2010 Central Oregon Needs Assessment
In 2010, a Central Oregon Food Needs Assessment was developed by regional organizations to address hunger and food insecurity, retail sales and distribution of local food, and food production. In the fall, a Food Summit was held in Bend with 130 people and keynote speaker and author Mark Winne who recommended forming a Food Policy Council.
2012 Central Oregon Food Policy Council
The enthusiasm that grew from the Food Summit and from the already snowballing local food movement resulted in the creation of the Central Oregon Food Policy Council. Food Policy Councils are formal organizations that bring together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop policy recommendations on how to improve it. With the good graces of many wise and strong willed citizens, a strategic plan was developed and a 13-member board was appointed to form the new non-profit organization in 2012. The Board of Directors represented farmers and ranchers, food businesses, hunger relief, public health, land-use, local government, university, and the community-at-large.
Our accomplishments were diverse and numerous: the publication of the annual Food & Farm Directory; analysis of land-use policies with regards to farming practices in the tri-county region; the hosting of numerous conferences and workshops to educate farmers and retailers supporting local food, and participation in Project Connect, where we provided fresh food from local farmers to those at-risk or currently homeless residents. As our place in the community grew so did our focus, which slowly moved away from policy and towards programmatic work.
High Desert Food & Farm Alliance 2014-Present
In 2014, we changed our name to the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance to better reflect our work and constituents. Our focus transitioned from land-use and policies to the broader food system, which includes increased access to and education about healthy food. We knew that the heart of our mission was food and farmers and we began to explore what this meant to both the board and our community.
In 2015, we hired our first employee, which meant that we were finally able to increase our capacity to provide services to the region. Knowing that farmers and ranchers are the foundation of our food system, we collaborated with farmers and ranchers to determine gaps and as such provided educational workshops: Chef-Farmer Mixers, the Local Food Challenge to improve purchasing of local food by residents, Taste Local Thursday events to showcase how restaurants utilize local food, and published the High Desert Food & Farm Directory. we also knew that food access was limited and that gardening classes were desired by residents, so we started offering free hands-on courses including Cooking Matters and Seed to Supper.
In 2016, we worked with Crook County Crooked River Open Pastures (CROP) and Jefferson County Educational Agricultural Tours (EATs) to bring more tourists to the rural parts of Central Oregon and showcase our amazing producers. We began to reach out to value added producers and food businesses as they too are contributing to the local food system, and started working with the Local Food Cluster group. We refined and expanded our food access programs, Cooking Matters and Seed to Supper, in other cities in the region, including the community of Warm Springs, and developed a new program, Grow & Give.
In 2017, we developed a new 3-year strategic plan and updated our mission to further define our focus of providing education and improving collaboration. To support this we formalized two food access programs Cooking Matters and Grow & Give and dropped the Seed to Supper program because it was underutilized and difficult to implement as a volunteer-driven program. We were steadfast in our support of farmers, ranchers and food bushiness and re-tooled what we offered knowing that over time needs change and we want to be a responsive organization. We hired our Executive Director, Katrina Van Dis, who was a founder, board member and the visionary for the organization. With her guidance and a three-year grant from USDA Community Food Projects, we catapulted into 2018.
In 2018, we found our stride and established a new food access program, Veggie Rx and further developed the farmer and rancher support programs to include season extender grants, marketing materials, supplies to improve farming practices, and annual Chef-Farmer Mixers events to continue building trust, relationships and ultimately new markets among chefs and farmers. The Directory blossomed from a tri-fold brochure in 2014 into a a 48-page, full color community resource. The organization grew from one staff member in mid-2017 to six in 2019.
The High Desert Food & Farm Alliance is an amazing organization that has grown slow and steady and listened to the community’s needs and incorporated these into our programs. We continue to improve and refine our strengths, our programs, and our focus for a more inclusive and equitable food system. Using collaboration with partners as our compass and guiding light for what is truly needed to develop the food system, we will continue to work tirelessly to improve what works and drop what doesn’t so that over time our impact on the Central Oregon food system will be felt and experienced by everyone.