Port infrastructure planning and local food systems might not seem like the most connected subjects.
But Lydia Ivanovic, assigned to the North Coast through the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments fellowship program, hopes to strengthen both over the next year.
The postgraduate fellowship program, run by AmeriCorps and administered locally by the University of Oregon, provides rural communities around the U.S. planning and technical assistance to solve local issues.
Morgan Murray, another participant, recently helped Warrenton update a master plan to prioritize improvement of parklands and trails.
“There was a ton of community applications this year,” Ivanovic said of the program. “A lot of rural communities wanted to take advantage of getting a RARE fellow, kind of with the COVID impacts and just strengthening business development.”
Ivanovic is sponsored through the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, whose former director, Mary McArthur, helped the Port of Astoria create a strategic business plan for improving finances. Ivanovic is assigned part time with the Port, helping the agency crunch numbers and prioritize the improvement of assets.
The Port, in desperate need of help to fix aging infrastructure, has a working agreement with Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, to prioritize and plan out improvements before hopefully getting more state grants and financing.
The other half of Ivanovic’s job is working with regional farmers, the North Coast Food Web in Astoria, Food Roots in Tillamook and Visit Tillamook Coast on strengthening agritourism and the pipelines that get local food from farmers to consumers.
“It’s about showcasing those local farmers, allowing them to build out their business, really focusing on the diversification from that business side, the empowerment of local supply chains — so really honing in on those local products and getting them out to market,” she said.
A Long Island native, Ivanovic graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in 2019 with a bachelor’s in economics and experience working on campus food network initiatives. She joined the fellowship program, first being assigned for the last year as rural tourism coordinator for Discover Klamath in southern Oregon.
After a year in Klamath Falls, “I just wanted to explore a totally new angle to what development could look like,” she said. “And this opportunity was so directly focused on economic development and resiliency, so seeing that direct connection with my bachelor’s degree.”
By the end of her time on the North Coast, Ivanovic hopes to have helped the Port finish a facilities improvement plan acceptable to the state and responsive to community and environmental concerns.
Her goals with food systems and agritourism are more nebulous, but based around strengthening the business plans of farmers and groups like the North Coast Food Web and connecting them with local markets. While local farmers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of sales to restaurants, she said, they have adapted through increasing direct-to-consumer deliveries and online markets.
“There’s definitely less wholesale action, but I think communities are stepping up and ... demanding more local products in their lives,” she said. “There’s been a response to fill that gap.”