Optimizing Portland’s Food Industry and Addressing Food Insecurity

Portland has an incredible reputation when it comes to food.  We have an outstanding array of restaurants, food carts, culinary schools, and farmer’s markets.  We are also known for our commitment to using locally grown and seasonal produce.  In addition, we have a strong microbrew industry, nearby wineries, and large-scale agriculture areas, and other food-related assets.  Collectively, we have more than enough components to not only be a major center for food and food-related products, but also a destination — the place people think of when they want to enjoy some of the finest food and drink on the planet.

Portland also has the added value of being close to beaches, skiing, wind surfing, waterfalls, and numerous other recreational draws for people wishing to get the most out of their vacation dollars.  Tourism also raises revenue thru lodging taxes. Developing tourism in Portland should go hand-in-hand with establishing food as a major component of our economic engine. 

Fully optimizing and integrating our local food industry into our economic portfolio may also help minimize the impact of future economic downturns.  Because while economic fluctuations may dictate what people eat, they still need to eat.  Additionally, a broad and deep food industry with a well established pipeline for raw and finished product delivery to and thru Portland will be of tremendous benefit in the event of a natural disaster that prevents food products from outside of the local area to be delivered.

And now the reality check.  The City of Portland has 11 federally identified food deserts.  One of our school districts, David Douglas, has a free and reduced lunch rate of 74.6% (last reported October 2018).  There are tens of thousands of vulnerable children and adults in Portland who live with food insecurity every day.  This is an unacceptable situation that requires focused and intentional leadership.  Ending food insecurity must be a primary objective.  If elected, I will champion the following efforts:

Director for Food Security and Economic Development

I will appoint a Director for Food Security and Economic Development who will be based in the Mayor’s office.  She/he will oversee all aspects of the effort, both social and economic.

Community Driven

From 2002-2012 there was a citizen-led Food Policy Council that was jointly sponsored by the City of Portland and Multnomah County.  I will reestablish that group and expand its focus to include promoting food as a major economic asset at all levels and addressing food insecurity.  The group’s work will inform efforts of the aforementioned Director for Food Security and Economic Development by vetting economic-related ideas identified via community conversations.  The group will also work to identify holes in existing efforts to eliminate food insecurity and ways to address them as well as help facilitate increased participation and success of existing programs and efforts.

If there is interest from other municipalities and/or Multnomah County to be a part of the group and/or the effort as a whole, I would welcome expanding to include them and others in Oregon and SW Washington.

Food Insecurity

One of the things we can do immediately is support efforts of organizations that provide food to those who need it to work with clients to determine what, if any, of the food they receive is being thrown out.  I know from personal observation and experience that quite a bit of food distributed is not consumed and ends up in the trash.  We must make sure that no food is wasted and all clients of food distribution programs know they will not be removed from a program if they don’t want certain food items. 

Another program idea I will pursue as Mayor is the Portland Youth Corps, which will provide a tuition free two year college degree for Portland youth in exchange for community service.  For how participating youth in that program can help with food insecurity, please see that Position Paper.

Increase Manufacturing Capacity

Expanding existing manufacturing capacity is the most logical way to rapidly increase employment and overall production capacity.  There are a number of small food manufacturers in Portland.  We can work with them and then add any new start ups that wish to be a part of expanding our food manufacturing capacity.

Long term efforts can include investing in new vertical manufacturing facilities and large scale aquaponics efforts that will allow for year round food production and processing anywhere in the City of Portland.

Developing partnerships with other Oregon and SW Washington municipalities as well as farmer’s will further secure our position as a leader in food production while helping to meet our economic and social goals and assisting communities across Oregon and SW Washington to rise with us.

Food as an Economic Incubator

I will pursue an effort to expand city-wide (any components deemed appropriate) of an economic development project I created several years ago for my neighborhood.  Food service and production was the anchor and primary mechanism for improving the economic security for the significant number of low income residents in my area.  The expanded effort would be designed to meet the needs of the community target area in which it is placed and would also include any other identified ideas or efforts that would increase the likelihood of success.

The original concept featured a large mixed use building that included retail on the bottom floor, an international marketplace on the second floor, and housing for veterans on the top floor.  The international marketplace was to consist of individual stalls for local low income residents with emphasis on food products that drew on the incredible diversity in my neighborhood.

The program was designed to allow participating and nonparticipating residents to be co-owners of the effort and subsequently allow them to financially benefit and hopefully also reduce the potential of them being forced out as the neighborhood improved.

A companion component of that effort was a small-scale neighborhood manufacturing program that would allow participants to submit products for consideration for small-scale production.  Those that were approved would be sold at local grocery stores, farmers markets, and other local options.  Those products that were successful at that level could then be transferred to one of our local manufacturing partners to develop products for regional and/or national distribution.

This document created by Mark White and made possible by the Mark for Portland 2020 campaign.