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Archive for February, 2011

Local Love-Fest

Gilded treasures from Alma Chocolates

Sarah Hart, the creative chocolatier from Alma Chocolates, loves the Portland Farmers Market.

And we love her too.

Not just for creating lusciously sinful things like salted-lavender caramels, or bourbon bon bons, but also because Sarah and her team of dedicated artisans are committed to using and supporting local ingredients any chance they get.

Sarah talks about local ingredients, farmers, and farmers market patrons with the enthusiasm of a school-girl crush, and it’s not just Valentine’s Day that makes her feel this way. Sarah thrives when able to collaborate, and Portland Farmers Market is the perfect place to explore new ideas and stay inspired by people who know and love food.

Alma Chocolates has been selling at the Portland Farmers Market for years, as well as from the Alma storefront on NE 28th street. In addition to chocolate truffles and caramels, Alma has expanded its chocolate horizons by creating cakes, cookies, and warm chocolatey drinks backed by locally roasted Spella coffee.

The hazelnuts in Alma’s chocolates, toffees, and small-batch cookies are sourced locally from Freddy Guy’s Hazelnuts. Lavender for the salted-lavender caramels comes from Sundance Lavender Farms, and the mint for Alma’s peppermint treats comes from Seely Family Farms — all courtesy of the great state of Oregon.

It’s not just the ethics of supporting local food and farmers that interests Sarah.  It’s the quality of ingredients that she finds locally that keeps her committed. Alma’s menu varies seasonally, and in the summertime, you can enjoy ice cream and sorbets with local Oregon berries. It’s a year-round commitment to the finest ingredients available.

When I asked Sarah what it means to her to be a part of the Portland Farmers Market community, she didn’t hesitate with her answer, “we wouldn’t be where we are without the market.” Sarah likes being a part of the farmers market community and culture, and more than anything, Sarah loves the creative collaboration that being a part of the Portland Farmers Market provides.

It takes more than local ingredients to help Alma and other market artisans really stand out from commercial producers. What makes Alma and the others so special is a love of creativity and a commitment to the finest quality ingredients around. It’s a love for food, community, and the farms that food is coming from.

So in keeping with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’ll be the first to admit: it really is all about the love.

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Get Involved

What is less riveting than pending bills in the lower house of a bicameral chamber? Okay, using bicameral in a sentence, fair enough. Fortunately, the good folks at Friends of Family Farmers keep track of pending legislation here in in Oregon that have real life consequences for the growers, farmers and ranchers who raise our food. Currently, there is a spate of possible new bills pending in the Oregon house that need attention.
Friends of the Family Farmers have given us permission, to reprint the summary from their newsletter, The Barnyard. They also want to extend an invitation to join Family Farmer and Rancher Day at the Capitol on March 15th. And if you can’t make the rally, you can find and contact your law maker here.
We’ve been talking about healthy food-systems for a long time, now is the time to take action so that we can finally work to promote sound policies that keep socially responsible family farmers and ranchers viable in Oregon.
There will be four bills heard on Wednesday, including bills that Legislators took directly from the Agricultural Reclamation Act. Bills to be heard are:

The Family Farmer Act (HB 2222)An attempt to ease some of the burdens faced by Oregon’s agricultural entrepreneurs, while not adding any additional budgetary demands on the state.  HB 2222: 1) Allows poultry producers to lawfully raise, slaughter and sell up to 1000 poultry without having a state-inspected establishment 2) Requires that two seats on the Board of Agriculture be reserved for those producers who market products solely within the state 3) Expands the ability of raw milk producers to sell their milk in order to meet consumer demand 4) And qualifies new farmers and ranchers to receive farm deferment on their property upon establishing and investing in their farm business.

HB 2872 Creates exemption from food establishment license requirements for person that slaughters not more than 1,000 poultry per year and meets other conditions. (included in above bill as well)

The Farm Direct Bill (HB 2336) –  This exempts agricultural producers selling specified agricultural products directly to the general public from state laws regulation produce dealers and food establishments.

