Greg Holmes, Food Systems Program Director
Box 2442, Grants Pass, OR 97528
In the early 1970s a dairy farmer named Hector Macpherson was concerned for the long-term survival of his farm as he watched urban development marching across the fields towards him. Also a Republican State Senator, Macpherson joined with Democratic State Senator Ted Hallock and Governor Tom McCall to do something about it. The passage of Senate Bill 100, which created our innovative land use planning system, was one of Oregon’s great bipartisan political achievements.
As historic as that effort was, Governor Tom McCall understood that, to be successful, Oregon needed a citizen watchdog group to ensure that local decisions reflected the voices of Oregonians and not those of special interests. So in 1975 Governor McCall, along with a young lawyer named Henry Richmond, created 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Now 40 years later, we operate with a seemingly straightforward mission: Working with Oregonians to enhance our quality of life by building livable urban and rural communities, protecting family farms and forests, and conserving natural areas.
1000 Friends has always enjoyed strong support from farmers throughout the state who recognize the benefits of protecting land for agricultural use. In the last 40 years Oregon has lost less farmland to development compared to most other states, and today agriculture is the second strongest sector in our economy. Indeed, one in eight Oregonians has a job that is in some way reliant on agriculture.
Although historically we have worked primarily within the land use system, we recognize that the preservation of farmland, while critical, is not itself sufficient to ensure the long-term viability of farmers and agriculture. Our future depends both on a supply of the right type of farmland in the right places, and also on successful farmers working that land. Indeed, the two are intertwined: farmers need land to succeed, and if farmers are successful there is less pressure to convert farmland to other uses.
In the last decade 1000 Friends of Oregon has stepped up its work to promote agriculture and to work directly on initiatives to help farmers succeed. In 2004 we undertook a study of the challenges faced by the ranching industry in eastern Oregon, which resulted in a report entitled Too Many Homes on the Range (www.friends.org/resources/reports). Recognizing that the nature of farming in Oregon was changing, in 2010 and 2011 we conducted an initiative called The New Face of Farming, which included community conversations with farmers around the state (www.friends.org/NewFaceofFarming). Both of these programs confirmed the benefits of land use protections of farmland. Both also resulted in new legislative priorities for us in Salem. In 2013 we completed a study of Oregon’s agricultural economy that has helped policy-makers understand its value today (www.friends.org/growing).
1000 Friends has also been involved in a number of initiatives to help farmers succeed. We are a partner in the Oregon Grows Partnership, a statewide coalition that has worked at the legislature to pass legislation that includes the Aggie Bonds bill and the exemptions allowing the processing of poultry on small farms. We played a role in the creation of the Central Oregon Food Policy Council in 2011, and our Central Oregon Outreach Coordinator Ben Gordon was the first co-chair of that group.
At about the same time, Southern Oregon Planning Advocate Greg Holmes got involved in the Jackson County Food System Assessment process, which resulted in creation of the Rogue Valley Food System Network. Greg has served as the Chair of the Council since its inception in 2013. In order to take that work statewide we created our Food Systems Program (http://www.friends.org/foodsystems) in 2015 and named Greg its Director.