New Report from Ecotrust Highlights Regional Food System Challenges and Opportunities

Publish Date: Summer 2015

A new report led by Ecotrust asserts that we have a great deal of opportunity in Oregon to increase production and consumption of “Oregon grown” food, especially food differentiated by environmental, humane, and other sustainability values.

Yet the report also confirms what many have suspected or experienced: for a wide variety of reasons, food aggregation, processing, and distribution infrastructure is not readily or affordably accessible by Oregon’s small and midscale, differentiated farmers, ranchers, and artisans. The study argues that this lack of access is inhibiting the growth and development of a robust regional food economy. The study also highlighted many other interdependent factors related to the development of a strong regional food economy.

The report, “Infrastructure Gap Analysis: Where could investment catalyze regional food system growth and development,” was released this spring. The project team, led by Ecotrust’s Amanda Oborne, drew on secondary data and primary research (interviews, visits, and tours) with key stakeholders around the state. The report also includes analysis, based on secondary data, of specific product categories: chicken, beef, pork, small grains and legumes, storage crops, and greens.

All study results were vetted by partners, advisors, and industry experts. Ecotrust’s project team included Oregon food systems consultant atthew Buck and Lauren Gwin of OSU’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems. Project advisors included Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon Food Bank, Northwest Food Processors Association, and several important regional food businesses.

Ecotrust proposed the study, which was funded by Meyer Memorial Trust, to meet three objectives on behalf of impact investors, practitioners, and policymakers:

  1. To provide an overview of key supply, demand, and infrastructure drivers affecting the development of Oregon’s regional food system;
  2. To illuminate aggregation, processing, and distribution infrastructure gaps inhibiting the flow of whole and minimally processed agricultural and food products from small and midscale Oregon producers to domestic wholesale food buyers, and;
  3. To suggest opportunities for investment to advance the development of a robust regional food economy in Oregon.

As Ecotrust explains in the report, “infrastructure” was originally conceived as both the physical components of food aggregation, processing, and distribution (e.g., warehouses, equipment, trucks), as well as the network of relationships (e.g., producers, processors, butchers, brokers, distributors, chefs), required to move food from the farm or ranch to the point of consumption. Yet very early in the research process, the project team realized that infrastructure was in fact an “entry point into a much broader examination of the challenges and opportunities posed by the development of regional food systems.”

The report includes specific recommendations for would-be investors who want to “do something” about regional food systems. Ecotrust’s top recommendation for them? “Pick a problem and go to work.” As the report explains, “the issues are many and varied so coordination of a wide variety of investment and initiatives will be required to change the overall situation.”

Learn more on the report website:
http://www.ecotrust.org/publication/regional-food-infrastructure/:

  • Read the Executive Summary (15 pp)
  • Read the full report (240pp including references)
  • Meet “Intrepid” – a hypothetical investor hoping to make a difference – and take an interactive (and clever) journey through the report findings.

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