Hello, Ryan Anderson here, Senior Vice President of Services for Steward and the new Manager of Astoria Food Hub. As I’ve stepped into playing this new role for AFH over the last two weeks, I’ve been incredibly lucky to benefit from the support and guidance of so many people in the community. Thank you. I’d like to share an update on those conversations and the work ahead as we try to bring Astoria Food Hub to the finish line. And, as the new guy, I’ll also share a bit more about myself and Steward.
Community spirit is the heartbeat of Astoria Food Hub, and it always has been. Projects like this are never easy, and the only way they thrive is with the strong and sustained backing of the whole community. When Steward first provided a loan in April 2021 for the purchase of the Mason, Ehrman & Co. building, it’s because we saw that extraordinary spirit in Astoria. The food hub as an entity was brand new, with no track record to speak of. But the depth and breadth of community support for the project was remarkable; and, as a mission-driven lender, we knew we had to step up. Many of you participated in that lending campaign and we took that first big step together.
Since then, AFH has faced some fairly difficult challenges. Many were outside of anyone’s control – the pandemic, supply chain delays, rising construction costs, etc. But it’s also true that enthusiasm to get to the finish line put far too much emphasis on immediate action at the expense of the necessary construction, operational, and financial planning. As is the case in many walks of life, it’s slow and steady that wins the race. As I settle into this new role, my immediate focus as Manager of Astoria Food Hub is to back-fill some of that planning so that we’ve got a solid foundation to build on in the future.
These challenges have been most visible in the longer-than-advertised time needed for construction. While frustrating, these delays are pretty common in development projects like this, and I’m glad to say that we are now finally nearing the end. Phase 1 construction should be completed near the end of April. Our architect, EMA Architecture, our general contractor, Cove Built, and their respective teams have all done an amazing job. We are all so grateful for the innumerable ways they’ve helped the food hub overcome challenges and get us to where we are today.
More difficult to address, perhaps, is the way these challenges have strained relationships and taken a toll on the AFH community. It’s been tough on everyone. There isn’t a single person I’ve spoken to who hasn’t been stressed out and worn thin doing this work. But I have been truly amazed by the fact that, without exception, every community member I’ve spoken to still believes in the mission of Astoria Food Hub and wants to see it succeed. That is by far our greatest asset moving forward.
Building trust with the community and repairing relationships takes more than an email – it takes real work and it takes time. I’m committed to putting in that effort, and over the coming weeks I want to continue listening and learning from all of you as we plan for the future of AFH. The only way we can live up to Astoria Food Hub’s original vision and see this project succeed is by working together – owners, tenants, staff, volunteers and everyone who supports this work.
I also want to address concerns around fulfilling the food hub’s mission to be a beacon of equity and inclusion throughout the region. Both I and the entire Steward team support that goal 100%. With this mission in mind, we’re looking to create leadership structures that empower diverse local stakeholders to provide ongoing stewardship of the community’s vision for Astoria Food Hub. I hope to share more of that work in the coming weeks.
In addition to providing our traditional debt financing, Steward was asked last month to do something that’s new for us and contribute equity financing. We agreed, and in the process I have become the Manager of Astoria Food Hub. This wasn’t part of our original plan, but much like our decision to provide that first loan a year ago, we believe in this project and in this community. Faced with a difficult and urgent decision, we chose to deepen our commitment to all of you and this project by providing additional support rather than see AFH stumble.
Community development projects need a diverse and often complicated mix of financing to be financially sustainable. Much like a home loan requires a down payment, reaching financial stability for AFH will require not only debt and equity, but also a range of alternative public, private and philanthropic sources of financing. As the first phase of construction and financing draws to a close, we are focused on assembling those pieces in order to right the ship and make sure this project is properly capitalized moving forward.
About Steward & Me
For those who don’t know Steward, we’re an Oregon-based private lender that provides loans to regenerative farms and food enterprises across the country so they can restore agricultural systems and scale their businesses.
As Steward’s Senior Vice President of Services, I oversee all of our lending activity as well as the other support we’re providing our borrowers, from grant writing to technical assistance and strategic planning to, well, this. I founded and ran for many years a small farm in Detroit, but most recently worked on Capitol Hill before joining the team at Steward. While I’m still based in Washington, DC today, my husband and I will be moving to Oregon over the next week, and I can’t wait to meet you all in person soon. (Please also bear with me if I’m slow to respond this month, we’ve got a long drive ahead).
I value open communication and transparency, so expect to hear from me more often as I share ongoing updates to keep everyone informed of our progress. If you have questions or concerns along the way, please reach out to me directly. There are a lot of moving pieces, so I thank you in advance for your patience and grace.
I look forward to working together to open the doors of the Astoria Food Hub and all the contributions it will make to a more just, equitable, and local food system for all.
Astoria Food Hub