> Oregon uses schools to move the needle on regional food

Good Food Economy Digest

Oregon uses schools to move the needle on regional food

People building strong places with local and regional food 

Good Food: Healthy, green, fair, and affordable

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions

Oregon taxpayers are pleased with the $7.5 million that some Oregon school districts spent on Oregon foods since 2011 with just $600,000 in state incentive. Now lawmakers have nearly quadrupled the level of support over the next two years and expanded the incentive program to all schools.

In This Edition

We go to Oregon where state lawmakers are helping schools try Oregon foods. It’s a popular move with local governments. They are increasingly making the regional food economy a development priority.

Take Action

Much of the local food planning work across the country takes place with and through regional councils of government. Learn more at the National Association of Development Organizations and the National Association of Regional Councils.

County commissioners from Lane County, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, are among those who made sure state lawmakers understood and acted on the opportunity. The program makes it easier for schools to try Oregon foods, which adds to the larger-scale, wholesale demand that is beginning to move the needle on regional food economy development.

“As a big county, we put our lobbying staff behind the funding expansion,” said commissioner and former state senator Pete Sorenson. “This is cold hard cash in our economy. It’s helping the local food-to-consumer sector grow in our county.”

Lane County commissioners backed Oregon’s legislation because they know Oregon has seen just the tip of the program’s economic and social impact. School food purchases multiply in value when they stay and circulate in Oregon. They also boost new market infrastructure such as distribution and processing options, including new products for sale within and beyond Oregon. This is how analysts understand local food can become a staple for consumers and a regular outlet for producers over the long term.

Oregon’s new farm to school incentive legislation dedicates $3.5 million over 2015 and 2016 to reimbursing schools for a portion of their Oregon food purchases. Districts representing some 95 percent of school meals have signed up this year already. The legislation also provides $1 million for complementary food and agriculture education grants. Oregon is the first in the nation to take the direct farm-to-school incentive step. In Michigan, a successful regionally funded pilot has strong legislative interest.

  Lane County kids enjoy some farm to school activity in Oregon’s Willamette valley.  Credit: Willamette Food and Farm Coalition    

 Lane County kids enjoy some farm to school activity in Oregon’s Willamette valley. Credit: Willamette Food and Farm Coalition


Kyle Herbert is a buyer for Lane County food distributor Emerald Fruit and Produce. He has been supplying schools with local farm products from the area for the past five years. Last school year, Lane County districts purchased $446,113 worth of products grown and processed in the area. That’s out of $1.2 million that the county’s districts spent in the 2013-2014 school year on Oregon-grown and processed products, according to local partner the Willamette Food and Farm Coalition.

Herbert said the local sourcing is an added value that Emerald Fruit and Produce can provide schools, which make up about 10 percent of its business. “It’s a small but important piece,” he said. “We are able to provide schools with locally grown, and we help other local businesses move their products.”

Lane County economic development officer Sarah Case said such import substitution (e.g. carrots from nearby farms substituting for carrots from other places) is just one way the county can gain from putting energy behind local food and farm development

“Our market analysis found that less than 5 percent of what was being produced locally, was staying local,” she said. “Just increasing that number by a few percentage points could have significant impact for our local economy.”

Lane County is also supporting import substitution through its work developing a public market in downtown Eugene. “It’s a great opportunity for greater access to locally grown foods and reducing the amount of leakage of those local dollars,” she said.

Lane County is one of a growing number of communities in Oregon taking action to build their regional food economy, said Annette Liebe, director of Oregon’s Regional Solutions planning program. “It is showing up as an economic development priority in regions across the state,” she said. “We are in different stages of progress with those regions and their projects on the ground.”

Another way local food builds economic opportunity for Lane County is in what Case calls “traded sector” activity. This is about bringing in new wealth with sales of local products to outside buyers.

“An example from our traded sector businesses is Cosmos Creations,” Case said. Cosmos Creations produces a premium non-GMO puffed corn snack company and is going through a significant expansion. Lane County has supported that expansion through an economic development grant.

