Small Farms and Community Food Systems

Small Farms and Community Food Systems
A new center tends to food from field to fork.

For many Oregonians, growing food is a growing passion. People care where their food comes from, how it’s grown, and how it’s prepared.

Oregon State University has launched a new center to help strengthen local food systems in communities across the state. The Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems is an outgrowth of the OSU Extension Small Farms Program. It expands the program’s work with small farm production and marketing to encourage collaboration that supports the growth of sustainable agriculture and local food systems in Oregon.

“Our vision for Oregon includes increasing the ranks of successful small farms that are profitable, resilient, and using farming practices that enhance the natural environment, animal welfare, and human health,” said Garry Stephenson, Extension small farms specialist and director of the new center. “Our educational and outreach programs help build strong local food systems that feed people well, support local businesses, and are engines of community economic development.”

Stephenson has coordinated the Small Farms Program for more than 15 years. “The OSU Extension Small Farms Program has always been about more than just small farms,” Stephenson said. “We’ve always understood that for small farms to be successful, there need to be consumers who are both willing and able to buy local food, businesses that want to sell it, and policies that support it. These are all part of a successful and sustainable local food economy.”

Lauren Gwin, the center’s associate director, brings expertise as an OSU food systems specialist focusing on supply-chain logistics and regulatory issues. She also coordinates the national Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network. Gwin points out that the center is leading OSU’s engagement with small-scale, sustainable farming and local food economies. This work reflects a national trend to build more collaborative, locally based food economies. A 2010 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service showed that direct-to-consumer marketing amounted to $1.2 billion in sales in 2007 nationwide, and it is growing. “Rural and urban communities in Oregon are connecting with their food systems to enhance human health, economic development, and community access to healthy food,” Gwin said.

To strengthen the entire food system, the center will work with OSU Extension programs in community health and with community-based nonprofits. That teamwork is important to Wendy Siporen, executive director of the Rogue Valley-based nonprofit The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy. She is working with the center to increase consumer access to locally grown food, particularly in conventional supermarkets. “Small nonprofits in rural communities often work in isolation, so it’s important to get access to the center’s statewide network to collaborate on best practices and policies,” Siporen said.

“The center is expanding the geographic and programmatic reach of the existing small farms program to help farmers adapt to emerging production challenges and market opportunities,” Stephenson said.

Published in: Food Systems, Economics