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    Blog — local farms

    Follow Your Food: Seed to Table

    Follow Your Food: Seed to Table

    Farmland begins as an open canvas; it’s identity ultimately forged by the values of those tending the fields. The practical minded farmer approaches their land as a capital resource, and is managed to efficiently meet the demands of prominent crop markets. This form of agriculture is built as an economy of scale and supplies our export markets, feeds livestock and supplies the majority of food to wholesalers around the nation. A more romantic approach to farming, from the naturalist, tends to view land, not as a resource, but as an organism. Yes, the economics of running a business are major consideration, but are almost subservient to the goal of fostering a complete ecosystem. Oftentimes products from these farms are more diverse, but created at a much smaller scale than their commercial cousins. Food from these operations is often grown to sell at local farmers markets or directly to select restaurants. In between these two distal ends of agriculture exits a rich nexus of farms varying in scale, scope and long term goals.

    When Audrey Tehan first approached food it was through a different vein. Her primary mission is neither economic or ecological; instead, the focus of Seed to Table, her creation, is community, and how to build a stronger one.

    The hard work of a well-intentioned farmer can be lost  in a world of priority if their surrounding community cannot afford or understand what is grown around them. For many, it is hard to rationalize buying local food when the prices are higher and seasons dictate what is available.



    Without a local community who embraces and understands the real challenges of farming, it is difficult for such an industry to thrive. To approach that very challenge. Audrey and Seed to Table founded three guiding principals, around which the operation runs.  

     The first goal is Access.

    Local food is often accompanied by the stigma that it is a luxury good; ‘people who have the money can afford to buy on principal, the rest of us have to do what makes sense’. Seed to Table works hard to break this pre-conception. They are one of the only farms that I have ever encountered that lists food bank donations and discount farmers markets as prominent avenues to share their produce.  To them, the only way to get more food grown in Sisters and in Central Oregon, is if more people get their hands on local produce and develop an appreciation for the value of wholesome ingredients. Most any farm is left with unsold produce in the field, due to either lackluster demand, or physical blemishes. There is really no sense in allowing this valuable crop go to waste. This is why Seed to Table works with food banks; to turn waste into a community asset, for the good of the community.




     

    People inherently become more invested in what they learn, and education through experience cultivates that knowledge as a sense of identity. For years now there has been much proselytizing as how we, as a culture, all owed our food system to become an industrial entity? A powerful answer to this question is that we, as a culture, have disconnected from food production as a piece of our identity. Audrey drove to use Seed to Table as a medium to rebuild that identity by starting up a Farming class in Sisters high school. The curriculum for the course balances components of economics, soil science, biology and turning compost. The intention is not to make a farmer out of every student. Rather, the goal to instil a foundation of knowledge for subjects like soil science, environmental science, biology, and nutrition, so that students and parents may better understand the complexity of what they put in their body. Since classrooms can feel a little stuffy, Seed to Table also makes sure that their curriculum gets people outside with their hands in the dirt and show them what all of this information looks like in real life.  

    The third goal is to Expand the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables sold in Sisters, which arises naturally though the success of education and access.

    As their classes grow and more interns flock to learn through work, the ability of Seed to Table to supply school lunch programs, food banks and farmers markets grows as well. Ideally, their efforts in education, outreach and community development will open up some opportunity for neighboring farms, like Mahonia Gardens or Radicle Roots, as well.  

    There are a lot of farms that are closed enterprises. They have land, employees, crops and market stands; but most people can only approach them as a customer. And there exists a void where you can’t quite understand what it is that goes on at a farm. At that point, how are you to make out the difference between their Broccoli and Broccoli in the grocery store that was grown 500 miles away?

     

     

     

     

     

    The second goal is Education.  

    There are a lot of farms that are closed enterprises. They have land, employees, crops


    It is really a beautiful sight to watch the three goals of Seed to Table come into confluence and break down that void. The doors there are open, the customer, the community, is their farm. Summer workers are young interns out on a break from school, there to learn with their hands. As summer turns to fall, the interns are replaced with buzzing energy generated by droves of students from Sister’s Elementary. There they are out in the field, helping harvest winter squash, while learning how to store and cure produce for the winter. All the while, the squash and kale they pluck from the field is taken over to the food shelf to supply a hot stew as the days turn colder. For them, every step in the farming process is met with the smiling face of someone who just became more than a consumer. They might not be trying to make a farmer out of everyone they teach, but a little bit of the farm has a way of rubbing off once you experience it.

    Written by: Peter Elmore

    Follow Your Food: Fields Farm

    Follow Your Food: Fields Farm

     

    Organic agriculture goes back millennia, with roots as deep as any human tradition.

    Our connection with how to select, cultivate and prepare foods has evolved over generations of farmers and meals from the family hearth.  That natural evolution eventually led to a point where the goal of food production rose above the level of subsistence, where technology allowed farming to become a smaller piece of our larger anthropology.

    Inevitably consolidating agriculture led to a smaller number of farmers growing over larger acreage.

    Farming then became less a natural development and more a field of study.