One of the places this new Lane County product might travel is up to Portland where more than 80 larger institutional cafeterias are working together to put their purchasing power together behind Oregon grown and processed foods.  The Northwest Food Buyers Alliance includes school districts, hospitals and corporate campuses like Intel and Nike.

Schools are the vanguard for the whole group, said Stacey Sobell, director of the Food and Farm program at nonprofit Ecotrust, which facilitates the alliance. “The bigger districts, especially, move a pretty large volume even though their budgets are slim,” she said. “If schools can do it with their strict budgets and regulations, then anyone can do it. And through the alliance, other members, like Intel and Nike’s corporate campuses, are also there to help; they can partner on purchases to get a lower price.”

Schools are also in the vanguard nationally. More than 42,000 schools are involved in farm-to-school, up from just a handful 15 years ago. They spent $598 million last year on local foods, according to preliminary results from the National Farm to School Census. This level is up 55 percent from $212 million recorded just two years earlier.

These sales feed the growth of local and regional food market infrastructure. In a 2013 national survey, new wholesale intermediaries in the sector, called regional food hubs, reported schools are their third-most common customer after restaurants (#1) and smaller grocery stores (#2).

  Image Credit: Willamette Food and Farm Coalition

Image Credit: Willamette Food and Farm Coalition

The local food market’s tie back to people and places -- to healthy diets, clean water, and strong neighborhoods -- is the ultimate economic driver. It’s the reason corporate cafeterias, schools, and hospitals are joining restaurants, grocers and other retail in demanding local and regional foods.

Lane County’s support for Oregon’s farm to school legislation, for example, came out of recommendations to commissioners from a common health department and economic development department work plan, said Connie Sullivan, health department liaison to the county commission.

It’s an obesity prevention strategy, she said. It overlaps with economic development, both in local food market development and in lower chronic disease costs.

“Commissioners said this is good economics for the community,” Sullivan said. “It brings in money. It is also really healthy for people.”

> Iowa: Rural town aims to be “the place” for local food firms

Good Food Economy Digest

Iowa: Rural town aims to be “the place” for local food firms

People building strong places with local and regional food 

Good Food: Healthy, green, fair, and affordable

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions

Veteran economic developer Todd Valline said it was a light bulb moment last winter when farmer Ellen Walsh-Rosmann walked into his office. 

In This Edition

Community leaders in western Iowa’s Shelby County are building an economic development strategy around the area’s emerging local food and farm sector as an attractor for young people and new entrepreneurs.

Take Action

A new local food distributor, or food hub, in the area is the lynchpin to the strategy. Learn about food hubs and other farm-to-table partners in your area. Contact the National Good Food Network contact@ngfn.org.

Valline is the new chief executive officer at the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and Industry in rural western Iowa. He needs some good reasons for young entrepreneurs to build businesses and lives in Shelby County. 

He never would have guessed the lynchpin to his strategy would be this young mother with a refrigerated truck. 

Valline was just contemplating what to do with an empty business incubator in Harlan (pop. 5,075), the county seat. Harlan built the space nearly 10 years ago, hoping to attract high-tech entrepreneurs. 

“Lucky for me, Ellen walks in,” he said. 

Walsh-Rosmann, 29, was looking for a place to park her growing FarmTable Delivery business. Her refrigerated truck runs up and down Interstate 80 four times a week between nearby Omaha, Nebraska, and points in and around Des Moines in central Iowa. FarmTable started up in 2013 when Walsh-Rosmann began “peddling” products from her family’s farm and others’ out of the back of her Mazda.

“It’s crazy growth,” Walsh-Rosmann said. “I thought we were doing pretty awesome last year when my sales were $42,000. Now we’re averaging about $30,000 a month.” FarmTable currently works with about 50 local food suppliers and some 40 restaurant, grocery, school, and hospital customers.

