I've been wanting to write about Ecotrust's the Redd on Salmon ever since VP of Food and Farming Amanda Oborne explained the concept to me. I finally got my wish: my short article on the Redd appears in the September issue of Fast Company magazine.
Here's a longer version of the story:
The local food movement has reached a plateau. According to the latest census, Americans spend a mere $1.3 billion on local food via farmers markets and CSAs. (That’s a fraction the trillions we spend in the industrial food system). Though many midsized farmers and ranchers long to expand their reach, most don’t have the infrastructure, time, or staff to do so.
Environmental think tank Ecotrust in Portland, Oregon, may have the answer. After years of research on what the so-called “agriculture of the middle” needs to scale up, Ecotrust’s in-house food systems expert Amanda Oborne has helped spawn a new project. Called the Redd on Salmon Street, the two-building $23 million campus is part high-end food hall, part “food hub”—a central warehouse where farmers, ranchers, and other food producers can stash their product until it’s ready to be distributed. And because this is Portland, the food is not distributed via CO2-spewing trucks. Instead, a company called B-line employs cyclists to deliver product via a fleet of electric-assist trikes with refrigerated trailers that carry up to 700 pounds. The Redd (the term for the spawning ground of salmon) is poised to grow Oregon’s regional food economy from boutique to badass.
Food hubs are nothing new. In fact, there are roughly 350 food hubs across the U.S., according to the Wallace Center’s National Good Food Network. But the Redd is unique.
Most food hubs are run like nonprofits. The Redd is a for-profit business with equity investors. It has anchor tenants like the FoodCorps national headquarters, retail space (ground will break on the Redd “east” building in the fall), and production kitchens for value-added food businesses. These businesses, which pay market-rate rents, subsidize the less sexy behind-the-scenes storage and operations, which is run by B-line. Think of it as a mash-up of a real estate development, food hall, and traditional food hub.
At press time, B-line had already signed on 30 clients including Betsy’s Best Bars (vegan energy bars), Camas Country Mill (flour), Carman Ranch (grass-fed beef), OlyKraut (gourmet sauerkraut), Organically Grown Co. (produce), and Starvation Alley Farms (organic cranberries and juice). Here’s how it works: a company delivers its product to the Redd and stores it either in dry or cold storage. B-line riders repack products into a trailer and bike it around town from AirBnB’s corporate cafeteria to local grocery stores like New Seasons, and on to downtown restaurants like Higgins and Cafe Bijou. (The trikes have a 2.5 mile delivery radius.)
It’s hard to overstate how excited ranchers and fisherman are about the Redd’s 2,000 square feet of cold storage—half freezer space, half refrigeration. Oborne calls it “the beating heart of the entire campus.”
“It used to be that all the little guys would pull up at New Seasons in their Subarus or pick-ups, clogging up the dock doors,” says Oborne. “Now they bring their stuff to the Redd and it gets repacked for store-specific delivery.” Vendors love this because they don’t waste time making deliveries; New Seasons loves it because trikes can bike right into the packing area.
There’s nothing wrong with shopping at farmers markets, of course, but Oborne sees them as a point on the local food economy’s trajectory. “Farmers markets helped us wake up,” Oborne says. “Projects like the Redd will help us grow up.”