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Q&A with Amanda Oborne, Vice President of Food and Farms

As Ecotrust’s Vice President of Food & Farms, Amanda Oborne leads a team seeking to create a restorative, nutritious, equitable and just food system. By harnessing the purchasing power of schools and institutions, empowering local farmers and ranchers, and developing infrastructure to connect the two, Amanda and her team at Ecotrust are working with partners across the region to build a resilient regional food economy that nourishes communities and renews the resources on which we depend. From the Redd on Salmon Street, to FoodHub, to more than a decade leading farm to school initiatives across the West, her team is putting bold ideas to change our food system for the better into action.

This week, Fast Company Magazine named Amanda one of the Most Creative People in business in the nation, joining a select group of entrepreneurs and social innovators who are shaking up the status quo in their industries—from civil rights activists to food system pioneers, CEOs to architects to pro athletes.

You were recently named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” — what does being creative mean to you and your work?

Perhaps to the frustration of many of my colleagues, being creative to me means not always accepting the rules as they are written. I believe there are always win-win solutions to challenges big and small, but often require reframing the situation entirely.

Where did you spend your childhood?

Upon completing his academic studies, my dad was offered three jobs: one in Seattle, one in San Francisco, and one in Logan, Utah. My dad grew up in a very small town in Northern Montana that had absolutely terrible tap water (which I can attest from many trips there myself!). As my mom tells the story, dad ran a glass of crystal clear mountain spring water from a kitchen faucet in Logan and decided in that moment that he would take the job at Utah State University. As a result, I grew up mostly in a small community in Utah, with a short and eye-opening interlude in Philadelphia during middle school, before returning to Logan where I went to high school.

Growing up in a small rural town that had a pretty distinct worldview from other parts of the country, but with a family fond of road-tripping across the country, particularly here to Oregon where my mom is from, made me very aware of the many threads of American culture. There is a breathtaking spectrum of thought and experience in this country, all of which I believe can be brought to bear to help nurture creative, restorative, equitable, prosperous communities.

Did you always know you wanted to be a changemaker when you grew up?

If being bossy, opinionated, and unafraid to speak truth to power are signs of change-makership, then I’m pretty sure even my 9th grade science teacher (with whom I’m still friends!) would say the writing was on the wall early. I like to think I’ve refined some of those early raw edges and added skills in empathy and active listening that foster the collaboration necessary for genuine change-making.

What do you see as some of the most important issues in the food movement today?

I think it’s time we start considering how fundamentally flawed our current food system is. Our health, economy, environment, and culture are intertwined in our food and how we produce and disseminate it. Our biology makes us highly susceptible to food that is bad for us, and our always-on culture keeps us running and distracted, so it is extremely profitable, given the economic structure in which we operate, to exploit those realities to the collective detriment of our health and humanity.

It is inhumane, in my mind, to propagate a food system that solves for financial profit over human health and wellbeing. People from all walks of life — farmers and ranchers in rural communities, school children, hospital patients, service industry and agricultural workers, people disadvantaged by institutional racism, people living in poverty, and even privileged city dwellers like me — suffer to varying degrees from a food system that prioritizes profit and efficiency over nutrition, access, and resource stewardship.

My work at Ecotrust is to help innovate an alternative.

How would you describe Ecotrust’s secret sauce?

I think Ecotrust’s secret sauce lies in its willingness to lean into complexity for the sake of holistic, but practical, solutions. The urge to simplify is human, but our attempts to solve for one variable at a time often create a myriad of unintended negative consequences. I think we at Ecotrust are pretty good at recognizing there is a lot we don’t know and can’t measure, and so actively observing and listening for both the connections and gaps in the system help us push the creation of resilient frameworks that leave plenty of space for new ideas and iteration.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and at risk of sounding absolutely ridiculous, have just started reading the 7-volume opus, “In Search of Lost Time” by Marcel Proust. I hope to finish it before I die.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

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