Author: Garry Stephenson, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Winter 2014

Oregon State University has launched a new center that aims to strengthen small farms and community food systems. OSU’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems is an outgrowth of the OSU Extension Service’s Small Farms program. It expands the program’s work with small farms production and marketing to provide a platform for collaboration across OSU and Oregon, which will help the Center support farmers and build strong local and regional food systems.

The Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems was established to expand OSU’s leadership in this area, integrating outreach and extension with teaching and applied research. The Center reaches across OSU and Oregon to engage with public and private sector partners to develop and deliver programs that achieve our goals: successful, resilient small farms, robust community food systems, and students with high “food IQ.”

The OSU Small Farms Program is nationally recognized for extension and applied research. For more than 15 years, the Program has broken new ground, with beginning farmer education; whole farm management; women’s farming networks; annual small farms conference; small acreage stewardship; organic farming research; and market channel research. Through these initiatives, the Program has helped build strong local food systems in Oregon.

The Center broadens and deepens this work, building on this success in four specific ways:

  1. Expand the Extension Small Farms Program by adding new field faculty around Oregon. This is a key goal.
  2. Act as a hub and catalyst at OSU for innovative, cross-disciplinary research and outreach relevant to small farms and community food systems.
  3. Enhance engagement with Oregon’s growing network of statewide and community-based food and farming non-profits. These organizations help shape Center priorities and strengthen our long-term mutual capacity.
  4. Offer college courses that use a “connecting field to campus” approach to train the next generation of farmers, consumers, scientists, and community leaders.

The OSU Extension Small Farms Program has always been about more than just small farms. We have always understood that for small farms to be successful, there needs to be consumers who are both willing and able to buy local food, businesses that want to sell it, and policy that supports it. These are all part of a successful and sustainable local food economy. Establishing the center allows us to take this work to the next level. Rural and urban communities in Oregon are engaging with their food systems around issues of human health, long-term community economic development and access to healthy food for all Oregonians. This effort puts OSU on the map as explicitly valuing a food systems approach.

We are building a 21st century Center: lean, entrepreneurial, and sustainably funded. A crucial ingredient to adding more Extension Small Farms positions in areas of Oregon that are currently not served is through private donations. Help us build an endowment to expand our work. Donate here: http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/center or contact: Jack Holpuch, OSU Foundation, 541-737-9636.