 Ellen Walsh-Rosmann is moving her growing FarmTable Delivery business to a space that city leaders in Harlan, Iowa, had originally built with hopes of high-tech entrepreneurs. FarmTable now provides a distribution lynchpin for the rural community’s new regional food economy strategy.  Credit: Harlan Newspapers

Ellen Walsh-Rosmann is moving her growing FarmTable Delivery business to a space that city leaders in Harlan, Iowa, had originally built with hopes of high-tech entrepreneurs. FarmTable now provides a distribution lynchpin for the rural community’s new regional food economy strategy. Credit: Harlan Newspapers

Fast-forward six months: FarmTable is setting up shop at the business incubator in Harlan. Meanwhile the city, chamber, local utility, and other leaders are designing an economic development strategy around food and farm entrepreneurs. They see the potential for FarmTable to help them build a regional food economy, one that gets local products out and brings people in. 

Jobs. Health. Place.

“Our goal is to establish Shelby County as the hub of the wheel of the local farm-to-table sector in the region,” Valline said. 

‘We sit basically in a triangle of three major markets: Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City. If we can develop this hub, it will be attractive to those entrepreneurs out there in the 25-35 age range looking to take their businesses to the next level ... The transportation part of their business plan is covered. That gives us a leg up compared to other places in the Midwest.”
He adds that the free-range burgers and farm fresh produce that FarmTable will help Shelby County growers bring to market represent the same foods, and farming practices, that next-generation entrepreneurs and families want.

Ken Weber agrees. He is CEO of Harlan Municipal Utilities, the locally owned provider of electricity, water, and broadband. “We need to make sure our area is attractive to those millennials, who are concerned with what they eat and how they use energy and other resources,” he said. “As a utility we are looking at renewable and local resources and at making our system smarter and more responsive to customers. Farm-to-table is similar.”

Farmers and Eaters

Shelby County is confident that its regional food strategy is right in line with where the country is going even if the approach is still uncommon. 

“In economic development, we’re always looking for the next big thing,” Valline said. “It’s huge when you see companies like McDonald’s moving to free-range eggs and other chains starting to promote their use of local produce. You want to catch that wave at the front.” 

FarmTable provides some good momentum to start. 

“Ellen’s business has revolutionized my business,” said Danelle Myer, owner-operator of One Farm in nearby Logan. She moved back home to western Iowa from Omaha to live and work her family’s fifth-generation farm. “FarmTable allows me to stay on the farm, and everything I harvest is sold!”

FarmTable’s new headquarters in Harlan will do more. It includes services and facilities to help local farmers grow their businesses also. Walsh-Rosmann will offer use of a processing kitchen, post-harvest handling area, classroom and potluck meeting space, and things like discounted boxes and other supplies that FarmTable buys in bulk.

Then there’s the new local food diner on the square in Harlan called Milk and Honey. The Walsh-Rosmanns opened it with Ellen’s brother, a restaurant manager, in charge. The move came after the one iconic mom-and-pop breakfast place in town closed, leaving only Burger King or the HyVee supermarket deli as choices. 

Milk and Honey is the type of attraction for young people that Todd Valline was looking for when Ellen Walsh-Rosmann walked into his office.

“It just made sense,” Walsh-Rosmann said. “We have eggs. We have really great bacon. And we want a cool place to go eat lunch.”

> Fresh produce incentives are new redevelopment ingredient

Good Food Economy Digest

Fresh produce incentives are new redevelopment ingredient

People building strong places with local and regional food 

Good Food: Healthy, green, fair, and affordable

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions

A new program that helps low-income families stretch their food dollars and buy local, too, promises nourishment for urban and rural areas.

One indicator is the crowd of mayors and city council members from around metropolitan Kansas City at a recent media event featuring results from the pilot Double Up Food Bucks program at four area supermarkets. They came to see what the privately funded match of federal nutrition assistance dollars at grocery stores could do for both people and places.

In This Edition

A popular incentive for low-income shoppers at farmers markets is moving into grocery stores. The expansion has the potential to strengthen urban and rural redevelopment efforts with benefits to shoppers, farmers, and local commerce.

Take Action

Plug into the Double Up Food Bucks national network. Also check out the September 24, 2015 National Good Food Network webinar on Leveraging Health Care Funding. Health-related investments often back the match dollars involved in the incentive programs.

Around 5,000 low-income shoppers used the program from its June launch through August. They spent nearly $30,000 on produce, mostly from smaller scale farmers in the region.

“This is economic development,” said Mark Holland, mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas, which is home to Kansas City, Kansas.

