Walk through downtown Bend during farmers market season, and you'll see a bounty of locally produced fruits and vegetables. People carry baskets and bags spilling over with local carrots, beets, potatoes, kale, tomatoes and much more.
But though this week marks the last farmers market for the season, that doesn't mean the local food movement is closing up shop for the winter. Quite the opposite, in fact. The traffic is just going in different directions.
This year, several local food groups are gearing up for busy autumn and winter seasons.
Central Oregon Locavore just ended a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money to help local farms; and they expect business at their shop, which sells only local products, to continue to surge.
“We are poised to absolutely boom in the next year,” said Erin Foote Marlowe, Locavore's marketing and development director.
Central Oregon Food Policy Council is hosting a series of workshops in the fall, all focused on local farmers. And Agricultural Connections sees its business providing fresh produce to local residents increase after the farmers markets close.
The food culture in Central Oregon has changed dramatically in the past five years and is continuing to grow and change at a rapid pace. All three of these organizations began within the past five years and each have helped increase awareness about and access to locally grown food.
Nicole Timm, founder and driving force behind Locavore, has seen much of the shift.
“I've seen a rapid increase in awareness in local food and the reasons why it's important,” said Timm. She says people talk about local food and its importance in health, wellness, sustainability, the local economy and the environment.
“I'm hoping that the next step is seeing people change their habits to reflect that awareness.”
Debbie Fields, who along with husband, Jim, has owned Fields Farm for 24 years, also says things have changed.
“People are way more interested in local food now than when we started,” said Fields. “We used to be crazy hippies and now we are cool. It really is such a broader segment of the population that is interested in local food.”
Locavore and Food Policy Council are two groups that can sometimes be mistaken for one another — the line between which group does what can become blurred. (Agricultural Connections is a business and doesn't tend to get mixed up.)
According to Marlowe, Locavore intends to be “the connection between farms and the public.” Timm originally started Locavore in 2010 as an online marketplace to connect consumers and local products.
Since then, the group has grown exponentially, both in size and mission. In February, Locavore opened a brick-and-mortar shop in northeast Bend, which stocks a wide range of local products, from beets to beauty products. The group, which boasts more than 50 regular volunteers, is also well known for hosting popular events, including Meet the Farmer dinners and seasonal community suppers. Locavore also has many educational and outreach programs, including one that brings children to visit local farms.
The Food Policy Council, which formed in 2010, is focused more on helping shift policies, as well as increasing access to local food for low-income individuals. The group also publishes a guide to local farms and food.
Liz Weigand, owner of Agricultural Connections, grew up on a farm in Madras and understands farm culture. She has always been passionate about local food. She works closely with local restaurants to provide chefs with seasonal produce from local farms — that way farmers don't have to market their items direct to the restaurants and chefs don't have to deal with 20 different farm purveyors. She also sells produce direct to local families.
“I'm really working with farmers to kind of be able to market their products and simplify,” said Weigand.
“I think everyone is a little bit different in the reason for seeking out the food,” said Weigand. For some, it's the freshness of the flavor, while for others it's about ethics or the economy. “More and more people are becoming conscious of it.”
Weigand says the different groups in town are feeling out their own roles, some of which are overlapping. Weigand feels each group ultimately has the same goal.
“We are all still trying to figure out our roles in it. But we all believe in supporting the farmers that are out there doing all the work and to keep them in business and to encourage more of that business.”
Marlowe says one of Locavore's big goals is to help grow the supply of local food to meet the demand from consumers.
Locavore just concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $12,000 to fund a small farm support program. Marlowe explains this program will help small farmers in a variety of ways, including with grant writing, helping provide some volunteer workers and setting up an equipment bank that farmers can share. The program will also help with greenhouses, seed purchases and a variety of business tools like website development and legal advice. The goal, in a sense, is to eliminate any barriers that small farmers may face when it comes to production. Farmers can just focus on farming.
Timm is very excited about this program.
“What I've seen is farmers struggle. It's a thankless, thankless job; they work so hard. There are barriers that all of them seem to be hitting, that they need help with,” said Timm. “(This program) will truly make their life easier, so they can focus on growing food instead of trying to navigate a convoluted system.”
