Suzanne Bonamici impressed with ag partnerships & potential
OSU's Sarah Masoni (left) with Congresswoman Bonamici
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, just a few months on the job representing Oregon's First District, has received a close-up look at part of agriculture's cutting edge in the form of innovation and partnerships. Bonamici last week toured the Food Innovation Center
(FIC) in Portland- a joint Oregon State University and Oregon Department of Agriculture facility that assists entrepreneurs, food companies, and commodity groups through a variety of on-site services. The congresswoman came away impressed with what is currently happening at the FIC and all its promising potential for Oregon's agricultural future.
In the meantime, Bonamici is turning out to be a quick study in agriculture and looks forward to learning more. ODA and OSU officials hope the FIC tour signals the arrival of another ally on Capital Hill for Oregon farmers, ranchers, and fishers.
"We were pleased to host Congresswoman Bonamici and to be given the opportunity to show her some of the exciting things that are going on at the FIC," says Gary Roth, administrator of ODA'sAgricultural Development and Marketing Division, which is located at the FIC. "Just as important was the opportunity to talk with her about key issues for our agricultural producers and how she might help."
On hand to greet Bonamici at the FIC was Sonny Ramaswamy, who has been dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"The Food Innovation Center epitomizes this new concept of a land grant university that is a partnership between different groups," he told the congresswoman. "OSU, ODA, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs- it's not just about academic research that is taking place, but really about translating the work into innovations that will result in jobs and help for the economy. The key word is innovation."
Each area of the FIC was able to show its stuff as part of Bonamici's tour. Consumer sensory testing and research, product development, processing and packaging technologies- programs that routinely help Oregon companies and entrepreneurs take a big step forward. Congresswoman Bonamici found it fascinating to see a facility so deeply connected with Oregon agriculture yet located in the heart of the state's largest city.
"As part of the presentation, there were some great points raised about the ability of centers like the FIC to bridge what many people perceive as the urban-rural divide," she says. "But also, I heard a great message about the potential for innovation, for food safety, and for many other important issues. There is just a lot of great work going on here."
The work of the FIC helped point to something Bonamici is aware of on a larger scale.
"What I've seen at the FIC provides another opportunity to send a message that there is a lot in common between all people of Oregon and there is a lot we can do together," she says. "Everybody eats, and the value of agriculture, not only to my district, but to the entire state and region, is very important. I appreciate that fact."
Bonamici would like to come back for another visit, specifically to see focus groups in action when a food product is being tested by volunteers.
At the conclusion of her tour, Bonamici participated in a dialogue with ODA and OSU officials on a wide range of topics related to Oregon agriculture.
On the issue of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, a provision of the Farm Bill that is extremely important to Oregon producers, Bonamici appears very supportive of continuing the effort to help entrepreneurs and small companies achieve what they can't do on their own.
"As I talk to people around the district- people in agriculture in areas of Yamhill and Washington counties- what really resonates with people is that if we use tax dollars to subsidize agriculture, we should be looking at where we are getting results. For a small farm or small group, it doesn't take much to make a big difference. I'll be looking very carefully at all the titles of the Farm Bill. I'm not on the [Senate Ag] committee, but the issues is still very important to my district."
On the issue of local agriculture and programs like farm to school that try to match up nutritious locally-grown food with kids in school, Bonamici is very supportive and excited.
"We have a serious challenge with health care in this country. We need to help farms that are growing crops that lead to better health outcomes. By encouraging people to eat more locally grown fruits and vegetables, we are helping not only local agriculture, but we are also getting people healthier and reducing health care costs in the long term. Certainly, programs like farm to school are a win-win. We are supporting our local farmers and getting healthier food into our schools. That will make a big difference."
Bonamici is aware that a majority of Oregon agricultural products leave the state. Along with programs to assist local, regional, and domestic markets, ODA provides assistance to companies that want to export. As a candidate for Congress, Bonamici supported the free trade agreement between the US and South Korea after learning how Oregon agriculture could benefit. The actual ratification took place before she was elected.
"Trade agreements do concern a lot of people and I spoke to many of them before the vote in Congress. I spent the time to hear from people on all sides. The primary reason I would have voted for the Korean Free Trade Agreement is because we would be exporting goods from Oregon, primarily agricultural goods. The key line for me was that we want to be exporting goods, not exporting jobs."
The Food Innovation Center may have been the appetizer for the state's newest member of Congress, but Oregon's agriculture industry continues to be the main entrée for the entire delegation, which hopefully will be in a position to support Oregon's farmers, ranchers, and fishers in a variety of ways.
For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.
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