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Expert: Lower Food Prices? Buy, Grow Locally

April 16, 2008

Portland, OR – Food costs are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of paychecks, and there's no end in sight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted a 4.5 percent rise in food prices for 2008, atop a 4 percent increase in 2007.

These figures don't surprise Ken Meter of Crossroads Research Center, Minneapolis. The farm and food systems analyst is an expert on how food gets to market. He says the skyrocketing costs mean it's time to rethink the way our food products get from farm to table.

Not only is Oregon losing farmland to development, Meter says, but those who remain in agriculture are making less money--even though their productivity is higher than ever. He blames food price increases on years of poor planning and too many layers in the food supply system, affecting everything from food banks to grocery prices.

"We have this ironic situation where we've been piling up surpluses of crops, and now we have incredible shortages. That means our prices are very volatile, and they're very prone to speculation and sudden increase."

The Northwest has some advantages over the rest of the country, Meter points out, because of its growing interest in local farmers' markets and sustainable agriculture. Both are trends that, in his view, should be encouraged.

"We're capable of doing much better planning than we've ever done in this country to keep the price of food affordable and to keep our food safe and secure. I think in the next few years we're going to figure out how to do that."

In the meantime, Meter advises people to create their own local food supply systems, with the goals of minimizing transportation costs, ensuring fresher foods and saving money and energy.

He'll share his thoughts, including recent research from the Corvallis and Vancouver areas, in a talk on Thursday, April 24, called "The Future of Food in Oregon." It's sponsored by the Oregon Food Bank at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, Portland. Learn more online at www.orgeonfoodbank.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR