FoodHub Blog News and stories from the FoodHub community

10,000 Foot View of a Region

Posted on March 21st, 2015 by

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Thinking about farm to school programs: What’s next for the West?

The Western Region is full of pioneers, including in the world of farm to school. It’s led to some magnificent innovation: California birthed the National Farm to School Network; the Oregon legislature created a $1.2 million farm to school and school garden grant program; and from Alaska to Montana, Hawaii to Nevada, our region’s schools spend over $87 million on local food each year.

As the Western Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network, we at Ecotrust are lucky to work closely with many of the explorers who have charted this new course for farmers and schools in our region.

This year, Ecotrust’s farm to school team is wrapping up a three-year project working directly with school districts and farmers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to increase purchases of local foods. The project, funded by Kaiser Permanente, was an opportunity to support creative new ideas to move the dial on farm to school, such as Boat to School and Legislators to the Lunchroom. It was also a unique opportunity for our team to build deeper relationships with school food service directors, farmers, and distributors. At the end of our three years, we asked them: Having come this far, what do you need next?

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This question also reflects a time of introspection for our team. Almost a decade into our work in farm to school, Ecotrust is looking forward to what’s on the horizon for our region. What will it take to make farm to school the new business as usual at every school, from Anchorage to Boise to Honolulu? We have a lot of resources in place — state leads who act as networking and resource hubs for each of the eight Western states (we even have a few state farm to preschool leads); state farm to school grant programs in Alaska and Oregon; vibrant statewide networks in Hawaii and California; and a rich partnership with our regional counterpart at the USDA, who makes much of this work possible through technical assistance and financial resources.

And yet, when we asked school districts and farmers in the Willamette Valley what they needed next, the answers were familiar. Small budgets, season limitations, a lack of scratch cooking in school kitchens, and the time-consuming nature of building the relationships vital to the work topped the list of challenges for schools and farmers alike.

There are workarounds for each of these obstacles, and they certainly haven’t stopped many school districts and farmers from creating vibrant programs and partnerships. But these ongoing challenges are symptomatic of a more fundamental bottleneck that remains even as we continue to innovate: Our region’s hard infrastructure — the kind that supports the aggregation, processing, and distribution of food — isn’t set up for local suppliers to feed local buyers.

Pineapple in school lunches in Hawaii might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not that simple. Dexter Kishida, School Food Service Supervisor at the Hawaii State Department of Education explains that most Hawaiian school kitchens don’t have capacity to deal with the whole fruit and that the state lacks local processing capacity at a scale to meet school district needs. The fruit must be shipped off island to be processed into slices and chunks and then sent back (with a resulting impact on cost and affordability for schools). And Dexter notes that this often means that pineapple from South America and the Philippines is more affordable than fruit grown in their own state.

Mardi Solomon of Whatcom County Farm to School relates how students in Washington State are served “baby” shaved carrots from California rather than those grown locally, since school food service programs cannot afford to pay staff for the time it takes to cut whole carrots into sticks. These are just two examples of how the system through which schools, hospitals, and college campuses buy their food in the West isn’t yet conducive to our vision of a resilient, regionally based food system.

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We’ve still made significant progress over the past ten years and there are exciting and innovative solutions on the horizon. In Hawaii, Dexter tells the story of a small grower who is setting up a flash freezing facility with the potential to serve the school district’s needs. The facility will process the second and third harvests of pineapples to help provide a product that is more affordable for schools.

In Whatcom County, a new local vegetable processing facility at Cloud Mountain Farm Center is one effort to try to fill the infrastructure gap in Washington by processing local carrots and other veggies into the forms that schools need.

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Farmers check out processing equipment while visiting Cloud Mountain Farm Center last fall on a mobile tour hosted by the Washington Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program

It’s clear that school districts and farmers value each other and want to work together, and many of them know how to overcome common challenges to make these relationships work. Now it’s time to rebuild the infrastructure that underlies this work — to shift the entire system so that farm to school and local food procurement is feasible for more than those who are deeply committed.