“It benefits the farmers selling local produce. It helps people who need it most to stretch their food dollars. It also benefits grocery stores; it brings people into the store,” he said.

How it works

Shoppers who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) benefits earn a dollar-for-dollar match on their Price Chopper loyalty cards when they buy up to $25 a day of locally produced fruits and vegetables. They can then use the extra money to buy more of any produce, doubling the amount of healthy food they take home.

“It was a natural for us,” said Mike Beal, chief operating officer for Balls Food Stores, a regional family-owned chain with 15 Price Chopper and 11 Hen House supermarkets in the metro area.

“We’ve been doing local food for 15 years. And it fit right in with our loyalty card program.”

Shoppers are catching on; redemption rates jumped 70 percent from July to August. The pilot program runs through December.

Farmers are also feeling the love.

Balls buys from more than 150 farmers through Good Natured Family Farms. The regional marketing cooperative, or food hub, supplies local products for every department, from produce, dairy and meats to honey and other items like jams and pickles.

Farmer Brent Brashears said the program helps more people buy his lettuce, which is on grocery shelves the day after harvest. His farm has added one greenhouse and two employees in the last year since it started selling through Good Natured Family Farms.

Diana Endicott, president of Good Natured Family Farms, said the group’s produce sales are up 20 to 30 percent at the four Double Up Food Bucks test stores since the pilot started.

Scaling Up


“Having the local food component in the incentive is key,” said Noah Fulmer, program director for the Double Up Food Bucks national network.

“Each dollar is then working twice as hard,” he said. “It’s not just increasing the affordability of healthy food but also building the regional supply chain for that food.” This reinforces the work that Good Natured Family Farms and others are doing to link local producers with larger buyers like grocery stores.

Double Up Food Bucks and other SNAP incentive programs have proven the three-way win – shoppers, farmers, and local commerce – at farmers markets across the country. Their results built bipartisan support in the 2014 federal Farm Bill for a provision that puts $100 million into advancing such programs.

The Fair Food Network, a Michigan-based nonprofit, launched Double Up Food Bucks in 2009 at five Detroit farmers’ markets. It soon expanded statewide to more than 150 sites. Double Up shoppers in Michigan are eating better: 87 percent report eating more fresh produce, and 66 percent report eating less junk food. Farmers are benefiting, too. Combined SNAP and Double Up sales since 2009 at Michigan farmers’ markets have put more than $7 million into the state’s farm economy.

Now some SNAP incentive programs, like Double Up Food Bucks, are moving into retail grocery stores, where people buy most of their food. The Fair Food Network began testing Double Up Food Bucks at grocery stores in 2013 with initial locations in Detroit. Kansas City is the next stop on the program development journey.

Return on Investment

The expansion is possible because private funders that have supported SNAP incentives from the start are ready, willing, and growing in number.

Match money comes from private and public organizations that are working to improve community food choices and generate social, health, and economic returns. Examples are hospitals and insurance companies, Main Street organizations, and social investors and philanthropies.

“Local governments are also using economic and community development resources for incentive programs because they can help make markets viable in communities that need revitalization,” Double Up’s Noah Fulmer said.

Wyandotte County mayor Mark Holland is interested. A grocery store is part of his redevelopment plan for Kansas City, Kansas, the county’s center city and the third largest in the Kansas City metro area. It is also perhaps the most challenged. In 2009, for example, Wyandotte County ranked last in Kansas on a range of health measures from chronic disease rates to socio-economic factors such as unemployment and children in poverty.

Mayor Holland has championed a Downtown Healthy Campus Plan. It builds on development momentum getting underway, a new transit center, and research that points to a section of the city’s historic downtown as a prime grocery store location. Negotiations are underway for a supermarket to serve existing residents who have no nearby full-service options. It would also serve newcomers attracted to this urban area at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers.

Double Up Food Bucks is an example of the many pieces that go into developing a new pattern for our communities, Mayor Holland said. Quoting one of his mentors, he added: “There is no silver bullet” for transforming areas of poverty and disinvestment into healthy, thriving, and equitable places. “But there is silver buckshot.”