Just over a year ago, hyper-local food education organization, Locavore, opened its marketplace in a nearly abandoned, industrial corner of First Street. The mission of the market and the non-profit is to provide access to fresh, nutrient-dense and in seasonal local food, while educating the public about the sustainable benefits of locally produced food. Last week, it announced the hire of its first full-time executive director, former organic farmer and Locavore market manager Patrick Brown. The Source sat down with Brown to talk local food and the future of Locavore.
Source Weekly: How did you end up at Locavore?
Patrick Brown: I moved to Bend this summer. I had been living in Japan for 16 years.
While I was looking for work I started volunteering at Locavore, then took on the WWOLF program (Willing Workers on Local Farms) and volunteered in the marketplace.
In December, they chose me to take over the marketplace. Originally, it was only open three half days a week. Jen Smith, the previous market manager, expanded the products, the hours, and really got things going. I took over as market manager in January.
SW: Why does Locavore need an ED?
PB: All the board is volunteers. That's a little stressful when you have board members with full-time jobs who are spending 20-30 hours a week helping to run Locavore. We needed a full-time person to take the load off the volunteers and allow the board to focus on specific projects. Nicole Timm is still the president of the board. Now she can get out of the day-to-day market issues and focus more on outreach and events.
SW: What will your job be as ED?
PB: Managing the market is a good 60 percent of the job, as well as running corporate sponsorship, fundraising, supervising volunteers and programs. It's essentially everything. This year it will also be getting more cooperate sponsorship so that we can get our name out there tied with other local companies that we think are doing good things. One of those is E2 Solar. They're a new sponsor, they're trying to get more people to go with solar power. Locally produced clean energy is a great thing. It's just as good as locally produced vegetables.
SW: What success have you seen in your time with Locavore?
PB: Market sales have been great. Things really picked up in the fall and then in January and February.
SW: That seems like a weird time for a locally sourced market to get busy.
PB: A lot of it is getting the word out. Every day we have new people in here. With the
lack of farmers' markets in the winter, we are a place where people can get affordable organic produce and it's from Oregon.
SW: What are the biggest challenges that Locavore faces?
Because we're a non-profit it's always that line where you need to make enough money to cover your expenses and help you grow, but we have a very specific mission, to provide affordable, nutritious and local food. In the market, every item we decide to add to the store is an ethical debate. Do we need quinoa? It doesn't come from Oregon, it doesn't come from the US, but if we don't have quinoa will that mean people don't come and buy the local vegetables? We sit around and decide is this something a lot of our shoppers would want, is it essential?
How we grow the market is going to be a challenge. Hopefully, one of our issues in the near future will be that the place is too small.
SW: What are your goals as you take over as ED?
PB: Increasing the number of locally produced items. Right now, it's around 75-80 percent, but we'd like to get even more, particularly food products.
SW: Why is Locavore important to Central Oregon?
PB: We're important for a variety of reasons, but our mission with the market is to help small producers that can't sell in other places to have one more market to sell at. For example, there's a small ranch north of Madras that sells goat and lamb meat. Before, they were coming in for farmers' markets, but it was a 50-mile trip and a really big hassle for them. Now, they can bring stuff to one spot and sell. They're not big enough to sell at Devore's or Whole Foods. We love those stores, they are great stores, but Devore's has a niche of organic. We only have two producers that have the sales volume to go though the trouble to get certified organic. We are giving producers opportunities to sell, to grow so we can produce more in the Central Oregon area.
The other part is educating the public about where their food comes from, what their options are, how to grow, getting kids involved in agriculture, and things like that. We are trying to start a small farmer support program. We did a kick starter for that, and this year we plan to choose three farms, and using our connections and the funds we've raised, help get them things like accounting services, online presence, possibly packaging as well, as we want to try to build up a tool bank. An equipment bank, so basically, if you only have an acre or two of potatoes, it's not worthwhile to buy a potato digger. But if we had one that farmers could share, borrow or rent for a small fee, then maybe a lot more people could grow potatoes.