County sees economic impact in local food
By Christina Williams
Editor, Sustainable Business Oregon
Multnomah County is hosting a kickoff celebration of its Food Action Plan Thursday, inviting individuals and organizations to sign on to the goals of the plan, which include improving access to healthy food and creating a thriving local economy.
In a region where much lip service has been given to eating local foods, the question remains whether such an emphasis can translate into an economic advantage.
Supporters of the plan say it can.
"Food has been ignored in a lot of arenas," said Kat West, director of Multnomah County's Office of Sustainability. "We’re a region that plans for everything, but we’ve never planned for food, and planning for economic development around food is part of it."
At the heart of the plan is the Oregon dichotomy that the state is ranked second in hunger by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but over half the adults in Multnomah County are overweight or obese. Also tucked into the plan (available for download from the plan's website) are figures that show that food manufacturing and industry sales in the county in 2010 were $1.5 billion, and food and beverage sales were $1.6 billion.
"The idea is to capture more of that capital locally," said Robert Wise, senior project manager of Cogan Owens Cogan, a research and consulting firm that is working on a local food analysis in conjunction with the plan.
"I don't think we could consume everything we grow locally in the summer and spring," said Bruce Silverman, Portland vice president for Whole Foods Market. "And what we grow in the winter wouldn't be enough. But maximizing what we keep local and giving people access to it can make a difference."
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