Food Summit Helps to Connect the Mid-Valley

Lexi Stickel, Community Food System Coordinator, Marion-Polk Food Share
Publish Date: 
Spring 2016
Vol. XI No. 2

On February 6th at Willamette University in Salem, people gathered from across the MidWillamette Valley to learn, share, and strengthen the community food system. The first ever Mid-Valley Food Summit had two main goals: to share information from the recently completed Community Food Assessment with the broader community and to build networks and connections among community members who are actively engaged in community food system work.

Mid-Valley Food Summit data collectionThe idea for a Food Summit grew out of the Community Food Assessment (CFA) process in Marion and Polk counties last year. One of the main opportunities for action that emerged from the grassroots community organizing process, led by a RARE AmeriCorps member, was to create space for networking and leadership among the various food system efforts across the region.

Although there is not one overarching food system organization in Marion or Polk counties, there are valuable projects, organizations, and initiatives happening throughout the Mid-Valley. Leaders from some of these groups, spearheaded by Marion-Polk Food Share, created an advisory committee to plan the Food Summit. The committee included OSU Extension, local farms, food processors, county and city government, academia, and others. Oregon Food Bank’s Community Food System team provided guidance.

The Food Summit kicked off on Friday, February 5th with a farm tour of Minto Island Growers in Salem. Elizabeth Miller and Chris Jenkins discussed everything from the soil on their land to their tea plant propagation and CSA program. Tour participants were able to grab fresh kale and cabbage from the field while learning all about the rewards and challenges of being a small-scale farmer in the mid-Valley.

Bright and early on February 6th nearly 200 farmers, gardeners, volunteers, nonprofit organizers, and more flooded into Willamette University to attend the Food Summit. In the morning, participants heard a presentation about the Community Food Assessment and ten 5-minute talks from local people actively engaged in the food system. Presenters included small and large scale farmers, food processors, restaurant owners, as well as representatives from a food coop effort in Silverton, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, a community gardening nonprofit from Woodburn, WIC, WorkSource Oregon, and a gleaning nonprofit.

Lauren Gwin from OSU’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems did a keynote presentation on food system networks across Oregon as well as led attendees in an engaging activity. After a delicious, locally-sourced lunch, attendees headed into breakout sessions on a range of topics. Popular choices focused on linking buyers and producers, creating access to local food for all, building the local food economy, and learning about the farmworker movement in Oregon.

At the end of the day, attendees were invited to share their ideas for improving the community food system in the mid-Valley. Top responses were increasing local food access, building a local food network, and creating a local food guide. Even as volunteers were cleaning up after the end of the Food Summit, community members lingered to network and talk about exciting opportunities for the future of the community food system in the Mid-Valley.

For more information or to get involved, contact Lexi Stickel:, 503-581-3855 x333