1000 Friends of Oregon has been working with Oregonians since 1975 to protect farmland so it remains available for farming, and to facilitate the creation of cities, towns and neighborhoods that provide residents with access to the things they need for a quality life – including healthy, nutritious food.

Through our Food Systems Program, we partner with allies across the state to support the development of sustainable food systems. How can you be involved? Find out here

 
Food Systems
 
 
A “food system” is everything that it takes to get food to the person who eats it, including growing it on a farm or ranch; harvesting, cleaning and processing it; warehousing and transporting it; getting it into stores or restaurants; preparing it for consumption; and dealing with the waste stream each of these activities produces. Summaries of each element, with concrete examples from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, can be found here: 

A sustainable food system integrates all of these elements to enhance economic, environmental, social, and nutritional health for all.

Food systems can vary in size. Oregon’s food system is made up of numerous community and regional food systems, and is itself part of larger food systems.

 

Food Systems, People, and Land

Most of the food we eat comes from farms. A reliable supply of the right kind of farmland is necessary for a sustainable, equitable, and economically robust food system. Ensuring that land remains available for agriculture is critical, but farmers also have to be able to make a fair living selling what they produce. If farmers are not economically successful, they face heavy pressure to do something else with their land. Thus, the existence of food depends on both farmland and successful farmers.

That is not the whole picture, though. We also need to have adequate supplies of industrial land, in the right places, to facilitate processing and warehousing of the crops farmers produce. Our transportation system needs to connect the farms to these industrial sites, and those industrial sites to the markets and restaurants where people actually get the food they eat. Those stores and restaurants need to be located in neighborhoods where people actually live and work. People need to be able to get to those places even if they do not have (or choose not to drive) a car. A healthy food system is every bit as dependent on the right types of urban development and uses being in the right places as it is on a reliable supply of the right types of farmland in the right places.

 

   

 

1000 Friends of Oregon’s Food Systems Program

None of the requirements of a sustainable food system exist in isolation to the others. Food systems work is huge—no one organization can possibly be effective at doing it all. But our mission at 1000 Friends of Oregon is central to successful food systems, and healthy food systems advance many of our goals.

We created the Food Systems Program in 2015 as a way to highlight these relationships and integrate them more fully into our work. This new program refines and builds on the results of the Too Many Homes on the Range project we completed in 2004, the Envision Oregon work we did in 2007 and 2008, the New Face of Farming project we initiated in 2011 and the Great and Growing study completed in 2013 – all of which continue to guide our work to this day.  

The work of the Food Systems Program is based on inclusion of community members and is conducted largely through collaboration with other organizations. Our staff was involved in the creation and early leadership of the Central Oregon Food Policy Council. Food Systems Program Director Greg Holmes was part of the group that created the Rogue Valley Food Systems Network, and has served as its Chair since its inception.

The Rogue Valley Food Systems Network serves as an excellent example of what food systems work looks like at 1000 Friends. The Network’s mission is to establish “a collaborative community of leadership to develop and advocate for a healthy and sustainable food system in Josephine and Jackson Counties.” The Network continues to grow and currently includes nearly 40 partners, including farmers, food banks, restaurants, businesses, universities, both Jackson and Josephine counties, several cities, faith communities, public health agencies, Combined Care Organizations (CCOs), and numerous nonprofits that do everything from economic development to farmer training to education to land use advocacy.

Partners are joining together to align what might in the past have been several unrelated projects so they all further the same set of goals.

 

      
 

 

Network partners are working together to ensure food security for all Oregonians. For example, Access (the food bank in Jackson County), Jackson County Public Health, OSU Extension, Rogue Valley Farm to School and the local CCO, which are all focused on a neighborhood in West Medford that has been identified as a food desert. There are no grocery stores near this neighborhood, but there are some corner stores selling convenience items. One such store, very close to an elementary school, agreed to start carrying healthier food items. Grants were secured to obtain coolers, outreach and education was done at the local school, a street fair was held – complete with cooking demonstrations and giveaways – a neighborhood park was redone with a new community garden, and a health clinic serving the neighborhood initiated a healthy-eating program for its patients, who are then encouraged to patronize the market and use the garden.

The success of these interrelated programs has brought new attention to addressing the equity issues facing residents of this neighborhood. The city of Medford and the Rogue Valley Transportation District (RVTD) have recently joined with 1000 Friends and others to evaluate policies and programs that could attract new healthy food businesses to the area and also provide residents with transportation options when they need to leave the neighborhood to get access to healthy food.

We are working with other Network partners on farm security issues as well. Thrive, a local non-profit that works on economic development, is working with regional farmers, a food distribution company, and numerous grocery stores in the region on a project to increase the access that small and medium farmers have to the regional wholesale market. OSU Small Farms Program and Rogue Farm Corps are helping train the farmers in the business skills necessary to participate in this market, while Access is providing cooking skills demonstrations in front of the stores as part of the marketing campaign to build public awareness of the importance and availability of local produce. 1000 Friends has been involved in this project, too, working with local farmers to address infrastructure gaps that are a barrier to local farmers getting into the wholesale markets.

The Rogue Valley Food System Network produced a forum in November of 2014 that explained this program in more detail. The video is below:

 

 

Food systems work is bigger than what any one organization can do successfully. There are a lot of parts – and they’re always moving. Some of the connections are more obvious than others. By collaborating with others and tying all the parts together we can leverage each other’s strengths and successes, and reach outcomes that are greater than the sum of the individual efforts would produce.

 

Taking the Work Statewide

Word of the successes of these programs is spreading. Community leaders in Klamath County, Douglas County, and along Oregon’s south coast have asked for our assistance as they work to build similar networks in their communities. Other communities around the state have independently had their own efforts underway for varying amounts of time. All of these efforts are organized differently and have different focus as appropriate for the communities they are in and the people and organizations involved.

One thing they all have in common, though, is the need to share information and resources. With that in mind, a group has come together over the course of the last couple of years to form an Oregon Community Food Systems Network, which will serve as a resource repository and will develop a voice to advocate for good food policy at the state level. 1000 Friends of Oregon is proud to be a part of that effort.

 

How Can We Help You?

While the details of how we do our work may evolve, 1000 Friends of Oregon’s mission remains the same: we continue to work with Oregonians for a livable and sustainable state. By organizing some of this work around food systems we have a new way of explaining and connecting that mission to the lives of all Oregonians. This will introduce us to new allies, create new opportunities, and result in new successes. Do you have ideas about how 1000 Friends can work with you and your community to foster sustainable food systems? Do you want more information and to know what you can do in your community?

For more information, or to share your thoughts, contact the 1000 Friends of Oregon Food Systems Program Director Greg Holmes at 541.474.1155, or greg@friends.org.