Sustainable Table: The Food Path

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MEDFORD, Ore. — This time of year there are all sorts of fruits and vegetables are available locally, but a huge portion of the food we consume in Southern Oregon comes from outside the region.

At Organic Produce Warehouse, owner Tom Marks has a very specific goal.

“All of our [vegetables are] coming from an area known as the coast,” Marks explains. “98% of the food we eat is being imported into the region, and so let’s look at how that food is being imported, how it’s moving around, what its food path is.”

For a huge portion of the food purchased in the Southern Oregon that food path is long. It’s estimated that locally grown produce makes up only 2% of Southern Oregon food consumption. Part of that is because of supply and demand; there aren’t enough buyers to lower the price of local produce, and part because despite our regions bounty, not everything grows here.

“Bananas, Mangos, Papya, Pineapple…all that kind of stuff has to come from somewhere else,” says Produce Manager Steve Swader.

Marks says large farms contract with mega distribution centers.

“A lot of the food that we eat move past our region to larger distribution centers in the north,” explains Marks.

The semi’s hauling that food largely bypass Southern Oregon.

“The majority of our food is coming out of California, and it’s coming up either into distribution centers in Seattle, Portland, Eugene or Southern Oregon,” said Marks.

As Southern Oregon’s only organic distributor, Marks is trying to limit the time between harvest and purchase with the Ashland Warehouse, and for the Medford Food Co-Op, working with a local distributer has its advantages.

“It’s an immediacy,” says Swader. “If I have a problem with a product or I am running short with a product I can call him up and have it within an hour, and as long as he has it available and he has it, he can get it to me.”

Organic Produce Warehouse also works with local producers and distributes products out of the region under the brand Rogue Nation Foods.