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The issues we face as a region are, in many ways, no different than those facing communities nation-wide: the need to build fertile soil, preserve farmland, and address hunger, food insecurity and health disparities. What sets this community apart is the ways in which we come together to address these issues. For the purpose of the food assessment process we used geographic and political boundaries to define our food shed and thus our food community: Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson County. However, in building community food systems it is up to us to give shape and definition to that nebulous idea of community; some issues may need to be addressed on a regional-scale, and others on a very localized scale of neighborhood, city or county.
Although Central Oregon farms and ranches vary greatly in size, production, marketing methods and producers do not speak with one voice, the need for community involvement in problem-solving was emphasized repeatedly through a variety of surveys and interviews. Local food systems rely on relationships and it is the long-term relationships built on honesty and trust that have produced success stories locally.
Although the Producer Survey identified a number of barriers to local farm and ranch viability (primarily profitability, marketing and regulatory compliance issues), many exciting new opportunities for addressing these issues were revealed. The majority of survey respondents (60%) described the current state of agriculture in Central Oregon as “struggling,” but many commented that small/direct-market farms are thriving and 52% of respondents plan to “expand/diversify” production over the next five years. When it comes to selling more products locally, producers primarily expressed marketing-related challenges, and did not see insufficient demand as a problem. With the majority of respondents expressing a desire to sell more products locally, wanting to expand low-income access to their products, engage in more consumer education and build stronger relationships with county and state government there is plenty of work to be done and ample opportunity for building new relationships across the food system.
Farmers’ Markets Farmers’ markets across the region are diverse, reflecting the character and values of their communities and farms. Most local markets were started just in the past five years or so and are dealing with challenges around vendor recruitment and consistency, marketing and community outreach, EBT outreach, and struggle to grow due to the lack of a market manager or the limited capacity of board members to go above and beyond the administrative needs of the market. However, these challenges present opportunities for new partnerships and collaborations to increase the capacity of farmers’ markets to address these issues and meet the needs of their communities.
Retail and Distribution
The primary barriers to supplying more local food products perceived by local food retailers and distributors were: 1) product availability, quality, quantity and consistency issues. 2) Increasingly complex food safety regulations. Making local work for producers, distributors and retailers will require an enhanced level of coordination between these varied food sectors, with emphasis on marketing, product appearance, awareness of consumer demand and market prices, and projecting before planting and crop planning with these factors in mind. Participants felt that local producers marketing and distributing their products collectively would help address the need for improved branding and marketing, enhanced consistency, standardization and adding product value.
Addressing Hunger and Food Insecurity
The Food Assistance Client Survey and Emergency Food Provider Interviews revealed a number of challenges and opportunities for addressing hunger and food insecurity in Central Oregon. Food assistance clients overwhelmingly expressed a desire to access more healthy foods and fresh fruits/vegetables, in addition to prioritizing both price and health/nutrition when making food choices. Both transportation and the need for enhanced food skills, such as cooking from scratch and gardening were emphasized by clients and providers alike. Emergency food providers expressed an interest in seeing enhanced coordination between NeighborImpact Food Bank network members to avoid duplication, have a better idea of local food needs and sharing resources. Building connections between the emergency food and community/public health sector could help to enhance services and promote self-sufficiency with a focus on food skills that would increase healthy food