Marlowe says the next step is to begin meeting with local farmers and in January, farmers can begin to apply to the program.
Perhaps Marlowe's biggest mission, however, is to try to get Locavore onto stable financial footing. She says right now the group basically breaks even each month. She is launching a corporate sponsorship campaign and other endeavors.
Behind the scenes
The Central Oregon Food Policy publishes a thorough guide to local foods, farms, markets and restaurants each year called Central Oregon Food & Farm (www.central oregonfoodpolicy.org.) It includes a list of more than 80 places to purchase local food.
The nonprofit is also working on increasing access in a variety of ways, including providing fresh local produce to families who attend Project Connect, an annual day of service and assistance for the homeless.
Jane Sabin, one of the food policy council's board members, is particularly passionate about the group's work to improve gleaning, or harvesting of surplus crops, in the area. While they weren't able to connect with any of the larger farms, Sabin says she believes through their efforts to raise awareness, there was an increase in the number of backyard farmers who gleaned their crops and donated them to local food banks and kitchens.
“We definitely noticed an increasing in bringing in extra produce,” said Sabin. “My goal is to get local food into the hands of people who don't have discretionary income.”
Another food policy member is working with a local school district to try to glean food from local schools. Sabin expects that program to be in place by the spring.
The group is also involved in helping to shape regional policy around agriculture to make things easier for farmers.
Katrina Van Dis, the group's co-chair who also works for the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, is working on a very expansive goal to create a food hub in Central Oregon. She is working on a grant for the idea, which would ultimately be a large building that would include a wholesale marketplace where farmers could bring their produce to be cleaned, sorted and packaged to be distributed. Such an endeavor would cost several hundred thousand dollars, something Van Dis understands and yet thinks is possible.
Sabin says in five years, they would like to see a food hub up and running, with a significant gleaning process in place while also offering access to local food to those with low incomes.
“Our dreams are big, but attainable,” said Sabin.
Timm hopes that more people continue to shift their behavior to support the local food economy.
“It's about taking the time to alter their routine and make an extra stop to buy local products when available. We all do it. We're all guilty of it. 'I don't have time to go to two places,'” said Timm. But she hopes people will start making that commitment.
It's a movement that Timm feels is here to stay.
“Local food is not a fad. It's the future.”
Resources and upcoming events
Central Oregon Food Policy
The following events will be presented by Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. Snacks and beverages are provided; RSVP required. For details, visit www.centraloregonfoodpolicy.org.
Policy Listening Session: Farmers are invited to address barriers and advocate for policies. Members from the USDA, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Deschutes County and others will be on hand. Oct. 30, 4 to 6 p.m. in Redmond.
Social Media Marketing: Jason Valdez, Whole Foods marketing and community relations leader, talks about how to use Facebook, Twitter and more to engage people.
Getting into Whole Foods & Retail Markets: Jason Valdez, Whole Foods marketing and community relations leader, talks about how local producers can get products into retail stores. Nov. 6, 5 to 7 p.m. Bend.
Food Policy Council's Autumn Social: Social gathering and local food meal with informal presentation. Nov. 21, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Redmond.
Production Greenhouse Construction: Farmers and local backyard gardeners can learn how to construct and maintain a greenhouse. Grants from COIC are available, from $500 to $2,500. Jan. 8, 2014, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Redmond.
Central Oregon Locavore
To browse the group's online marketplace, for information on the organization's programs or more on upcoming events or visit www.centraloregonlocavore.org.
Events: Edible Adventure Crew of Central Oregon hosts an Apple Rally. People will ride bikes through Bend, foraging for apples. Once the collection is over, people will gather and press the apples into cider. 10 a.m. Oct. 6, 735 N.W. Florida Ave. Bend. Event is free, kids are welcome. Bring a bicycle, a basket for apples and a jug for taking home cider.
Root Down Community Supper: This is a harvest feast featuring fresh farm dishes and libations. 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 26 at Locavore.
This local business provides farm fresh produce to households and restaurants year round. Visit www.agriculturalconnections.com.