It’s 11:00 a.m. on a hot and sunny Monday. I pull into Rainshadow Organics farm in Lower Bridge outside of Terrebonne to meet with owner Sarahlee Lawrence, who has been hard at work since daybreak.
Potatoes are planted, Brussel sprouts and kale are coming up in the garden, and the cover crop in the big field is about to be tilled under. Two large greenhouses for growing tomatoes are getting wrapped with plastic, and two long hoop houses need to be opened up for a little air, full of carrots, beets and lettuce, which will be picked today for a market in Sisters.
In addition to growing a multitude of vegetables, berries and herbs, Sarahlee and her parents, who have been farming on the land for 25 years, also grow flowers, hay and wheat and are raising 33 heritage breed pigs, 300 chickens and 100 turkeys. To say she is “busy” would be an understatement.
Sarahlee is one of a small but growing population of Central Oregon farmers trying to make a living growing organic food. But farmers like Sarahlee are just the beginning of the supply chain. Getting these fresh foods onto local tables takes many more hands and minds.
That’s where people like Nicole Timm of Central Oregon Locavore and Liz Weigand of Agricultural Connections come in. They each realized the struggle of farmers to bring their food to market and the growing demand of consumers and restaurants for locally raised meat and produce. Both Timm and Weigland have made great strides in the last couple years to create viable distribution channels to connect the supply to the demand. Through their easy-to-navigate websites, centraloregonlocavore.com and agriculturalconnections.com, they have made buying local easier than ever. Each offers a surprisingly large variety of fresh produce, meat, cheese, dairy and other goods from coffee to cleaning products—all direct from the producer or farmer to you. All items can be ordered and paid for online and then picked up weekly at convenient locations throughout Central Oregon.
As the eat local movement evolves, it’s getting more sophisticated. Thanks to the efforts of people like Central Oregon’s Intergovernmental Council’s Katrina Van Dis, who recently launched a “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign through her volunteer-based non-profit the Central Oregon Food Policy Council.
Buy Fresh, Buy Local is a membership program that is helping farmers, restaurants, grocery stores and other small businesses who sell locally produced food, by providing standards to adhere to and a method of labeling themselves so that consumers can easily identify them and their products as “local.” At Whole Foods, for instance, there are Buy Fresh, Buy Local stickers next to all Central Oregon produced products.
All of these women are community leaders in their own right, but they are also dedicated and driven collaborators. Sarahlee, Nikki, Liz and Katrina are all passionate, busy women with agendas of their own. But they are also working together, along with other farmers, volunteers and businesses to create a more sustainable community. One example of this is the Local Food Calendar they’ve created, which includes farm events, food events,and volunteer opportunities all over our region. Want to volunteer on a farm for the day? Learn about gardening, canning, or bee keeping? Or just attend a farm-to-fork dinner where all food comes from a local source? Just look to the Food Calendar for the dates, times and information you need, which can be accessed from any one of their websites.
The Food Hub Dream
Local Commerce Alliance is another non-profit taking bold steps to ensure our future access to fresh, local food. In addition to their many educational programs like Farm Kids, the Edible Adventure Crew, Willing Workers On Local Farms, and Meet Your Maker dinners, the volunteer-based organization plans to create a local food hub in the near future. This food hub would house a year-round indoor farmers’ market exclusively offering Central Oregon-grown food. It would also serve as the base for the various eat local
programs and an access point for farmers, restaurants, grocers, and consumers who want to network and get involved in the local food movement. But Local Commerce Alliance needs your help to make this happen.
Start-up costs, freezer and refrigeration needs, point-of-sale systems and wireless computer networks are needed before the food hub can become a reality. Donations of time, money or equipment are greatly needed and appreciated as they have outgrown their previous location and need to act fast to meet the needs of their growing customer base. Donations can be made through their website, through Central Oregon Locavore or through Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool. (LK)
What You Can Do
Choosing local products from the grocery store and dining in restaurants that serve local food goes a long way toward supporting farmers like Sarahlee. But the best way to ensure their success is to purchase a membership for a Community Supported Agriculture program. As a member, you pay for your share of the growing season in advance (anywhere from $270 per season to $720 per season depending on the size of the share). This means that along with the other members and the grower, the consumer shares in both the rewards and the risk of the growing season.
In return, the consumer gets a weekly “share” of an ever-changing array of top-quality, delicious and nutritious organic produce throughout the June to October growing season, as well as the satisfaction of knowing where their food comes from. The farmer can then afford to cover costs of soil enrichment, seeds and living wages for their workers.
Rather than support non-sustainable agri-biz, your money helps to prop up a growing local economy. And the environment wins as well; minimal transportation is needed to bring food from the farm to the fork, and small-scale sustainable farming methods enrich the land instead of depleting it.
We are lucky here—even with our short growing season and unpredictably cold nights—to have access to such abundance when it comes to the variety of the foods we can buy from local sources. But we have to put our money where our mouths are to initiate real change and help our region flourish economically. Because, especially when it comes to the food we eat, “local” really does matter. (LK)