    This process has allowed the concentrated field of agricultural science to make profound discoveries in areas like crop genetics and advanced breeding techniques which matriculated  into large yields and global food distribution. However, in the creation of any industrial system there are unforeseen externalities; details that were either overlooked or not accounted for.

    For years now people have been talking about the ills of the “conventional” food system, and how it is a broken model. Stacks of articles have been written about how modern agriculture has contributed to land degradation, pollution, biodiversity loss, obesity, diabetes, inequality… the list goes on. One source of these problems, a factor that is easily overlooked, is that the greatest externality is a loss of knowledge. While there is more research going into food than ever the kind of knowledge we are missing does not come from a classroom; the form of knowledge that faded comes from the land, and from each other.

    That is how organic farming emerged as a movement. In the midst of consolidation, there were those among rural and urban populations who realized that they felt disconnected. What they were disconnected from was, and is a cultural heritage between people, the land, and food grown in it. This movement emerged then, and continues to this day, as a populous voice seeking to rewrite the modern definition of agriculture to include those details that were overlooked as seeds started to be bought through growing corporations, instead of shared between a community of growers. In a sense, the farmers that emerged during the organic revolution were pioneers on quest to journey back into human history and reconnect with the heritage of traditional farming.  Fields Farm has long been a curator of mindful agriculture here in Bend, beginning a quest for creating sustainable land.

    Jim and Debbie Fields began their journey into farming 27 years ago when they purchased their 10 acre plot, nestled right outside the heart of Bend.

    It began as a small gardening experiment, their initial goal was simply to connect with their roots and build a lifestyle around living off the land. Over time Jim an Debbie began to grow their hobby into a business by implementing a small CSA. They only started with 8 members, but Jim’s philosophy is to ‘start small, grow slowly and observe a lot’, much like natural adaptation in plants. By 2006 they had grown their CSA to 68 members, engaged in two farmers markets, and finding their way to sell some produce wholesale.

    Written by: Peter Elmore

     

    Follow Your Food: Rainshadow Organics

    Follow Your Food: Rainshadow Organics

    Ecologists and environmental economists have identified diversified local agriculture as a critical piece to cutting humanity’s carbon footprint and as a potential avenue for rebuilding ecosystems that have been damaged by anthropogenic activities. The high desert biosphere here in Central Oregon is perhaps fantastic for pursuing out outdoors passions, but it is a difficult environment to be a farmer. The high desert ecology is described as a zone 6a by the USDA, meaning that during  an average year temperatures dip as low as -5 Fahrenheit, and is qualified as a semi-arid desert due to only 10-15 inches of annual rainfall. Due to variable monthly temperature,  and long cold fall and spring conditions, the growing season here is very short. The annual growing season in the high desert ranges from 80-90 days; compare this to the long growing season of the productive zone 8 Willamette Valley, where  farmers grow outdoors 150-180 days a year. Crops on this side of the valley also do not have the benefit of deep sedimentary soil from ancient glacial movement. Since this region was largely formed by ancient volcanic activity, most of the soil is a shallow development of residual ash. This ashy sediment is sandy, which leaches water like a sieve, and is remarkably low in organic matter and microbiological activity. The confluence of these environmental factors make for hard conditions to cultivate oft needy food crops.


    It may seem like this is a rather negative way to look at the landscape here, its not, the high desert is beautiful in so many unique ways and is an important habitat for abundant wildlife. My goal, instead; is  to lay out the canvas and paint a picture of just how much hard work and thought goes into growing local food in Deschutes county. But people do it, and do it well.



    Sarahlee Lawrence from Rainshadow Organics  has been doing it for a number of years up in Terrebonne, and put strident effort into extending her growing season beyond 90 days. They are now beginning to prepare for their spring season by transplanting  tender seedlings into greenhouse rows, but this is not the beginning of a new year. The operation never stopped. This year they need to make room for the new seedlings because the ground is covered in an explosion leafy kale, collards, arugula and smatterings of asian greens. All of this produce was  planted back in the fall for the Rainshadow winter CSA, and has been protected from the harsh elements all winter; that is no accident. Everything is designed to create a favorable microclimate that makes up for the environmental shortcomings. Lets begin with her crop selection, which includes winter hardy brassicas like kale and asian greens, whose plant physiology has adapted to tolerate frosts (and actually becomes sweeter). Next comes the ashy soil, which has been amended with rich a horse and chicken manure compost, and used to build a deep organic root bed. Then the cold, but variable ambiance, which is better controlled with a full coverage greenhouse dome to provide thermal insulation, solar radiation, wind protection and retain moisture. Those crops that tend to be a bit more sensitive are covered with a light cloth row cover, which acts as a bit of a redundancy to the greenhouse enclosure. Since Terrebonne is close to the leeward steps of the Cascades, their farm is frequently hammered by a barrage of howling wintry winds. In response, Sarahlee has positioned her greenhouses behind a hedgerow of thick juniper trees, which act as a windbreak to protect both crops and greenhouse plastic from driving gusts of the prevailing wind. And the work has paid off. The rows have stayed green and healthy all winter, and now, into the spring.