HB 2947 This requires State Department of Agriculture to adopt rules establishing standards of identity and quality and labeling requirements for honey sold in Oregon.

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When markets are open during the season, you can feel the buzzing energy from blocks away.

If you’ve ever been to one of Portland Farmers Market’s six area sites just before the opening bell, you know what I mean. It’s at this time that you’ll see vendors, staff, and farmers milling about in a synchronized dance that would give the Oregon Ballet a run for their money. Crates of fresh produce are being unloaded from vans and trucks by folks who grew it and picked it, then packed it all up and drove it to your neighborhood market that morning—some traveling more than 3 hours to get there.

They even managed to get sweet, springtime strawberries to market intact, and not in a jammy, berry mess that many of us find at the bottom of our market baskets when we bring our local treasures home.

I’m not the only one, right?

And when it’s all over, and you and I are walking home with a fistful of fiddlehead fern curls, thinking, “what am I going to do with these?”, farmers are just beginning to clean-up. Stalls are getting organized, trades are being made, and trucks are being reloaded. Farmers then go back to the farm, unload, re-organize, and prepare to do it all again—often the next day. All of this, in addition to the daily tasks of running a small, local farm.

I began to wonder if farmers ever get to slow down.

When I talked with Rick Steffen from Rick Steffen’s Farm, a mostly greenhouse-grown farm located in Silverton, Oregon, I asked him when his “off-season” began. He said he just got back from a week-long trip to Hawaii two days earlier, so his off-season started about 10 days before that. By the time we talked, he was already back in action.

Rick grows beautiful, seasonal produce in one of his many large greenhouses. He also grows year-round to sell at a variety of other markets in the Portland area when PFM is closed. Rick said he could grow more if there was a market for it, but is grateful for his week-long break to the sunshine.

During his trip, Rick visited multiple markets, and even went to look at a few greenhouses to see what Hawaiian farmers were doing during this time of year. His dedication and passion for local, sustainable food is contagious.

As a greenhouse farmer, Rick is able to get a nice year-round harvest of produce in the mild climate of the Pacific Northwest. He has few pest problems, and those that he does have, he tries to take of care of through his own continuing education and natural remedies. Rick has been farming long enough to see the ups and downs of farmers markets around Oregon, and is excited about the increasing popularity of locally-focused food.

Jeff Falen, of Persephone Farms echoed similar excitement. Jeff has been farming the same piece of land for 26 years. He uses greenhouses for starts, but chooses to grow all of Persephone’s produce out in the open. While he’s still currently harvesting Brussels sprouts, kale, and collards from the fields, he prioritizes most of his time for getting ready for the next season. This involves performing routine maintenance on his equipment, and cleaning up after the previous year. He is also busy keeping up with all of the paperwork that goes into being a small business owner; taxes, sales, and identifying problems and solutions from the previous year are all a part of the gig.

While Persephone may not be at the market during the off-season, there is still plenty growing. Jeff’s sustainable farming practices include growing cover crops of legumes on land that has yet to be planted for the year. This has not only led to a higher yield for Persephone, but they have made his soil happy, healthy, and full of organic matter. Since his first crop of corn in 1985 (which he calls a “disaster”), Jeff has increased the organic matter in his soil by 300%. What this translates to for you and me is food that is grown organically, in soil that is rich and full of nutrients: better soil = better food.

At the end of each conversation, I asked both Rick and Jeff what kind of advice they would give a novice backyard farmer, as residents of Portland are increasingly taking more and more control of their food lives. Both farmers said the same thing, “start small”.

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed,” Jeff from Persephone Farms said, “start small, and focus on soil health.” It may take a while to get the soil you want, but when it’s healthy, you’ll get the results you want.

So whether you are toying with the idea of growing your own lettuce greens this year, or going all out and trading grass space for raised beds, have fun doing it. Get dirt under your nails, and blisters on your hands. Not only will you harvest a delicious reward, but you’ll also have a new-found appreciation for all of the hard work our local farmers put in to provide Portlanders with the freshest, most delicious and nutritious produce imaginable.

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