Focusing our collective attention on improving the methods through which buyers access local food — the aggregation, processing, and distribution that make this procurement possible — is the challenge of the next decade, and has the potential to transform farm to school into the new business as usual. It’s a monumental task, but we’re pioneers, and we’re heading for that horizon.

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Helping schools source local chicken

Posted on March 4th, 2015 by

preschool-lunch-1600x580Demand for locally produced and responsibly raised chicken has grown steadily among Oregon’s institutions — including schools, hospitals, government facilities, and corporate cafes, all serving hundreds of thousands of people each day. But supply is lacking. Although chicken is the “center of the plate” protein served most often by this major market sector, institutions have been unable to find local suppliers able to meet their sourcing criteria.

To address this gap, Ecotrust has received a USDA planning grant that will lay the groundwork for a targeted, long-term effort to build Oregon’s supply chain of locally-produced chicken raised without antibiotics for our local institutions. Key partners on the project include Portland Public Schools, Beaverton School District, and Oregon Health and Sciences University.

This planning project will: 1) analyze Oregon’s existing supply of regionally produced chicken raised without antibiotics; 2) assess demand for this chicken from local institutions, including schools and hospitals; and 3) develop a plan to address gaps in the supply chain for this type of chicken. With this plan in hand, our long-term objective is to boost consumption of and access to local, raised without antibiotic chicken, increasing market opportunities for Oregon’s regional chicken producers and processors.

Read more about local schools’ quest to serve chicken raised without antibiotics, at OregonLive.com.

If I Could Buy You Each One Gift…

Posted on January 29th, 2014 by

“It would be a pressure washer,” says professional trainer and long-time farmer, Atina Diffley. Diffley is explaining to the small and midsize mixed vegetable growers who have come to the Wholesale Success workshop why an investment in a few key pieces of equipment, and the creation of a few standard operating procedures, could radically improve the quality and safety of food coming off their farm, leading to increased sales and better profitability.

“Don’t you hate scrubbing those harvest bins by hand, knocking your knuckles and having your hands in cold water for a long time? Makes you not really want to do that job, right? Having a pressure washer lets your pickers clean those things in a few seconds and makes it a lot more likely that the job gets done and done well.”

It was the type of practical advice that came rolling off Diffley’s tongue all day.

Copies of the course manual are still available. Please contact Gorge Grown Food Network, Nourish Yamhill Valley, Ten Rivers Food Web, Thrive, or OSU Extension Small Farms (Central Point).

Pick it cool, keep it cool, put it to sleep.” Getting field heat out of produce as quickly as possible can extend shelf life for days, so picking in the early morning before it heats up saves time and money in cooling.

Fresh produce should be seen and not heard.” If produce is audibly hitting the box or bin as it’s being packed, the crew is not being gentle enough and the product will probably have bruises. Because those bruises often don’t show up for a day or two, farmers may think they’re delivering pristine produce, but buyers may unpack boxes of bruised tomatoes.

If you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it.” It’s the rule of food safety regulation compliance – if you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it. Diffley coached growers to treat record-keeping like brushing their teeth: make it quick and easy and part of shutting down for the day. A great tip was to create a permanent grid on a white board and then fill in daily details with a dry-erase marker. At the end of the day, just snap a picture of the board with a digital camera or smart phone and save the picture in a dated file. Record-keeping done!

Wholesale Success is a program developed by FamilyFarmed.org with support from the USDA, and brought to four Oregon locations in January by FoodHub, in partnership with local community-based food organizations and a host of collaborators. Heaps of thanks go out to workshop hosts Gorge Grown Food Network, Nourish Yamhill Valley, Ten Rivers Food Web, Thrive and OSU Extension Small Farms, and to statewide partners Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Food Bank, and OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.

If you’re a produce farmer and missed the workshops, you can request the course manual by contacting one of the workshop hosts above, or by picking one up from FoodHub’s home office in Portland. Just email us at meet@food-hub.org. You can also access many of the course materials online by visiting Diffley’s website, www.atinadiffley.com.