    All of this design, and hard work throughout the extended season has allowed for green dinner plates at home or in restaurants downtown. That is why this week we are teaming up with Jackson’s Corner to highlight just where all of their food does come from. “Local” is an important term because we can duck under the plastic and see how things work, to know what it takes to grow food that might otherwise be taken for granted.

    Written by: Peter Elmore

    Follow Your Food: Mycological Products

    Follow Your Food: Mycological Products

    There is a entire biotic world separate from both the plant and animal kingdoms. Fungi represent the 3rd Eukaryotic kingdom, eukaryotic describing organisms with complex cell structure. There is enormous diversity among fungi. There are estimated to be up to 5 million species, only 5% of which have been formally identified. Individual fungus range from single celled yeasts to complex mycelium  networks that blanket miles of earth under our forests. To most people mushrooms and other fungi appear biologically similar to plants; however, the 3rd kingdom is more akin to animals. Unlike plants, who can create their own food from the atmosphere, fungi are heterotrophs, meaning they require external sources of carbon to digest for sustenance. As plants or animals die in the wild, their body begins to decompose. Fungal digestion is the principal element of decomposition, and their waste is what builds organic matter in soil. This is actually stable soil carbon, which is required to move nutrients into plants. In effect, fungi are the drivers of nutrient cycling in nature, turning what has died into food for life. 

    I could go on and on about the relationship between fungi and plants, things like mycorrhizal fungi symbiosis or mycelium mats in forest soil. For the sake of brevity I wont, but I urge you to look it up independently. It is a fascinating biotic world, ubiquitous among most global ecosystems, and often symbiotic with both natural and anthropogenic plant environments. We do also eat fungi, and they are delicious! Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of dense macrofungi network, grown to produce spores and spread growth. Our eating mushrooms takes a lot of knowledge. As I stated before, this is a very diverse kingdom, and many are toxic for  human consumption. Fortunately we have partners that take care of that knowledge for us so that we can enjoy the rich flavor of sauteed mushrooms. Mycological Products has established itself in 1995 as the mushroom connection for this central corridor of Oregon. They they have set their goals to providing a central market for passionate foragers in the region. And their operation is not just focused on wild foraged mushrooms, but also naturally harvested greens like stinging nettles or miners lettuce. The mere fact that they offer these products feeds into their mission to educate people on the benefit of fungal organisms in our ecosystems. However, not all of the mushrooms we eat comes from the woods; what isn’t wild harvested is cultured by farmer, and those farmers need a market. Mycological is the connection there as well, bringing in the weekly bounty of portabella, shitakke and crimini goodness.


    A more reciprocal food system is a science long sought after by agronomists and farmers alike. Many growers have found their way to sustainability, and I am sure that many will tell you that the key ingredient is this the construction of this obscure network of fungal life. Mushrooms are a critical element in nature to propagate the growth of this subterranean world, but they are also a staple in human health and well being. Having a partner like Mycological products is so important to our personal sustainable health, but also the health of this regional ecosystem.

    Written by: Peter Elmore

    Follow Your Food: Tumalo Fish and Vegetable Farm

    Follow Your Food: Tumalo Fish and Vegetable Farm

    To start off the story of Follow Your Food, we want to introduce a new producer to the region and supplier to Ag Connections, Tumalo Fish and Vegetable Farm. Just north of Bend and outside of Tumalo, proprietor Bob Camel has established a progressive operation and supplies us with fresh ginger and turmeric, inventory that was previously unavailable in the area. Both of these crops are rhizome roots of plants within the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and endemic to a more humid Asian climate. As such it has required Bob a tremendous amount of personal research to design and construct the infrastructure necessary to locally cultivate these exotic crops in our high desert ecosystem. The end results are the complex, climate controlled greenhouses on site, where everything from temperature, humidity, soil biology and even atmospheric CO2 levels are controlled with nuanced care. What is more, Bob built it all by hand, and expresses a self-educated encyclopedic knowledge on his biosphere. The greenhouse precision exemplifies his effusive passion for the importance of turmeric and ginger in an everyday diet, which he subscribes to personally.

    There is reason behind Bob’s nutritional endorsement for Turmeric. Most people have long acknowledged the value of ginger, the officionale associated with strong anti inflammatory properties. Turmeric is a cousin of ginger, boasts some similar medical benefit and substantial nutritional value. It has long been used in eastern cultures as medicinal spice to add into curries and soups. The medicinal compound present is curcumin,  which gives the deep golden, red rhizome its strong flavor that can be best described as sharp; both slightly bitter and a touch spicy. Curcumin is a secondary compound known to be a strong anti inflammatory, useful for providing relief to gastronomic distress, Crohn’s Disease, and stomach ulcers. Research has also indicated that curcumin also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties which would aid in building a resilient immune system. While turmeric is no dietary cure-all, which is a myth in the first place, it plays a strong part in building a wholesome and healthy diet. And the best part is, this turmeric is coming in on a truck from 15 miles away, not a plane from afar.

    Click here to see a video of Bob's advanced aquaponic operation in action!

    Written by: Peter Elmore

     

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