1994 Oregon State University, Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture secure funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for a project called The Northwest Food Alliance to create market incentives for adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
1995 The project sponsors on-farm research and collaborates with growers to promote integrated pest management and use of compost, cover cropping, and strip tillage to improve soil quality and protect water resources.
1996 Project leaders commission groundbreaking research on consumer attitudes towards food and the environment (published as the Hartman Reports). This research reveals a large and diverse consumer audience interested in buying more sustainable products.
1997 Food Alliance is founded as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with an office in Portland, Oregon. Food Alliance publishes “stewardship guidelines” to define sustainable agricultural practices for fruit and vegetable growers in the Pacific Northwest.
1998 Food Alliance begins to certify farmers who meet standards for labor practices, pest and disease management, and soil and water conservation. Stahlbush Island Farms and Wells & Sons are the first Food Alliance Certified farms. Food Alliance Certified fruit begins to appear in Portland area grocery stores. Food Alliance also hosts a national conference on eco-labeling.
1999 Food Alliance ends its first full year as a certifier with 16 participating farms growing 80 varieties of fruits and veggies on 6,100 total acres.
2000 Food Alliance partners with Cooperative Development Services and the Land Stewardship Project to create a Food Alliance Midwest affiliate office in St. Paul, Minnesota. Food Alliance expands its certification program with new standards for humane treatment of animals and protection of wildlife habitat. Food Alliance certifies its first cattle ranches (Country Natural Beef) and wheat producers (Shepherd’s Grain). The number of Food Alliance certified businesses triples, with 48 farms and ranches managing 12,500 acres. Food Alliance is profiled in the Wall Street Journal and appears in over 60 other regional and national news stories.
2001 Food Alliance forms a volunteer Stewardship Council, recruiting university and agency researchers, advocates for consumer affairs, labor, animal welfare and the environment, and representatives of the food industry to advise the development and refinement of certification standards. By year end there are 95 Food Alliance certified farms and ranches managing 1.2 million acres.
2002 Food Alliance Certified products begin to appear in university and college dining halls, as national food service companies take note of increasing public demand for more sustainable products. Food Alliance begins more actively cultivating relationships with commercial food buyers to facilitate marketing and sales opportunities for 140 certified farms and ranches managing 1.6 million acres.
2003 Food Alliance certifies its first dairy farms. Food Alliance’s certification clientèle grows to 161 farms and ranches raising an estimated $32 million of certified products on 1.9 million acres.
2004 The Burgerville restaurant chain announces a decision to make the Food Alliance Certified Country Natural Beef cooperative its exclusive beef supplier – leading to a double digit increase in sales. Food Alliance sees continued growth with 214 certified farms and ranches managing 2.2 million acres.
2005 Food Alliance partners with International Certification Services, a 25-year old ISO-accredited organic certifier, to extend its reach throughout North America. The Natural Resources Conservation Service conducts a technical review of Food Alliance’s certification standards, and issues a statement that Food Alliance certified farms and ranches are “committed to the highest level of conservation stewardship.” Food Alliance makes a strategic decision to target its services to mid-sized farms and ranches and producer cooperatives. With turnover, Food Alliance’s clientele shows a modest increase to 225 farms and ranches, but acreage under certification surges to 3.3 million.
2006 Food Alliance introduces a sustainable practices certification for packers, processors and distributors, going beyond simple chain of custody, with standards for safe and fair labor conditions, conservation of energy and water, and other concerns. Truitt Bros. becomes the first Food Alliance Certified processor. Sysco announces that Food Alliance Certified processor-suppliers automatically meet requirements for the Sysco Sustainable program. Agrocosa becomes Food Alliance’s first certification client in Mexico. By year end, there are 240 Food Alliance Certified farms and ranches managing 4.1 million acres, and 6 Food Alliance certified fruit and vegetable processors.
2007 United Salad and Duck Delivery become the first Food Alliance Certified produce distributors. Cedar Grove Cheese in Wisconsin, which supplies cheese for Annie’s Mac and Cheese, becomes the first Food Alliance Certified processor in the Midwest. Food Alliance introduces a new certification for hogs and certifies its first Northwest pork producer, Pure Country Pork. Food Alliance opens a field office in California, and launches an online self-assessment tool for farmers and ranchers. Prairie Heritage Beef becomes Food Alliance’s first certification client in Canada. Food Alliance ends the year with 275 certified farms and ranches managing 5.1 million acres, and 16 certified processing and distribution facilities. Estimated sales of Food Alliance Certified products top $100 million.
