Roots of FoFF: Mission and Context

All nonprofit organizations have a mission. This is the central, guiding force of their work. It can take the form of a singular goal the organization seeks to achieve, a problem they want to solve, or a future they want to create.

Friends of Family Farmers mission is:

“Friends of Family Farmers is the voice for Oregon family farmers who responsibly steward their land and feed our communities. We promote sensible policies, programs, and regulations that protect and expand the ability of family farmers and ranchers to run successful land-based enterprises while providing safe and nutritious food for all Oregonians.”

This is our guiding light for all the work that we do. We know that the environmental, social and food security benefits of a diversified, localized food system based on family farms are only as powerful as the number of farms successfully operating in this way. Our first priority has to be helping small farmers thrive and maintain their land-based businesses so that all the benefits of their land stewardship and community connections can come to fruition.

Farming can be an act of revolution but localized food systems still have to interact with the system to a certain extent. The farmers we serve want to make a food system that works for the earth, their communities, and future generations, but if they are not able to run thriving farm enterprises the risk becomes that they will lose their land and not be able to steward their resources or provide food to their communities. Land prices are on the rise in Oregon and our farmland is in danger of being bought up with cash offers by out of state investors, developers, or industrial, export-driven, monoculture farming operations. Our purpose is to make sure systems and support networks exist to benefit not only the industrial mega farms who have industry lobbyists watching out for them at every level, but also the folks whose bottom line doesn’t end with dollars and cents. We know that the general public wants food that supports their values, but good choices aren’t available when the farmers whose practices value human, animal, and environmental treatment can’t bring their product to market. That is why our mission is centered on making it possible to run a family farm business in Oregon.

Since our inception in 2005 as a group of concerned farmers and rural neighbors working to prevent an industrial chicken farm from polluting their area, we have been an organization by and for farmers. Right now, our staff is 66% current or former farmers, and our board of directors is 100% current or former farmers/farm educators. It is really important to us that we have the lived experience and perspective to see problems and opportunities with a lens on how they’ll impact the farmers. But we don’t rely on only the expertise of our staff and board. Farmers, especially those who we serve, are not a monolith. So every two years we set out to gather input from the farmers in our network to set the priorities we work on. This guidance extends not only to our advocacy work and what policies we aim to establish or change, but it is also the basis for our programs.

Our most recent survey in 2020 showed us the following top priority issues for farmers in Oregon:

There will be another post later on in this series specifically on how we approach advocacy. In terms of our programs’ alignment with these issues, we work to provide technical assistance and community opportunities to address these issues head on.

The Oregon Pasture Network

The OPN was designed to help pastured animal producers find community, peer to peer mentorship, further their technical education and get marketing support for their businesses. We focused on pastured animal producers because not only did a network for current producers in this field not exist, but this is also one of the arenas where small-scale agriculture has the potential to mitigate some of the effects of climate change. There is a lot of new research coming out about the potential of soil carbon sequestration in rotational grazing systems. These are not new ideas and are rooted in indigenous cultures around the world. The benefits of raising animals this way extends beyond the soil, but healthy soil ecosystems make the pastures of our OPN farmers better equipped to handle climate shocks while also sequestering carbon from the air.

This group of farmers has also served as trusted advisers for bringing small producer perspectives to meat processing reform in Oregon. Although some of this has to be done through the Oregon Legislature, most of the newly authorized state meat processing program is being decided in the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Because of our direct access to our 75 member farms across the state, we were invited to provide testimony about the small producer experience in these working groups. We are so proud to continue to bring our members voices to those in power.

Oregon Farm Link

OFL is our other perennial program for farmer assistance. This is not a model unique to FoFF’s work and we are one of the many groups who run statewide Farm Link programs across the country. We maintain the website, which functions as a Craigs List style marketplace where land seekers and land holders can list their needs and resources to try to find someone who aligns with their plans. This is a crucial service because many of the land holders in Oregon don’t just want to cash out and leave their properties, they want to be assured that the land will continue to be cared for in the manner that aligns with their values. This also is a place for people to find less traditional land security than just a simple sale. Many listings on the site are seeking a lease to own, co-management, or work trade situation that is more accessible to small, beginning or BIPOC farmers who have faced discrimination or barriers to traditional pathways to capital and land access. Also many rural land transfers happen outside of traditional real estate markets and are based on relationships between family members and neighbors, so Farm Link provides a middle ground where those landholders have more options than their immediate community, but also don’t have to deal with a traditional real estate situation where developers, investors, or factory farms could buy the land and erase the legacy these folks are trying to preserve.

We realize that a platform with listings and internal messaging is not enough to surmount the troubles caused by unequal access to land and capital across history. We are excited to tell you more in our future post regarding our coalitions and collaborative work, but the part of the land access puzzle that FoFF contributes through Farm Link is the newly created Navigate Program. This one on one technical assistance program currently offers land access assistance to up to 12 BIPOC land seekers at any given time. As the program expands, there are plans to open these services to more farmers, but in order to maintain a high level of care and responsiveness in the complex land security journey, FoFF is committed to keeping this program the right size for our internal capacity.

Our mission is put into action through our actions every day and we are so proud that thousands of Oregonians stand with us in the pursuit of a healthier, more resilient food system based on thriving family farms in Oregon.