Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thank You, Local Vendors!

By Lisa Sedlar, President

This past Saturday was our 8th annual Local Producer appreciation dinner and I have to say that it was the best one yet. The food was off-the-charts delicious with a menu that featured locally grown and produced foods and flavors that were definitely at their seasonal peak—I think it’s safe to say that we all put on a couple of pounds by the time the night was over!

But the dinner isn’t just about the food. It’s our opportunity to acknowledge our local farmers, fishers, ranchers and producers—AKA, our agricultural rockstars! This year, it felt more vital and poignant than ever to highlight the important work our local producers do to help sustain and enhance our regional food economy as their work ensures the long-term health of our regional food supply.

It’s not news to anyone that we are experiencing tough economic times and as a result of this recession our farmland and farmers are in peril. In January of this year, the price of milk collapsed by a staggering 30% and the price of milk has fallen by 50% YTD. Many dairy ranchers are finding themselves in a position where they can no longer afford to keep their herd and consequently, dairy farmers are getting out of farming altogether. If this trend continues, we could potentially lose up to one-third of our family dairy farms.

Our partners at The Organically Grown Company told us that local farmers are really feeling the pinch of this economy. Josh Hinerfeld told me that Oregon farmers have experienced significant commodity deflation with apples being the most notable—down nearly 40%! Pears were down 10% and this summer, our local berry farmers (including all strawberry varieties) experienced a 13% decrease.

On the surface, this may sound like a good thing for eaters. But for our farmers it’s not. It doesn’t cost our farmers any less to grow and harvest the food. In fact, the cost of fuel, feed and fertilizer has risen upwards of 25% and labor costs remain high. So you can imagine how difficult it is for them to stay in business, let alone make a profit when their costs have gone up so dramatically and the market won’t bear price increases.

Couple this with the fact that the average age of farmers in Oregon is pushing 58 years old and you can see that we have a problem with the preservation of our farmland. My question is what plan do we have in place to preserve our farmland for the next generation (and the ones that follow)?

We need to ensure that our agricultural lands stay in agricultural production because once our farmland becomes a strip-mall or a new housing development, there’s no going back and our region’s food security is further threatened. We know that flying and trucking our food from further away is not sustainable. And as eaters, we can all vote with our dollars to support our local farmers, fishers and ranchers—now more than ever, they need us and we need them!