‘Tis the Season to Connect

Posted on January 27th, 2014 by

The holidays are over and the seeds have yet to arrive, which makes February and March great months for chefs and producers to start making agreements for this year’s growing season. A host of upcoming events make it easy to connect live and get those important relationships rolling:

Can’t make it to one of those events live? Use FoodHub to search for the products you’ll want or have to offer this summer and get those connections going now!

FoodHub Connections: Genki Su gets Experimental with Seaview Cranberries

Posted on September 23rd, 2013 by

Takako of Genki Su samples some of her flavors at a yoga event. Photo courtesy Genki Su

When Takako Shinjo started Genki-Su Japanese Drinking Vinegars, she wanted to bring a taste of her Japanese culture to her Portland kitchen. About two months ago Takako joined FoodHub to find local flavors for her internationally-inspired product.

“I test a lot of different fruits, herbs and vegetables and I’ve always wanted to have seasonal flavors,” she said, “but now I want to work with local farms. I really like to look at FoodHub because I can tell what’s going on in the food community.”

Soon after joining, Takako created a Marketplace post looking for berry producers. Even though her Marketplace post said she was looking for strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, Scott McKenzie of Seaview Cranberries saw her post come through on his weekly Fresh Sheet and he thought his berries might be a good fit.

“I offered to give her a 25 pound case to experiment with,” said Scott. “I sell cranberries to a company called Stone Barn Brandyworks that makes a cranberry liqueur. I connected with them and did the same thing and that’s turned into a really good relationship.”

Cranberries from Seaview. Photo courtesy Genki Su

And while she still in the testing phase with Seaview’s cranberries, Takako is already thinking of ways to market a cranberry seasonal flavor to her customers.

“I’m thinking about making a holiday flavor,” she said. “Right now it’s summer and people want strawberry and blueberry flavors. Cranberry is going to be perfect for the holidays.”

To scale up their business and build demand for her product, Genki-Su launched another Kickstarter to begin production on a ready-to-drink tonic using their vinegar flavors as a base.

“We are running a limited a project to do a pre-mix bottle and that will make another market,” said Takako, “but we have to make the concentrate first. The production is the same, but we’ll start using a bottling facility. Right now I hand-bottle everything.”

While Scott’s donation of 25 pounds of berries to Genki Su will allow Takako to make 50-60 bottles of vinegar, as a business Seaview operates at a much larger scale. Scott’s total harvest for the year will likely be 700,000 pounds and he sometimes sells berries by the container load, which weigh out at 40 to 45,000 pounds. One of his clients, Hotlips Soda, (FoodHub’s 3,000th Member) buys fruit by the pallet to keep up with their demand. Despite the fact that Genki-Su and Seaview operate at different ends of the scales, Scott said he finds special satisfaction in working with other businesses in his back yard.

“I really like working with folks with entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “I want to promote them if I can and encourage them.”

Test, Test, 1-2-3

Building a quality relationship with a client or vendor can often be an exercise in trial and error. Here are three of our favorite quotes about how FoodHub can help businesses take the next step in building the relationships they need to grow:

“Having good vendors is so important. I’ve seen people almost go out of business because they don’t have good vendors in a critical supply. FoodHub is helping me find people that I need to start relationships with.” – Tom Burkleaux, New Deal Distillery

“It doesn’t do us any good to have one-time sales. What we’re looking for is someone who week in and week out is going to be a steady customer. One of things about FoodHub that I really like is that the people you meet there are very in the game. They want it to be more than a sale. They’re looking for a relationship.” – David Hoyle, Creative Growers

“FoodHub has opened doors by word of mouth to chefs who have tried our products and then referred some of their friends to our farm. We didn’t have to do the footwork or cold call them when they don’t have the time – they were just referred to us. That makes it worth those 10 minutes a day that I spend on the site.” – Cassandra Timms, Deck Family Farms

