Speaker Highlight: Amanda Oborne

Amanda Oborne | Vice President, Food & Farms, Ecotrust

Living Future unConference Sessions: (Thursday, May 18 • 10:30am – 12:00pm) Between the First & Last Mile: Challenges & Opportunities Facing Oregon’s Regional Food System

Can you introduce yourself to the Living Future Community?

I’m on a mission to build a new food system, one that is equitable, restorative, healthy, prosperous, and delicious! I’m especially interested in leveling the playing field for people facing systemic disadvantages, whether as eaters, producers, parents, or providers. I lead the Food & Farms practice at the nonprofit Ecotrust, based in Portland, Oregon, and do work across the Pacific Northwest. We recently launched a green building project in central Portland wholly dedicated to food system reform, called the Redd on Salmon Street.

What drives you to do the work that you do?

We all need food to live, but our purely for-profit system of growing, processing and distributing food has had disastrous impacts on our health, our children, our communities, our climate, precious soil and water resources, and the animals we raise for food. However, I believe our food system has the potential to nourish us while also creating financial, social and environmental value, and I’m driven to figure out how.

Tell us about your session at Living Future? Why should people attend and what can they expect to take away?

Our Living Future session highlights a living, physical experiment currently underway in Portland. The Redd on Salmon Street is an 80K square foot real-estate development project, designed with our partner Opsis Architecture and intended to help scaffold a new food economy. The project is unique on many levels – it’s mission-driven, for-profit, and collaborative. Regional farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food entrepreneurs had a direct hand in shaping the project, and I think there are some key ways in which this project and its development process could be a model for others.

Can you provide any words of wisdom for someone looking to engage at the intersection of food system reform, design, and urban planning?

My advice is to get out of the cities – go visit the rural parts of your region and connect with the people who live there, particularly those producing food. Life in cities is incredibly dependent on both the natural resource base and the citizens of the surrounding region, but we don’t often recognize the interdependence of our futures. Our politics or ways of being in the world may be different, but our futures are conjoined, so we’d better figure out how to work together.

What has your work with Ecotrust taught you about the importance of sustainability in buildings and/or products?

Having spent 25 years working in ecological forestry, Ecotrust has long been committed to innovation in green building. The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, home base of our Portland headquarters, was the first historic redevelopment in the US to receive a gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) award from the U.S. Green Building Council, in 2001. Across our work in forestry, fisheries and food and agriculture, we actually believe in going beyond sustainability to creating restorative systems in which every transaction benefits people and place.

Who is someone that you believe represents Genius and Courage? Why?

I imagine I’m not alone among LF17 attendees who can’t wait to see keynoter Van Jones. Jones has been a leading critical thinker helping illuminate the possibility of a more holistic economy for many years now, but since the recent presidential election, has also emerged as a vital voice in helping us connect with our humanity, regardless of, and in the midst of, our divisive politics. Attempting humility, confidence, and courage simultaneously feels like its own genius.

What role does your work play in ensuring a Living Future for all?

Food is elemental. Although few of us peek behind the curtain to explore the layers of production, processing, brokerage and distribution that puts food on the trays at our workplace cafeterias or our kids’ schools, that system has massive impacts on our health, culture, communities, climate, and economy. Helping create and incubate an equitable, restorative, prosperous and delicious food system, to complement the global industrial one, is what I hope to contribute to our collective living future.