The Network Explores the Coexistence of Cannabis and the Food System

At the close of 2016, the RVFSN council members voted to explore the intersection of the cannabis industry and the food system in 2017. The main reason for this decision was that council members had been observing a heightened interest in the topic among food system stakeholders over the previous two years. Given that recreational use of cannabis has been legalized and the industry is rapidly developing in the Rogue Valley, we feel it is critical to foster healthy conversations around the question of how the cannabis industry and food production could coexist.

In February, council members Vince Smith, Maud Powell, Greg Holmes, and Stu O’neill, as well as Megan Fehrman from Rogue Farm Corps, and Regan Emmons, the RVFSN coordinator formed a cannabis working group. They immediately went to work organizing and hosting a cannabis stakeholder meeting in March. This invite-only meeting had 25 people in attendance who represented policy and land-use experts, labor contractors, cannabis growers, food farmers, and others involved in the cannabis industry. Participants were asked about challenges and opportunities they experienced or observed, what potential solutions that could be pursued to foster coexistence, and how they would suggest bringing this conversation to the broader public.

The stakeholder meeting underscored the shared experiences of cannabis growers and food farmers. Both reported concerns about outside interests and threats, challenges in finding high-quality labor, and in sourcing high-quality products and infrastructure to support their businesses. Lastly, as the future of the cannabis industry is unpredictable, no one knows what the long-term impacts and implications will be in the Rogue Valley. Potential solutions that received the most support at the meeting included: developing partnerships, sharing information and resources between the two industries, educating the public about the potential economic benefits to communities, and supporting sustainably grown cannabis operations.

Stakeholders agreed that having small neighbor to neighbor meetings was the best way to bring the conversation to the community. They also recognized a need to educate the public on what challenges and opportunities exist.

On July 19th, RVFSN hosted a public meeting in Medford during which a panel of professionals addressed water resources, soil fertility, land use planning, rules and regulations, and labor issues. After the panelists presented, the audience asked questions. The video and notes from that meeting can be found in the link above and on the Public Meetings and Forums page.

In September, the network hosted 5 cannabis community conversations in different communities throughout the Rogue Valley. These conversations served as a way for community members to learn about the issues and provided an opportunity to share ideas on how we can best realize a healthy coexistence between the cannabis industry and the food system.

The notes from the community conversations will be summarized and shared with the public once completed. An article will be authored in 2018 that will include recommendations for further exploration.

-Regan Emmons, Coordinator

Tom Marks, Organic Produce Warehouse

tom marksTom Marks, founder of Organic Produce Warehouse, has been involved in many different roles in the food system. “I have been a farmer, I have opened two restaurants, I have been a produce manager, and I’ve worked in natural health food stores,” explains Marks.  About ten years ago Marks was working for another company, selling produce. His boss at the time offered to pay him in money, or in fruits and vegetables; Marks chose the later and began opening his own accounts.

From there on out, “One thing led to another and I realized that we didn’t have a local organic food facility, and that most of the organic produce being sold in the area was going through distribution sites in Portland and Seattle and then coming back to us on a truck everyday.” This process “seemed absurd” to Marks, and he decided he “Wanted to provide an opportunity for people to support local business and get their organic produce locally.” As a result, Organic Produce Warehouse was opened.

The goal of Organic Produce Warehouse, according to Marks, is to “Provide the infrastructure needed to have a thriving food system. In order for us to have food security we need to have healthy food businesses and in order to have healthy food businesses you need an advocate, you need someone in the food business who is going to help you succeed.” OPW strives to be that advocate. They work hard to connect with local businesses and consumers alike.  In addition to selling products grown or made by local people, they also keep community needs in mind. Currently, they are exploring the possibility of opening up a shared use / incubator kitchen.

If consumers in the Rogue Valley want to know which items are supplied by Organic Produce Warehouse, Marks suggests a simple method: Just ask. Produce managers will be able to tell you which products come from Organic Produce Warehouse. To find out more about Organic Produce Warehouse, visit http://opwfresh.com.

Oshala Farm

je-calendula-pickingOshala Farm, located in the Applegate Valley, is owned and managed by Elise and Jeff Higley. The farm, first established in 1906 by the Hill family, spans across 113 acres, about 50 of which is farmland. This season, 24 acres are in production. According to Elise Higley, “We grow vegetables, fruits, herbs and tree crops.” Oshala Farm also produces their own teas and line of spices, which are for sale on their online store.

Elise spoke about the challenges and rewards of farming. “The most rewarding part is hearing from people down the line that “I had your teas” or  “this is the best squash I’ve ever had” or things like that. It’s just a really great feeling because it is so much hard work. To know that your product got somewhere and brought health or a smile to somebody’s face makes you feel really good; it makes it all worth it.”

As for the challenges, Elise says that, “Farming is very physically demanding. You need to find the right people to work with that are as crazy as you are, that are willing to work long hours and get up in the dark and stay out until dark, and help you harvest with headlights in the freezing cold, and are as passionate about providing local food. It’s challenging to be able to find people who are willing to do that and pay them what you feel is worth their time.”

There are other challenges, as well, “The cost of infrastructure is definitely challenging. It’s hard to get loans on your overall, everyday costs. It’s easier to get loans for equipment.” Elise stated, “We don’t have a lot of mechanism on our farm for our veggies so it takes longer to harvest things and it costs more money. The biggest barrier is being able to provide quality food at a competitive price.” Oshala Farm does its part to help bring fresh, nutritious food to individuals who may not be able to easily afford it. “We do offer a discount section for our seconds or blemished items. We always have volunteers come work on the farm, which is great, too. We love to give them lots of food.”  To find out more about Oshala farm, or to purchase their products, visit http://www.oshalafarm.com.

Photo provided by  David Gribb Photography.

The Future of Food and Farming, November 19th at 7pm

Join the Rogue Valley Food System Network for a community discussion about The Future of Food and Farming in the Rogue Valley on Wednesday, November 19th at 7pm (Doors open at 6:45) at the Medford Public Library (205 S Central Ave).

Food and farming have a future in the Rogue Valley, and a network of allies are working to make sure that future is bright. Come learn from a panel of community stakeholders what a “food system” can do, and how efforts are expanding local consumption of locally grown food, creating points of market access for emerging farmers, and ensuring a reliable supply of the right kind of farmland. See attached for more information or visit www.facebook.com/rvfoodsystem.

Please RSVP for this free event. (If the link does not work for you, copy and paste this addresshttp://bit.ly/RogueFoodFuture)

We hope to see you there!

Future of Food Rogue Valley Nov19_8x11_final

For more information, contact Hannah Ancel, Community Food System Coordinator, ACCESS

541-618-4019
hancel@accesshelps.org

http://www.rvfoodsystem.org

Healthy Corner Store Initiative

The Healthy Corner Store Initiative is a collaborative project of Jackson County Public Health Department, OSU Extension, and ACCESS to make healthy foods more accessible through neighborhood markets in our community’s food deserts.

 

Local Market Development

Thrive is leading community partners to increase wholesale purchases of locally grown foods by retail stores by assisting both the farmers and buyers in the process.

Our goal is to increase the amount of locally produced food that is consumed in the Rogue Valley by making local food more available where customers are already shopping. To find out more about Thrive visit http://www.buylocalrogue.org.