FoodHub Connections: Greenwillow Grains flavors From the Fields’

Posted on July 24th, 2013 by

Paolo at From the Fields’ preps their small batch granola. Photo Courtesy From the Fields’, LLC

Some things you can only get from someplace special. Each region has its own point of pride: Hood River lays claim to strawberries, Rainier has its cherries (roundly contested by Montanans!), Vermont has maple syrup. While searching FoodHub for new sources of ingredients for her all-natural line of muesli, granola and whole grain porridges, Betsy Field found something special from Brownsville, OR, and farmer Clint Lindsey of Greenwillow Grains.

Putting it simply, she said, “They grow the best oats I’ve ever eaten.”

So good, in fact, that Betsy anticipates being the sole distributor of Greenwillow Grains in California as she brings their oats into her San Rafael production facilities, then redistributes the final product to co-ops and other natural markets who buy from her.

A self-described sourcing fanatic, Betsy spends hours poring over lists of producers, visiting farms, and building the connections she needs to feed her growing business called From the Fields’ LLC. When she found Clint on FoodHub, she did a taste test, comparing Greenwillow’s grains to a commodity product. What she discovered was an astonishing texture and taste profile against which she now judges all other grains, and that inspired her to raise the bottom line on her ingredient costs.

“I’m always looking for direct to farm relationship,” said Betsy who buys thousands of pounds of grain every year. “Anything in fruit nuts and seed, we want. It’s been challenging, but it allows us to knock out the middle person, offer the product for less and pay the farmer more. Greenwillow’s oats are more expensive and the taste profile is superior, but I also know who grew it and where they grew it, and how, and that they mill it.”

And Betsy’s diligence makes a big difference to businesses like Greenwillow Grains that are ready to serve regional markets.

Organic, hulless oats grow at the Greenwillow Grains farm. Photo courtesy Greenwillow Grains.

“At first our barriers to expansion were market opportunities. We needed people to be aware that what we had was available,” Clint of Greenwillow said. “We now have ten different organic crops for local markets and that’s been a big deal, but we are also starting to pursue the kinds of relationships that fit the kind of farm we are capable of becoming: We’re ready to pursue customers that need a pallet or two per month.”

To find these new customers, Clint regularly uses FoodHub.

“Once I started to really keep our profile up to date and look at the Marketplace and Fresh Sheet every time they came up was when things really started to happen,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called or emailed someone who might be a good fit. A couple times it’s resulted in killer business relationship. … I know that if somebody is on FoodHub they’re probably the kind of person that I want to do business with.”

Up the Ante

Ensure your success on FoodHub by returning to the site and updating your profile on a regular basis. Every three months, edit your product list to include the most current list of what you’re harvesting to make sure the best of what you have is visible season after season.

5 Reasons to Upgrade your Membership Today!

Posted on July 23rd, 2013 by

Hey FoodHubbers! It’s me, Megan. We’ve been getting a lot of questions about why folks should upgrade their memberships. This video covers the top 5 reasons. Check it out, and click here if you’re ready to be highlighted on FoodHub!

Top 5 Reasons to Upgrade from FoodHub on Vimeo.

FoodHub Advertising 101

Posted on July 22nd, 2013 by

FoodHub Media KitFoodHub is designed to be an all encompassing marketing tool. That includes using your Profile and the Marketplace to spread the word about your products, services and business practices. However, taking advantage of one of FoodHub’s many advertising opportunities puts the cherry on top of your marketing efforts, increases your standing in the community and kick starts connections. But where to start? And how do ROS ads work anyway? What the heck is a Member Spotlight and why do I want one?

Keep reading for answers to those questions and more …

What is a Member Spotlight?

The Member Spotlight gives you arguably the most bang for your advertising buck. When you buy a Member Spotlight you appear in front of the audience of your choice (either buyers or sellers OR both!) not only on their dashboard (that page you land on right when you log in), but your ad ALSO goes out in the Fresh Sheet – FoodHub’s weekly Member newsletter delivered straight to Members’ in-boxes every Tuesday.

