By Brian Rohter
Like many of you I picked up this morning's Oregonian and read the front page story about how Country Natural Beef, the Eastern Oregon co-op of ranch families that has been our long time supplier of natural, locally grown beef, is being negatively impacted by the dispute between the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest. Beef Northwest is the Oregon feedlot for Country Natural Beef.
There are a few things in that story that I'd like to comment on. First of all, New Seasons Market definitely hasn't taken sides. We have a lot of respect for both the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest and think that, if they will start talking again, they will be able to find a fair solution. One thing that I haven't heard anyone disagree about is that the workers at Beef Northwest should be allowed to decide on their own if they want to be represented by the United Farm Workers. My understanding is that the hold up is about what methods should be used to provide a fair process for that decision to be made.
We also strongly feel that the ranchers at Country Natural Beef shouldn't suffer as a result of this. They are not part of this dispute. The Oregonian says the co-op "has become collateral damage in the fight" and we think that's a tragedy. Their ranches and way of life are at stake as a result of this dispute and that is just wrong. We've been business partners with Country Natural Beef for many, many years and they're a model for how to build a regional food system and bridge the urban rural divide. They supply our shoppers with healthy, sustainably raised beef. Their environmental practices have been third party certified by The Food Alliance. And, the co-op is an economic engine for Oregon agriculture.
I'd also like to emphasize that the United Farm Workers never asked us to stop selling Country Natural Beef. Steve Witte, the organizer from the United Farm Workers that I've talked to, is quoted in the Oregonian as saying, "We never used the b-word. We never asked them to boycott." That's definitely true. In my various communications with Steve, he never suggested that we should stop doing business with the co-op.
Steve did ask us to help with the situation and we definitely have. We've been very proactive about this over the last year. I've personally met with representatives of the United Farm Workers, the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry, Beef Northwest and the ranchers at Country Natural Beef. I went over to Boardman to visit the feedlot at Beef Northwest. We've done our best to facilitate a conversation between the parties. We've been in communication with the other retail stores and restaurants who also buy from Country Natural Beef to see how we, as a group, might be able to help. We've formally requested that Governor Kulongoski use the influence of his office to get the parties to sit down with each other again and we thank him for his leadership on this difficult issue. So, I'm not sure where the statement in today's Oregonian that "we didn't reply to pleas for help from the United Farm Workers" came from, because it definitely isn't accurate.
Please know that I will continue to follow this issue really closely and do what I can to help find a just solution for everyone involved; all the people who work so hard, day after day, to bring this great, locally and sustainably raised food to our community.
If anyone has any suggestions about what else could be done I'd love to hear from you.