November 10-16, 2014
The first casualty in the centralization of any food system is local processing. Local dairies left without bottling plants. Poultry producers forced to travel several hours to the nearest slaughterhouse. Wheat growers first losing seed-cleaning operations, then grain mills. Rebuilding local production capacity means nothing when there’s no way to process things after they’ve grown. Stories like these repeat across the country, but there is a new hope emerging.
In Eugene, Oregon, Hummingbird Wholesalers, co-owners Julie and Charlie Tilt support local farmers by providing distribution of their organic crops. They’re micro-distributors.
Amanda Oborne, too, knows the about power of regional food hubs and the key role they’ll play in fixing America’s food system. The company where she works, EcoTrust, has helped farmers find new markets.
These folks are all about relocalization. The work they do for their community happens within their community. Naturally. Italian pasta maker Franco Pedrini practices a similar tenet, and he’s passed that knowledge onto his sons. As Perennial Plate reveals, though they’ve explored the world, Franco’s sons realized they’d be most happy continuing the family tradition of making delicious, nutritious pasta locally.
We recommend trying local, pasture-raised chicken when trying out Chef Ann Cooper’s delicious recipe for this week.
As a regional food hub, Hummingbird supports local farmers by providing distribution of their products, in this case organic crops, and also plays a role in transitioning conventional growers towards organic agriculture by providing access to a growing base of organic consumers. This is known as micro distribution.
As a micro processor, Hummingbird processes foods that are made from locally sourced ingredients, eliminating the need for a lengthy supply chain and centralizing the region’s food needs.
Hummingbird distributes 225 different products from San Francisco to Seattle, but 85% of its customers are in Oregon. They work with 16 regional farmers and carry organic locally grown wheat, teff and flour, transitional garbanzo and lentils, local honeys, local organic filberts and dried cranberries, organic blueberries and prunes, organic cornmeal, organic wild rice, organic black beans and flax seed. Of course, this is only a partial list.
Food hubs are designed to strengthen local food economies. Amanda Oborne sat down with us to explain how Ecotrust’s food hub works through its technological platform. She discusses the reasons behind creating resilient communities and explains how such efforts apply to consumers.
Q: Can you explain what EcoTrust does?
Amanda Oborne: There’s a team of economists, financers, software developers, and program managers focused on the task of sustainable stewardship of the resources that make resilient communities.
Our primary objective with food and farming is to help build sustainable, regional food economies. Resilient regional food systems are really the antidote to all of the threats like climate change, water scarcity, peak oil, loss of biodiversity or anything that could wreak havoc on global food supply chains.
One of the projects is food hub. Food hub is a technology platform that allows local producers to find and connect with local, wholesale buyers. Everything from produce and proteins, seafood, dairy, eggs, poultry, nuts and seeds, condiments, and value added products can be put on food hub.
It includes producers, processors, distributors, and associates (who care about regional food system development but maybe aren’t buying or selling food themselves). It’s geared up for the wholesale market; so this isn’t individual eaters, but restaurants, bakeries, and schools.
Q: Systems tend to consolidate. Why do you think that the consolidation of the food system can suddenly be dismantled?
I don’t think that the agro-industrial system is going to be rendered completely obsolete and replaced overnight by any means, but I do think there is opportunity for smaller regionally based systems to develop within given regions and form resilience in the face of threats from outside.
Everyone will get serious about regional food systems quickly, when the price of oil goes to $200 a barrel. People are going to be looking for food that’s produced in the region rather than being shipped in from Chile.
Q: How does a food hub take into account all of the other goods, like salt and coffee, that a consumer can’t get locally?
We’re always going to go outside for lemons, chocolate, bananas and that kind of stuff. I think that’s okay. We have to be realistic about what we expect from eaters, and how we expect them to change their habits. If they are making use of the bounty that’s available in their region when it’s in season; if they change to a more seasonal diet where they’re not trying to eat strawberries in mid-winter, then we’re making progress.
I think It’s appropriate for food hubs to source out of the region, things they can’t get, but they need to be very transparent about what products those are or when they’re doing it, in order to keep the trust of the people who expressly use them in order to have their food match their values.