What does ROS mean?
ROS stands for Run of Site. When you buy one you get a package of 3 ads that could appear on any one of the hundreds of FoodHub pages at ANY time including the Marketplace – arguably the most-visited section of the site!

Can I buy an ad that stays in one spot?
The short answer is ‘Yes’! These are called ‘banner ads’. We have lots of spots, but we can show you what each one looks like, how big your ad should be and what it will look like once it’s live on the site.

How do I appear at the top of the page when a buyer looks for my product?
Easy: buy a search term. For example, if you buy the word ‘apple’ you’ll always appear at the top of the page. There are three spots available per search term so you and two other Members will share the spotlight. Don’t worry: we rotate the Member who shows up at the top so you’ll have your chance to be king of the mountain. At $4.99/week per search term this is one of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to appear in front of buyers at the height of the season.

There’s so much information I don’t know where to start! Can you help?
Absolutely. Give us a call (855-FOODHUB) or send us an email (meet@food-hub.org), tell us when you want to start your ad campaign and we’ll work up some specs for you that work with your budget. If you’d like to start crunching some numbers for yourself we have them right here in our Media Kit.

Pssst … I want to save some money on advertising? Can you cut me a break?
Didn’t you know FoodHub is the land of ‘yes’? With an upgraded membership you can save 10% on all advertising. Even better, with a month-to-month Advantage membership, you can save money on advertising, spruce up your profile (click here to see an example of an upgraded profile with all the bells and whistles), cancel your upgrade when the season is done, and then – when you want to be highlighted again NEXT year – all that hard work is saved and appears automatically when you renew at the Advantage or All-Access level.

Do I have to be a Member to advertise on FoodHub?
Nope. As long as you’re a food-related seller or service provider you can advertise on FoodHub. (However, it’ll be WAY easier for folks to connect with you if you’re a Member … and it’s FREE so go ahead and join!)

FoodHub Member Connections: Fresh Links Launch Chicken Scratch Farm and Rose City Local Market

Posted on June 25th, 2013 by
Photo Courtesy Chicken Scratch Farm

Carolyn Eddy in Eagle Creek, OR, has always been a farmer, but after raising pack goats for years she and a business partner decided it was time for something different. They bought a few chickens and a few hives and started building a fresh egg and honey business.

“Normally I would tell people to start small and take it slow,” she said, “but that’s not how it went for us.”

Soon after launching Chicken Scratch Farm, Carolyn joined FoodHub and made the business connections that quickly took her to the next level.

“We didn’t have a market for eggs and somebody told us about FoodHub,” she said. “When that first big client jumped on board we were scrambling to keep up and adding more chickens. We’re doing better than we ever expected.”

Her two main clients, both FoodHub connections, are Rose City Local Market and Flying Fish Company.

“I’ve been in business for about four years and as long as I’ve been running I’ve worked with local farms,” said Rose City owner Christina Robinson who looks for no-spray, organic fruits and vegetables, and humanely-raised meat. “At first it was just organic, but now it’s more local. It’s really important to most of my customers.”

When Christina could no longer get in touch with her normal egg supplier she turned to FoodHub to fill the gap. Now, after posting for eggs in the Marketplace, she gets 30 to 50 dozen eggs every other week from Chicken Scratch Farm.

“The Marketplace is a great place to connect with people and find things that you’re looking for,” Christina said. “If I’m looking for a product, I go to FoodHub first.”

To keep the connections going, both Christina and Carolyn will continue to rely on FoodHub: Christina, who is launching an online storefront for her customers, will be using FoodHub to vet new vendors and invite them to join her list of providers. Carolyn, who doesn’t yet have website for Chicken Scratch Farm, will continue to use FoodHub as her primary marketing outlet.

“A lot of people don’t do advertising,” she said, “but with FoodHub we don’t spend a lot of time working on marketing. We were fortunate to get good clients right off the bat.”

