Can we meet the 'eat local' challenge?

Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States, with large-scale industrial farms and small-scale operations producing more than 170 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Agriculture employs more than 10 percent of Oregon’s population.

Eating local food is increasingly promoted as a way to economically support communities through purchasing from regional farmers, minimizing our ecological footprint and improving nutrition by providing produce picked at peak ripeness and shipped minimal distances.

Local food movements also connect consumers to local farmers, fostering a greater awareness of where food comes from. The popularity and perceived benefits of eating such foods has helped to more than double the number of Oregon’s farmers markets (now serving an estimated 90,000 shoppers per week) over the past 10 years.

We live in a wonderland of agricultural bounty, but the question is: Can the Willamette Valley truly feed itself?

For those seeking to eat locally, one of the challenges is finding regional sources for everyday ingredients such as grains and oils. Typically, the food found at farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture programs focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables, eggs, cheeses and meats — not staple foods.

Our research team found out that currently, the agricultural production in the highly fertile Willamette Valley does not meet the dietary needs of the local inhabitants for not only staples such as grains and oils but any of the USDA’s six food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat and beans, and oils.

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Kimberlee J. Chambers is an assistant professor at Willamette University in the Department of Environmental Science and the Latin American Studies Program. Katy J. Giombolini, a recent Willamette graduate and aspiring farmer, also contributed to this column.


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