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Inside the Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index: Oregon

July 5, 2015 |

Minto Island Growers. Image courtesy of Oregon Tilth

Minto Island Growers.
Image courtesy of Oregon Tilth

by Traci Knight

This piece is part of a series exploring the top 10 states in the Strolling of the Heifers 2015 Locavore Index.

Oregon keeps climbing the locavore index according to data compiled in Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based local food advocacy group. Moving from number 14 in 2012 to number 4 in 2015, Oregon is showing a clear commitment to strengthening its regional food system. Chris Schreiner, Executive Director of Oregon Tilth, an organic certification and advocacy agency, helps identify some of the ways that the state has worked to build it’s sustainable, organic and local food network.

Schreiner, who grew up on a family farm in the state, believes Oregon, as a place, has a pioneering spirit.  Innovation is embedded in the culture, a culture where agriculture is defined by diversity, which deepens our discussions and broadens our perspective. Oregon Tilth has been nonprofit since 1984 and is committed to partnerships that develop the sharing of knowledge and expertise. “That approach to agriculture and food is what makes us a leader. That desire to share,”  says Schreiner.

The role of Oregon Tilth is pervasive and widespread, with work that is both national and international in scope. With a mission to make our food system biologically sound and socially equitable, Oregon Tilth advances that mission with a desire to balance the needs of the people and the planet.

Chris Schreiner describes four focus areas of the organization. Conservation is the first.

“No one knows the health of the landscape better than the frontline practitioners,” he says. “Farming and care of the land is a public service.”

Public health and strong policy are also critical to Oregon Tilth’s mission.

“We believe that organic practices provide a roadmap to take care of the planet and support all life, human and nonhuman,” he says. “Good things happen with good policy. We work to gain access and influence with the highest of policy makers, including Farm Bill legislation and with the researchers whose work drives legislation.”

And organic certification is central to this mission, says Scheiner.

“We find that organic certification is a tool to drive change,” he says. “Consumers make choices that reflect their values. The values we uphold are quality, authenticitycand transparency, with a desire to  increase organic supplies and conserve the environment.”

It is with this effort that Oregon Tilth partners with other groups to mobilize effectively and expand ideas of how and what can be done in the field of sustainable, organic agriculture.  This includes the Northwest Farmer to Farmer Exchange. This roundtable event is special because it is completely farmer-led. Oregon Tilth is a sponsor, helping to keep costs down, but the agenda is decided by the farmers who come together to “talk shop”.

“The knowledge sharing of peers creates a stimulating exchange of ideas which helps revitalize the organic agriculture community,” says Scheiner.

Oregon State University also provides strong leadership. The Oregon State University Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems focuses on both the education of new and beginning farmers as well as the transition of nonorganic farms to organic.

“This program bridges the gap between two groups whose needs are often very different,” says Scheiner.

A key component of this OSU program is needs assessment, as well as speaking with stakeholders about the opportunities, challenges and barriers of farming. This information allows Oregon Tilth to help set a research and education agenda with the University, research that is done in collaboration with farmers.

Going strong since January of 2013, the Northwest Food Buyers Alliance (formerly Institutional Food Buyers Alliance) brings together large food producers to support the health of the community through food purchases. Organizations such as hospitals, schools and corporate campuses have strong purchasing powers. Educating the buyers, food service directors, and purchasers helps leverage these entities to drive the market. Principles are driven home through knowledge sharing of experiences, best practices, and models of success.

Oregon has a temperate climate and outstanding soils from glacial flooding. But according to Schreiner, what makes Oregon unique is its cooperation, sharing and the exchange of ideas, which is starkly different from the modern industrial mindset of competitiveness and confidentiality. The desire to share, both as participants and listeners in the dialog of sustainable agriculture, is what makes Oregon a leader in the local food movement.

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