Aaron Vargas, Food Equity Manager
721 NW 9th Ave, Ste. 200, Portland, OR 97209
Ecotrust creates and accelerates triple-bottom-line innovations to benefit our region and inspire the world. On the farm, at the coast, in the forest, and across our cities, we work in partnership towards an equitable, prosperous, climate-smart future. Our pursuit of a resilient regional food system has been one of thoughtful evolution, with the vision of a local food system that fosters economic development and ecological resilience in both urban and rural communities. To achieve meaningful scale and change, our current work focuses on three primary program strategies: farm to institution, coordination of and accessibility to critical food infrastructure, and producer support.
At Ecotrust, we see equity as an integral component of our mission. We know that deep-rooted, systemic diversity is essential to our ability to survive and thrive, yet significant disparities exist in our region and beyond. To truly begin to address the inequities that persist in our region, we are putting more energy and resources into work that centers equity. We are in the process of reframing our existing strategy where it falls short in addressing racial inequities and the history of land theft, enslavement, and farm worker injustice in our current food system. We are committed to building pathways for community ownership and impacted leadership by amplifying the efforts of food systems leaders whose lived experiences are essential to collective efforts to build a more equitable, regional food system that works for everyone. This intentional effort in building mutually supportive relationships is intended to foster an equitable exchange of capacities, resources, and power to fuel food system transformation.
Farm to institution: Ecotrust has partnered with several organizations to launch a national Farm to Preschool initiative on behalf of the Nation Farm to School Network. We also published the report, “The Impact of Seven Cents,” which found that an additional investment of 7 cents per meal had an economic multiplier effect of 1.86 and can help school districts incorporate a wider variety of local foods in their menus. Following this publication, the state of Oregon has designated a total of $15 million for Farm to School programming. Ecotrust has also hosted Farm to School Showcases, created a toolkit for others to host their own showcases, and launched the Farm to Preschool Learning Community, providing 13 mini-grants for farm to preschool projects in the state. We serve as the Portland Metro Farm to School Procurement Hub Lead for Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network—the go-to point of contact and connections for Farm to Preschool programming and K-12 schools in the Portland Metro region who are sourcing, serving, and promoting Oregon foods in meal programs—as well as the Advisory Board of the National Farm to School Network.
Food Infrastructure: In 2015, Ecotrust published the Oregon Food Infrastructure Gap Analysis, a comprehensive assessment of investments needed to spawn a robust, regional, and inclusive food system. Based on these findings, Ecotrust developed the Redd on Salmon Street, a working hub for local food, including warehousing, cold storage, and commissary kitchens, fulfilling a need for last-mile urban food infrastructure and innovation space. As of October 2019, the Redd is at full capacity supporting nearly 200 values-aligned food companies.
In 2018, Ecotrust conducted primary research interviews with more than 40 food system stakeholders, including institutional food buyers at schools, hospitals, community based organizations, government agencies, and individual farmers and ranchers. The findings were published in the Puget Sound Food Infrastructure Exploration, which found the need for infrastructure that would support the development of a robust local food system and vibrant small farm economy.
Ag of the Middle: In 2017, Ecotrust published a white paper, Organizing to Rebuild Agriculture of the Middle, which found that midsized operators produce food products at a scale that can help shift the entire food system and can collectively have a dramatic impact on soil restoration, carbon sequestration, and drought resilience. These findings led to the development of an “Ag of the Middle” accelerator program that provides business training to small and mid-sized farmers, ranchers, and fishers eager to scale their operations and help shift our food system. Since the pilot program, we have provided support to 45 businesses across the Pacific Northwest, who collectively steward more than 18,000 acres of land.