor tenant B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery. Licensed commercial kitchen space may also be available for value-added production.

USDA Grant Support

We have helped highly regenerative farmers and ranchers in Oregon and Washington land and execute Value-Added Producer Grants and other programs from the USDA.

Local Link

Each year, Ecotrust helps curate a food show at the Redd specifically designed to connect mid-sized, socially responsible, local producers directly with chefs and foodservice directors at local institutions. The event is a project of the NW Food Buyers’ Alliance, and details can be found at www.food-hub.org/nwfba.

New! AOTM Cohort Pilot

Over the winter 2017/2018, Ecotrust will be piloting a new program to provide business development support to rural farmers and ranchers in a cohort model. Initial results of the pilot will be available in summer 2018 and if successful, the program will be rolled out in fall of 2018.

“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” ―Wendell Berry

There is no doubt that we are swimming upstream, but successfully spawning modern, regional AOTM cohorts could be a game-changer in our region. The producers are often located in distressed rural areas, both inland and coastal, and control significant natural resources. We know the economic multiplier effects of local food are significant. A network of thriving small and midsized enterprises practicing restorative production, responsible water stewardship, and local hiring would support long-term, sustainable economic growth, rural revitalization, and even climate change mitigation.

In concert, city-dwelling eaters would enjoy better access to nutrient-dense, fresh, local food, and rural communities could benefit from stronger local economies and social support networks. At scale, such a network could help solve the vexing challenge of making good food available and affordable to low-income or vulnerable populations by supplying the foodservice operations of public institutions.

Did you know that schools, hospitals, and corrections facilities in Oregon serve a combined total of 45 million meals per year? Getting good food to local institutions could nourish both the clients (students, patients, inmates) of those institutions, as well as the hard-working employees who patronize on-site cafeterias.

Local food at scale is good for eaters, good for the environment and good for farmers. Win-win-win.

Additional Ag of the Middle resources

Oregon Food Infrastructure Gap Analysis
In addition to identifying investment opportunities for impact investors, practitioners, and policy-makers, this report provides an overview of key supply, demand, and infrastructure drivers affecting the development of Oregon’s regional food system.

Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project
If our shared goal is to catalyze a strong, thriving regional food economy in the Pacific Northwest, what should we invest in? This is the question that spurred our partnership with the Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project to research the opportunity for regional market viability in six food product categories, and to explore the potential for successful collective investment.

Organizing to Rebuild Ag of the Middle
Regional wholesale is one of the most efficient means of supplying Oregon’s foodshed with local agricultural products. Yet, not only do existing processors and distributors lack the capacity to meet local demand, many Oregon producers lack resources to grow to a scale where they can supply this demand.