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A Vision For Growing Our Local Food Economy: Building On Food Sector Momentum

Recorded on: November 6, 2015

Air Date: November 9, 2015

Panelists at the City Club Friday Forum will discuss burgeoning opportunities to grow our local food economy. Their topics will include the level of economic benefit, jobs, and tax revenues that a focus on agriculture and food can generate. They will point out economic sectors that could be further stimulated by the growth of our local foods industry.

The Willamette Farm and Food Coalition estimates that if Lane County residents spent 20% of their collective food budget on foods grown, raised, and processed, it could generate $300 million in direct and indirect sales and create 4,478 jobs.

The Willamette Valley’s fertile soils and long growing season could make our local area a bustling center for agricultural businesses. The USDA agriculture census shows an increase in that the number of farms growing food crops in Lane County. Our county can claim other distinctions: Most local farms practice sustainable agricultural stewardship or have adopted practices that meet organic standards. This means that healthy soils will produce food for generations to come.

Lane County has 14 farmers markets and 25 community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. It has more than 55 food manufacturing businesses, including a dairy, a creamery, a USDA meat processor, a small cannery, and a grain mill. Locally owned grocery stores and restaurants feature many local products.

Eugene appears to be on a trajectory to become a model for a local food economy. But will it be “a bed of roses (or broccoli)” or do significant challenges exist for businesses supporting local food production? What can local governments and individuals do to foster such an opportunity, and can we meet the corresponding challenges? Get ready to see into the future of one potential avenue for local economic growth!

Lynne Fessenden is the Executive Director of the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition (WFFC). That nonprofit connects farmers and consumers, and promotes locally grown foods to keep agricultural lands in production and small farms economically viable. Under her leadership, WFFC has enhanced its annual publication, the Locally Grown Guide, and expanded its distribution; implemented an award-winning Farm to School Program; helped to increase institutional purchasing of Oregon agricultural products by over a million dollars; and educated thousands of consumers about the benefits of supporting our local farm economy. Fessenden earned a PhD in biology at OSU. She has 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, and has also worked as chef, caterer, and baker.

Jack Gray has been an owner-manager of Winter Green Farm in Noti for the past 35 years. Winter Green is a diversified, 170-acre, organic crop and livestock farm. It sells wholesale, through farmers markets, and to a 600-member CSA. Gray currently serves on the Board of Directors of Organically Grown Company. He previously served on the boards of the Lane County Farmers Market and the Fern Ridge Library. Gray earned his BA in Environmental Science from Wesleyan University.

Charlie Tilt, with his wife Julie, is co-owner of Hummingbird Wholesale. Their small family owned and operated business focuses on being a positive force for change in the food industry. Since 1972, Hummingbird has endeavored to serve people and the planet by providing locally grown, high quality, nutritious foods, grown as sustainably as possible. Tilt brings to the food business his perspective and experience in permaculture and organic agriculture, along with a desire to create and maintain healthy ecosystems. Hummingbird strives to create maximum benefit for both customers and farmers. Tilt works to build long-term relationships with area farms and to support them in providing healthy food for our community.