2008 Food Services of America in Portland becomes the first broadline distributor to be Food Alliance Certified. Fulton Provision Company, a Sysco subsidiary, becomes the first Food Alliance Certified meat processor. H. Brooks and Company becomes the first Food Alliance Certified produce distributor in the Midwest. Food Alliance announces new initiatives to certify grassfed livestock in partnership with the American Grassfed Association, and to certify sustainable shellfish aquaculture with the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association. Food Alliance’s certification clientele grows to 319 farms and ranches managing 5.6 million acres, and 22 processing and distribution facilities.
2009 The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture partners to become the Mid-Atlantic representative of Food Alliance certification. New certification standards are released for wine and wineries, poultry (both eggs & meat), and grassfed and pasture-raised livestock operations. Food Alliance’s certification clientele reaches 326 farms and ranches managing 6.5 million acres, and 29 processing and distribution facilities.
2010 Food Alliance hosts an event in Seattle, WA with Dr. Temple Grandin celebrating progress promoting animal welfare. First certifications issued in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Plans announced to develop new certification standards for nursery operations and ornamental plants with the Salmon Safe and the Oregon Association of Nurseries. Food Alliance’s certification clientele reaches 348 farms and ranches managing 6.5 million acres, and 37 processing and distribution facilities. Estimated sales of Food Alliance certified products top $125 million.
2011 Taylor Shellfish and Hog Island Oyster Company become the first Food Alliance Certified shellfish producers. Food Alliance feels the lingering effects of the recession, with foundation and government grant funding declining 32%. Food Alliance’s California office is closed. However, funded projects to update Food Alliance’s Integrated Pest Management and Wildlife Habitat/Biodiversity criteria continue. The certification program also continues to grow with 375 participating farms and ranches, and 40 processing and distribution facilities. Estimated sales of Food Alliance certified products reach $150 million.
2012 Native Ground Nursery and Monrovia’s Dayton, OR facility become the first Food Alliance certified nursery operations. Food Alliance experiences continued financial challenges, and curtails staff positions and hours while the board considers options.
2013 In February, facing a cashflow crisis, the Food Alliance board of directors announces the decision to suspend the certification program, lays off all staff, and closes the Portland, OR office (the national office). (Several Food Alliance staff members are subsequently hired by other certification organizations, including Rainforest Alliance, Global Gap, and the Better Cotton Initiative.) The partnerships with Cooperative Development Services and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to support the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic offices are also suspended. In April, board members and representatives of certification clients meet to discuss options. A group of clients (including Central Bean Company, Edelweiss Nut Company, Hearst Ranch, Monrovia, NORPAC, Rogue Creamery, Shepherd’s Grain, Stahlbush Island Farms, Taylor Shellfish, Three Springs Fruit Farm, Truitt Family Foods, Wilcox Family Farms, and others) agree to voluntarily pay the usual certification licensing fees for 2013 to recapitalize the organization. In July, a former employee, Matthew Buck, guides a restructuring and re-launch of Food Alliance under a lean “earned income” model. International Certification Services agrees to administer inspections working with previously trained inspectors. Food Alliance begins accepting certification applications again in September.
2014 Food Alliance focuses on outreach to current clients, getting its own internal operations in order, and getting through a backlog of certification renewal inspections resulting from the loss of the 2013 field season. New wildlife habitat and biodiversity criteria developed in 2011-2012 are introduced. Food Alliance’s certification clientele has been reduced by over one-third from its peak, but the organization closes its first full year after the re-launch in the black
2015 Food Alliance introduces a new approach to certifying Integrated Pest Management developed with Dr. Paul Jepson at the Integrated Plant Protection Center at OSU, which is applicable to any crop in any region of North America. Food Alliance has its second year of operations in the black without foundation or government grant support. Reported sales of certified products edge back over $100 million.
2016 Food Alliance hires back its former certification manager, Heather Saam, to manage inspection processes. Food Alliance partners with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Rainforest Alliance to introduce a new Grasslands Alliance standard for sustainable grazing in North America. Food Alliance has its third straight year in the black operating without grant support. Sales of Food Alliance certified products reach $160 million.