Pioneering a Local Food System in Central Oregon

Author: Dana Martin, OSU Small Farms Program

Publish Date: Winter 2011

Local Food”, “Food Patriotism”, “Community Food Security” --- whatever you choose to call it, there is definitely a movement happening to support locally grown food and sustainable food systems that maximize self-reliance within communities. From production to distribution to consumption, people are interested in learning where their food comes from and doing what it takes to promote local agriculture.

The local food movement in Central Oregon is gaining momentum thanks to collaborative efforts to build a local food system that will enhance community food security in our region. To formally kick off this project, a Community Food Assessment (CFA) was initiated by Wy’East Resource Conservation and Development in the fall of 2009. Sydney Leonard, VISTA AmeriCorps volunteer, was brought on to work in partnership with NeighborImpact, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and Oregon State University Extension Service.

A CFA is a collaborative, participatory project that takes a big picture look at the food system in all its parts (production, distribution, consumption) with the purpose of learning how it works and how to improve food and farms. “It shows what our most pressing needs are, as well as the key community assets on which to build,” said Sydney.

The CFA process included the gathering of data and community input regarding food production, access and availability. Agricultural producer and consumer surveys were completed and additional information was collected through community meetings, direct interviews and focus groups. People were further engaged through the Central Oregon Food Summit where 120 attended to hear the CFA report and strategize next steps for moving forward.

Some “producer” highlights gleaned from the CFA 115-page Pioneering a Local Food System in Central Oregon; a Community Food Assessment Report address farm and ranch viability in Central Oregon, many of these issues relate to marketing challenges, profitability and regulatory compliance, all which are interrelated. Specifics include:

  • A majority of local farm products are not being sold in the places that people are used to accessing food; this “lack of access” was indicated to be a greater barrier than “price” as a reason for consumers not buying local food.
  •  Local producers are struggling to get products into the local sector and on existing distribution lines because of marketing related challenges and the challenge of meeting quality consistency, and quantity needs of retailers and distributors.
  •  The economic viability of farming in Central Oregon is an important issue if we want to preserve farms and farmland and secure our ability to meet regional food needs. Most local producers rely heavily on off farm jobs to survive, leaving less time for marketing and on-farm work. Many survey respondents were landowners who were interested in making use of their land and producing food for the local community but faced marketing challenges.
  • Survey respondents emphasized the prohibitive effects of land-use regulations in regards to diversifying farm income through activities such as agritourism, farm internships and building a separate dwelling on farmland. Because of the immerse struggles around the economic viability of small-scale farming, this will be an important issue for the public and county governments to address.
  •  60% of those surveyed described the current state of agriculture in Central Oregon as struggling, with 35% surviving and 5% thriving. However, when asked about future plans, 52% said that they plan to expand or diversity production over the next 5 years.

As a result of the Central Oregon Food Summit and CFA process, a Central Oregon Food Policy Council has formed. A diverse group of stakeholders who support a sustainable food system has been meeting regularly to focus on the identified issues. The goal of this group is to improve healthy food access; be involved in public policy; and connect people through networking opportunities.

One priority for the Central Oregon Food Policy Council is to review governmental regulations and policies that stand in the way of revitalizing the local food economy. Central Oregon farmers and ranchers are being asked to share their thoughts about land use policies and specific changes that would help them to be more successful on their land.

Topics to be discussed at the next meeting include: housing for farm employees; agritourism; and mobile butchering and processing. The next meeting will be January 13, 2011, with plans to identify and promote implementation of new policies that will help local farmers, food processors and food retailers. For more information about this meeting, contact Katrina Van Dis at or Dana Martin at