Food Trail to Food Resiliency

Jared Gardner, Nehalem River Ranch, leads a panel discussion on farm and fish producers.

Brand Story – How Oregon’s North Coast set its sights on a strong food economy.

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In early 2017, when plans to develop a North Coast Food Trail were just beginning, community conversations took a much bigger and profound turn. At first, producers and chefs, buyers and sellers asked, ‘How do we improve food distribution efficiencies? how do we expand our market reach?’ Then ‘How do we create sustainability and resiliency to support our communities?’

The idea of a food trail started with a two-day culinary/agritourism workshop facilitated by Travel Oregon’s destination development team. Seventy community members involved in the food industry took part, from farmers to restaurant owners. After several months of development, securing participants that met criteria and creating a website, brochure and public relations campaign, the North Coast Food Trail was launched in April 2018.

Photo 1Speed dating food style: Producers on the left, buyers on the right

But that was only the beginning.

Thanks to the success of the food trail, demand for locally sourced foods increased. While good for producers, it also emphasized the need for a way to more efficiently move food from farm and boat to markets. A centrally located food hub with a mobile delivery unit might be a solution.

“Every hour spent off the farm or boat to deliver product is an hour not spent farming or fishing,” says Jared Gardner, owner of Nehalem River Ranch, which specializes in grass-fed beef and pastured pork. “Tillamook County is 70 miles long. If your farm is in the north and customers are in the south, either you or your customer has to make at least a 100-mile trip to deliver or pick up an order. For a one-owner farm or boat, that can eat up most of a whole day.”

Tillamook Coast Visitors Association, which led the food trail development, saw an opportunity to help get the concept started. The organization applied for and received a $45,000 grant from the Business Oregon Rural Opportunity Initiative program, which is funded by the Oregon Lottery Commission. The grant had three objectives: 1) conduct two feasibility studies, one with producers and one with buyers on need for a food delivery system; 2) conduct a feasibility study with producers on the benefit of a North Coast food brand for marketing purposes; and 3) hold Oregon State University Extension’s Recipe to Market classes for those want to start or expand value-added products.

The feasibility studies were conducted by Food Roots, a Tillamook-based nonprofit that supports local farmers and access to fresh foods. Recipe to Market classes were taught by Sarah Masoni of the Food Innovation Center in Portland, and an accompanying business planning and marketing workshop was facilitated by the Small Business Development Center and Tillamook Coast Visitors Association. In addition, a FarmDirect class was offered by OSU Extension, and two “FishBiz” marketing sessions were held for small commercial fisheries. All told, more than 119 participants took part in all sessions of the grant projects.

Two producer-buyer networking events were held at the historic Garibaldi Boathouse, a former Coast Guard water rescue station. Chefs, brewers, winemakers and restaurant owners met farmers, fishers, harvesters and value-added producers to share stories and conduct business. The events were catered by Offshore Grill, a restaurant in Rockaway Beach that features a locally sourced menu.

Photo 3Jake Burden, executive chef and owner of Offshore Grill in Rockaway Beach, builds his menu on locally sourced, seasonal foods.

“Producer and buyer events help develop key relationships essential to the health and prosperity of our local food system,” says Lauren Sorg, executive director of Food Roots. “We were delighted to see more than 40 participants attend each event, which included a panel of key buyers and producer stakeholders who shared best practices.”

While these activities were taking place, the Port of Garibaldi, Columbia Pacific Economic Development District, Rural Development Initiatives and EcoTrust worked together to develop the Garibaldi Seafood Initiative Value Chain Assessment, which focused on ways to build economic stability for small commercial fisheries.

“The outcome of these multiple projects showed a need for improved efficiencies for local farmers, fisheries, producers and restaurants,” says Nan Devlin, executive director of Tillamook Coast Visitors Association. “And now with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a resilient system is even more important for our future.”

A path forward
The tourism organization was recently granted a second Business Oregon Rural Opportunity Initiative grant for $65,000 to develop a market analysis, site location and business plan for a food hub/delivery system, as well as implementing a marketing and public relations campaign about the bounty of Oregon’s North Coast. Additional grant funding is being sought to expand the research and development to include Clatsop County.

Meanwhile, the North Coast Food Trail just launched its third year. In September of 2019, Sunset Magazine honored it with an Editor’s Choice Travel Award for best food trip on the West Coast.


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