Wyden: Oregon should have a strategic food reserve (Opinion) – oregonlive.com

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Ron Wyden

Wyden, a Democrat, has represented Oregon in the U.S. Senate since 1996.

No Oregonian should ever suffer hunger pangs at empty kitchen tables when our state grows and trades, nationally and internationally, such varieties and significant amounts of food.

This should be true every day as well as amid a pandemic like COVID-19 that’s delivering such an economic wallop. It should be true if an earthquake hits the Cascadia subduction zone. It should be true if a tsunami slams the Oregon Coast.

During any crisis, one fresh idea that could help meet the gigantic challenge of feeding vulnerable Oregonians is to build on our state’s indestructible “Oregon Way” – when Oregonians, regardless of politics, come together to solve tough problems.

It’s time to think about how Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, food processors, fishers, food distributors, grocery stores, truckers and our state’s anti-hunger groups can come together to create a permanent strategic Oregon food reserve.

Oregon’s food reserve would be a model of “pantry insurance” that other states could adapt and that the nation could apply everywhere. To start, it would require just three steps:

Step One: The food must be in place well before the need. Rather than let producers dump milk, slaughter and bury chickens and pigs, or plow under ripe lettuces and berries, federal and state agencies could buy these commodities. They could also cover the harvest and processing costs of these items for long-term storage by the Oregon food strategic reserve. Milk can be dried or frozen or pasteurized to have an elongated shelf-life as is done in almost every other country. Chicken, pork, beef and fish can be frozen or canned. Veggies and fruits can also be frozen, canned or dried. Government food purchases could also provide a small market cushion for Oregon producers and processors.

Step Two: Any food reserves should be placed strategically across Oregon and build on existing food distribution efforts. This is the state-wide version of “pantry insurance” we’re all taught to have on hand.

To work successfully, a network of strategic food reserve warehouses must complement and coordinate with existing hunger eradication efforts.They should be electronically connected to one another and to food distribution centers to ensure updated tracking of inventory.

Step Three: Using the Oregon Way to build a strategic food reserve means all hands on deck. I don’t have all the answers for creating this system, though I do know it needs a modest-sized workforce and consistent involvement by our producers to maintain. Here are some ideas:

· Universities and community colleges could send students to learn at and help staff the reserves. They could also create or supplement food processing operations to cook meals on a large scale for delivery or pick-up.

· The strategic food reserves network could be a state operation, but it would likely work better as a charitable or educational entity. Donations for operational costs would therefore be tax deductible.

· The Oregon Department of Agriculture deserves praise for already committing $1 million a week for eight weeks to help the Oregon Food Bank meet increased demand in this current crisis – an investment in the strategic reserve would also be helpful.

· The U.S. Agriculture Department could direct the Agriculture Marketing Service to act nimbly to buy excess crops or foodstuffs to fill the reserves and help bolster Oregon producers and processors that may be struggling right now.

· Local governments could apply for USDA Community Facilities Loans to set up the reserve warehouses.

One might say it’s hard to imagine these longer-term solutions to these challenges as we face the coronavirus pandemic in real time. Now, however, is the exact time to think boldly about our future and how to make Oregon a zero-hunger state.

With the Oregon Way, let’s start talking about what we can do to pull together thoughtful Oregonians to make the strategic food reserve a reality. Oregonians like a big challenge, and we can start tackling this one by creating a rolodex of farmers, ranchers, processors and others who want to participate every season.

Oregonians have our hands full dealing with the current economic uncertainty, and our worries about our health and the health of our loved ones. There’s no time like the present to start tapping new ideas to feed our state in an emergency.

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Source: Thanks https://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/2020/05/opinion-oregon-should-have-a-strategic-food-reserve.html