3,2,1 Liftoff

Launching a business can be hard, but getting started with FoodHub is easy:

3 … If you’re new to FoodHub, log in and spend some time filling out your profile, searching for your primary customer type or the vendors you need, and sending an initial round of introductory emails. Carolyn said many of her clients have reached out to her through the Message Center – don’t be afraid to use it right away! – and make sure your other contact information is up to date as well.

2 … Every month or so, update your product list and Hot Sheet to make sure any new potential connections are finding your profile when they search the site. Christina told us she found a farmer in her area who she knew had strawberries, but they didn’t show up in her list of results when she searched for that product on FoodHub because they hadn’t added it to their profile.

1 … Carolyn said she spends an hour a week with FoodHub, usually every Tuesday when she gets the Fresh Sheet. Use your hour to respond to any messages, create a marketplace post of your own, and see who’s new in your area.

Empowering school food directors to buy local

Posted on June 20th, 2013 by

Stacey Sobell, Ecotrust Farm to School Manager

This is a repost from the Ecotrust blog, which is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies. Read more stories about Ecotrust’s work, and that of our partners and friends, at blog.ecotrust.org.

Four years ago, under the fluorescent lights of the Salem Conference Center, I stood at a table heaped with Oregon apples free for the taking, trying to catch the eyes of some 300 school district food service staff. I found myself engulfed by the scents of hot pizza and french fries and the sound of clanging metal warming trays. The attendees of this annual trade show have the daunting task of collectively serving meals to over 300,000 Oregon schoolchildren, many of whom rely on school meals as their primary form of sustenance.

My goal was to encourage these food buyers to begin building relationships with local farmers, food processors, and distributors and to use Farm to School programming to revolutionize their menus in support of our local agricultural economy.

But much as it can be hard to coax a kid to choose a carrot when a chicken nugget is within reach, it was equally difficult to lure these food buyers from the hot food samples that other vendors had to offer. And so, as my crisp apples remained untouched, I became determined to make it easier for local food suppliers to have a strong presence at this trade show, and for school food buyers to make new relationships closer to home. So many decisions are made within those halls. How could we make it possible for local food to be a viable option, when up against powerful national food companies?

For the last three years, we’ve transformed the entrance to this conference into a hall of Oregon ranchers and fishermen, farmers and food processors, and suppliers of local grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, and more. We call it the Farm to School Showcase, and within this hall, Oregon’s farmers and food suppliers meet and connect with school food buyers face-to-face. We entice conference attendees with a Farm to School trivia game, support vendors with scholarships to attend, and make it easier for those 300,000 daily meals to include a little bit more local food.

Stephanie Powers (left) from Camas Country Mill near Eugene shares a sample and information about their Oregon-grown grains with a school food buyer at the 2013 Oregon School Nutrition Association food trade show.

As a result of connections made over the past several years, the Bend-LaPine School District is now purchasing Oregon-grown wheat from Camas Country Mill near Eugene; Salem-based Truitt Brothers is supplying locally-grown beans to cafeterias across the state; and school food service staff have an abundance of new sources for fresh and frozen local produce.

I’m excited to introduce the Farm to School Showcase Toolkit, published by Ecotrust, in which we’ve compiled our resources and lessons learned, typed up our checklists, and included lots of photos from the past three years. This toolkit makes it easier for Farm to School and sustainable food advocates in every state to put on Showcases of their own, paving the way for more local producers to make headway in the school food market.

In Oregon, that means approximately 300,000 meals per day, but nationally it’s over 31 million. That’s an $8.5 billion annual market. The potential impact of putting more of those dollars into the pockets of local food producers is astounding.

Together, school districts across the country have the power to radically shift institutional purchasing away from business as usual and towards the vision of a new economy represented by those Oregon apples – one that offers fresh, healthy food to all residents, economically viable food value chains that fairly compensate and respect the dignity of all participants, and methods of food production that renew our resources. Our schools are the place to start.

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