One of the things that makes the Willamette Valley unique is its diversity. Whether you live here or you’re a visitor, you are bound to find something exciting and different.
Kaire Downin • Photos: Miraculous Memories Photography
In 2004, when I arrived in Oregon for the first time, my husband, daughter and I went for a drive down I-5 and I was instantly in love with the Valley, from the vineyards and orchards, to the Christmas Tree farms, grass seed expanses, meadows, old barns and historical downtown buildings. I loved the rural feel! The mossy roofs, the misty hills, the views on a clear day of the beacons of light in the Cascades all transformed my idea of what heaven would be. Coming from metropolitan Florida, Oregon provided me the peace of mind that there were still areas that were green and living and incredibly capable of bearing fruit. Imagine my excitement, I had never picked a berry and eaten it off the vine and here, they were everywhere! I never wanted to go back to the flat, humid, concrete covered place I used to call home. I knew I would spend the rest of my life in the Willamette Valley.
My feelings for the Valley have not changed since moving to the area in 2008 and becoming fully immersed in the lifestyle of an Oregonian. I have engaged myself in the community to get to know the people who make the food, understand how to care for the land, learn about how to best protect it so that our childrens’ children will one day be able to look in awe at the beauty and life that is the Valley. It has been incredibly transformative and has given me motivation to teach and learn and create and share every possible moment.
One of my most treasured experiences has been the many visits I have made and friendships created by traveling to different farms. I am happy to say that there is a way for many people to come and have a taste of the rural life and gain an understanding of the work and love that goes into our food production. If you attend any of the several farmers’ markets in the area, here is your opportunity to shake hands with the keepers and care takers of the land that gives us so much!
Agritourism is on the rise in the Valley and the opportunity to meet and greet with the heart of the Valley is only a request away. From Farm Tours, Hay Rides, Farm Stays and You-Picks, you are bound to find something tasty, entertaining and educational all in a day and a “Sleep in the Hay”. The Oregon Country Trail system provides you with maps to trail systems with at least 10 stops where you can explore different types of agriculture from food to fiber. Lodging available at one of the few farm stays will give you the full experience, feed the cows, pick some sweet, juicy berries, take an adventurous hike through the forest, jump in the cool rushing river, or simply lay in the green grass and enjoy the sounds of birds with the sun on your face while the kids feed the chickens or get lost in a corn maze. The best part is, you get to go back to your own life without worrying if the cows come home!
Not only does Agritourism provide you a unique expereince every time, but it also engages the farmers in another venue to create business opportunities, giving them a new tool for economic security. A study conducted by Cornell University states that particpating in Agritourism can raise the profits of a farm up to 40% and that means sustainability for many of these families that want to keep their farms small and managable. Some of the farms started with a few things, like veggies and fruits and a few art pieces and found that the traffic they were getting enabled them to really showcase their skills. One farm on the trail created a studio to display art, than built a garden area which lead to selling veggie and seed starts which lead to building a green house and then to expanding to include a store for art and garden products. Often times, this type of opportunity is the difference between living the American Dream and loosing their investment in these down economic times.
Inviting the public to visit the sites provides the business owners the chance to educate conusmers like me and you to the process of what goes into bringing you the delicious varieties of foods and products at the markets and in the local stores. Education is the key to creating a customer base that is loyal and appreciates the value of each item the receive. These folks, in turn, will spread the word to their friends and family creating a chain of marketing that you can’t pay for and is more effective than any other form of advertising. An educated consumer base leads to people who will advocate to protect the farm lands and encourage people to get invovled in land use legislation, enabling the community to come to gether for a common cause. This is vital in protecting our environment. The Oregon Trail system prides itself on a small footprint as well, using small signs, and encouraging people to buy local means cutting down carbon emmissions and packaging waste.
We are happy to bring you a taste of the Valley in a way that will hopefully lead you to these places for more, like picking berries, you can’t stop at one and you must keep exploring for that perfect combination of soft, firm, juicy and tart that melts your soul.