PORTLAND — If it comes to pass, the “Green New Deal” talked about in Congress may find expression in food hubs such as The Redd in Portland.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., believes it should.
Which is an overly colorful way to say change is afoot, and some serious people hope to replace what they describe as America’s “industrial food system.”
Specifically, they’d like to see more regional networks of environmentally and economically sustainable farms and ranches selling nutritious, affordable meat, fish, greens and grain to “eaters” in cities.
The Redd, a food storage, aggregation and distribution hub developed by the nonprofit Ecotrust group and like-minded partners, may turn out to be a model for that change.
In nature, a redd is a spawning area for salmon. In Portland, The Redd is a spawning ground for innovative food ideas on Salmon Street.
Emma Sharer, who manages The Redd campus for Ecotrust, said the food hub aligns with the group’s principle of doing business as a source for good.
“My perspective on that is we’re trying to create a new kind of economic system centered around food,” Sharer said. “The Redd is one of those infrastructure pieces to support what we’re envisioning.”
Sharer said most consumers aren’t familiar with the complicated details of the supply chain that brings food to stores and restaurants. At the same time, there are “fishers, farmers and ranchers all over who could use the support of the buying power we have in the heart of Portland,” she said.
“We have all this incredible food being grown outside of Portland,” she said. “How do we get more of this bounty to the people who really need it?”
Blumenauer, who represents Portland’s progressive hotbeds east of the Willamette River, said The Redd is “absolutely” repeatable elsewhere.
“Every state should be able to have a facility like this,” Blumenauer said. “Every metropolitan area.”
It’s too soon to say the project bridges the urban-rural divide. But Lauren Gwin, associate director of the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University, said Ecotrust and its partners provide critical infrastructure that was missing.
“My take on this is that Ecotrust has been trying to figure out what type of hub is really going to connect with food producers who are not in the Portland metro area,” Gwinn said.
“These markets are willing to pay,” she said. “What they’re trying to do is offer services that make it easier for farmers to connect with these markets.”
To back up a bit, The Redd is a two-building, 76,000-square-foot campus along Salmon Street in Portland’s revitalized Central Eastside industrial district. The $25 million project, headed by Ecotrust and supported by private companies and public groups, involved renovating a pair of classic buildings. One was an century-old iron works, the other a former marble stoneworks sales building.
Redd West is the nuts and bolts side, and has been operating since 2016. It is intended to provide the “last mile” storage and distribution services that small to mid-size producers and food manufacturers scramble to arrange.
Rural and urban fringe producers can get their goods into a single drop-off in Portland without too much trouble, but delivering them to restaurants, markets and grocery stores in the crowded city center — that last mile — eats up time and money.
A 2015 “Ag of the Middle” study by Ecotrust concluded many smaller producers can’t expand because they become mired in the chores of packaging, labeling, storage, aggregation and delivery.
Redd West rents producers rack storage, cold storage, freezer space and production space and equipment. The building’s anchor tenant, B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery, runs the storage facilities and distributes food to commercial customers aboard human-pedaled, battery-assisted cargo trikes. About 200 producers have used some aspect of Redd West services to scale up or branch out. A two-year “accelerator” program helps some beginning businesses get on their feet.
Among Redd West customers are Carman Ranch in northeastern Oregon, which sells grass-fed beef, and Cattail Creek Lamb of Junction City, in the Willamette Valley. Both use Redd West’s storage and delivery services to get their meat to Portland restaurants and markets.
Another type of user is Stoneboat Farm, a small vegetable operation run by two brothers in the Helvetia area west of Portland. The operators lack storage, but kept 13 pallet boxes of root vegetables at Redd West this past winter. When they had orders to fill, mostly in Portland, they drove to the facility and loaded up.
The other half of the campus, Redd East, is event and meeting space. It’s capable of holding nearly 700 people for conventions or trade show-type gatherings, but has flexible space for small board meetings or work groups. A full kitchen can be used for demonstrations or product testing.
This being Portland, the campus has some distinct touches. The cargo trike batteries are recharged via a solar array on the roof. Redd East was restored with hemlock paneling certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and with cedar that was a gift from the Coquille Indian Tribe of Southern Oregon. The Redd East restrooms are gender neutral: A half-dozen private, one-person toilet rooms fronted by a common handwashing area.
The campus formally opened March 2 with a crowded “Redd Reveal” party that included food, drink and music with a $25 ticket. Blumenauer was a featured speaker.
Although known for his wonky bowties and bicycle transportation advocacy, Blumenauer has long been interested in local food systems and critical of federal Farm Bill spending.
He believes federal subsidies prop up commodity growers at the expense of small farms, alternative crops, local markets, research and more. He often says too much of the money goes to “the wrong people, to grow the wrong food, in the wrong places.”
Blumenauer said he insisted the “Green New Deal” espoused by first-year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez include language on food and farming. As a result, the proposal calls for removing greenhouse gas emissions from ag operations “as much as is technologically feasible,” and for supporting family farms, sustainable farming and land use, soil health and “building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”
At The Redd opening, Blumenauer said Oregon products are a “premium brand” and that people will pay more for high-quality food emerging from such regional networks.
“This is a huge opportunity for Oregon agriculture,” he said. “We have good, healthy, sustainable food and we’ve got that cachet.”