Q: How much of a role does education play in building a resilient or regional food hub?
I think it’s vital because ultimately it’s those dollars spent — whether at Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, local groceries or with the food hub — that drive the whole system. So, others need to understand what the realities of that agro-industrial food system are so that they can decide for themselves whether that matches their own values. Then they need to understand what’s locally available and how it’s produced so that they can make those educated choices.
I think that it’s a lifelong journey for people. It’s not something that you digest in one sitting. It definitely takes ongoing effort.
Amanda Oborne leads a team of program, communications and software development professionals to pioneer new models of regional resilience in food and agriculture at Ecotrust. With projects in farm to school, market development, and “ag of the middle” producer support, Amanda’s team is helping creating a world in which healthy eaters, flourishing farms and ranches, and vibrant communities are linked and thriving. In 2010 Ecotrust launched FoodHub, a web platform that helps wholesale food buyers find local farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food producers of all kinds in the western US.
Title: Cooperative Distribution
Location: Organically Grown Company, Eugene, OR
Featuring: Brian Keogh, Purchasing at Organically Grown Company
Found on Page 62 of LOCAL: The New Face of Food & Farming in America
Cooperative distribution unites supply and distribution systems, enabling farms to thrive by allowing them to focus on growing quality produce instead of the selling, marketing and delivery of their product.
“By the time most food reaches the end-consumer they have very little awareness of its growing conditions or environmental impact, or even who the farmer is,” says Brian Keogh of Organically Grown Company. Organically Grown Company is owned by both the farmer and employees. Prosperity is shared among all stakeholders to create an even distribution of wealth, helping the both distributor and farmer share in the profits of a successful business. Their truck reads “42 Organic Farms, 1 Organic brand”.
Brian says distributors play a key role in handling the nuanced logistics and marketing that connect supply-side “growers” with demand-side “eaters”. Fruit and vegetable growers, for example, face constant ups and downs, like weather related crop failures, transportation issues and price spikes. Distributors help smooth out the bumps at the retail level by coordinating transport and production. They can also educate buyers about seasonality, new and heirloom varieties, family farming, fair trade certification, organic farming practices, sustainable packaging and more. Finally, distributors like OGC can even help regional growers coordinate annual production, mapping out what crops and volumes to grow so as to meet predicted demand.
Like an online dating site for the local food trade, FoodHub is an online platform that connects farmers, ranchers, fishermen and specialty producers with wholesale food buyers in their region.
A community of more than 5,000 located in states across the West, wholesale food buyers and sellers of all kinds from restaurants to schools, fishermen to ranchers, have searched FoodHub to find beneficial business connections.
Location: West Georgia Processing, Carrollton, GA
Featuring: Tim Dyer and Olivia Sargeant, West Georgia Processing
Found on Page 43 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America
Olivia Sargeant and her partner wanted a local slaughterhouse to process meat for their two restaurants and a meat CSA, rather than driving 300 miles a week to the next closest slaughterhouse.
Tim Dyer opened this facility, his childhood dream, so that he could become more involved in his community and help his friends be more sustainable.
Olivia says, “Our food system is sick and our meat is dirty. Part of the remedy is to look inward and reinvent local. Even taking the smallest of steps by relocalizing food sources contributes to changes in the system. We need to collectively create a food system that promotes pride, community, and profitability rather than illness, poverty and degradation. Let’s bring back the guilds, the granges, the purveyors, the merchants and the artisans so we have both craft and community. Let’s renovate these old world terms for new world applications so they become the foundation of a truly functional new food economy.”
Italy is known for its pasta, but despite its rich heritage, most flour in this country is homogenous and white, thanks to the ever present push towards cheaper product with larger yields. Luckily, in the hills of Tuscany, the filmmakers stumbled upon Franco Pedrini who, along with his sons, grows heirloom grains through biodynamic farming to create a pasta that is delicious and nutritious, and even the glutten-free can often stomach. They do it for the love of their local produce.
The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and Activist, Daniel Klein and Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.
Chef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady. She is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. She is also the founder of Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students. F3 supports positive change through educational training programs, direct services, a web portal and collateral resources. Chef Cooper envisions a time soon when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered “renegade.”
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