Oregon Food Systems Convening

Greg Holmes
Wed, 04/26/2017 - 5:30pm

Earlier this month 1000 Friends staffers Greg Holmes and Alyson Marchi-Young joined the new Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and about 70 other Oregonians at the annual Convening of the Oregon Community Food Systems Network. The Network, a coalition of about 50 organizations (non-profits, other coalitions, agencies, universities and businesses), brings its members together each year for two days of conversations around our shared work of strengthening Oregon’s food system and those of communities across the state.

On the first day, the convening opened with a conversation about equity in food systems. Network partners Kris Soebroto (Village Gardens), Emily Sessoms (Huerto de la Familia) and Sarah Sullivan (Gorge Grown Food Network) spoke about how their organizations address equity issues through their work. From hiring practices, to diversifying those who are served, to partnership development, members within the Network are working to engage with traditionally marginalized communities and find solutions that break through systemic barriers. Specific ideas for advancing equity included inviting multiple stakeholders for projects to meet in neutral and learning-based environments, addressing language barriers, reevaluate job descriptions and hiring practices, and make room for the communities that are served to lead conversations about how work gets done.    

Later, Greg and Lauren Gwin, the Associate Director of the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, co-facilitated a Q&A session with Alexis Taylor, the newly appointed Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Taylor, until recently a senior staffer at the USDA, introduced herself to the Network, followed by the Network quickly introducing itself to her. The bulk of the time was spent with Network members asking the new Director about her views and plans for the future. While she emphasized that the state’s budget crisis will result in smaller operating budgets for the ODA, she also made it clear that she values and supports the work that the Network and its partners are doing. Network members felt hopeful that her staff who were present reported later that they already had “to-do” lists following this conversation.

During the second day there were several sessions and workshops on effective communications. Network members brainstormed strategies and language about the Network and the shared work being done. They workshopped storytelling concepts to connect food systems work with personal narratives, and participants supported one another with advice, feedback, and different perspectives from the different areas of the food system. Alyson contributed her knowledge and expertise in these sessions while she learned from the experience of others.

This year’s convening also featured discussions on how organizations might work together on policy-related issues and updates on the work that Network working groups have been doing in the past year. Among the highlights was the work being done by the Access to Land team, which Greg is a founding member of. The group discussed plans to follow-up on the needs articulated in last year’s report entitled The Future of Oregon’s Agricultural Land.

In addition to learning a lot from each other, participants reported having made or strengthened connections during the two-day gathering. 1000 Friends staff left the Convening inspired and ready to expand our part of the work of strengthening Oregon’s food systems to include new partners from across the state.