The Willamette Valley must be one of the most magnificent areas in the world to live, play, work, and eat. Not only do we have forests, mountains, rivers, ocean beaches, and great wineries and restaurants, we are truly living in the middle of one of the most extravagantly productive and creative agricultural areas anywhere.
From Ashland to Portland, and from the Coast to the Idaho border, Oregon boasts a staggering array of new-generation farms producing a cornucopia of wonderful foods. Nowhere in the country is a Locavore diet more possible or more of a delight.
Oregon ranks 15th in the number of farmer’s markets (by state) although we rank only 27th in population. Oregon ranks second in farm-direct sales per customer, and fifth for total direct farm sales, according to the Oregon Farmer’s Markets Association (ref http://www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org/). This means more Oregonians than ever have discovered the pleasure of buying direct from small farms.
Why are your neighbors buying from small farms and who do they buy from?
Buying direct keeps Oregon’s money in Oregon. When you buy food from a local small farm, that money generally stays right in the community, paying wages, buying supplies, and supporting other local businesses. When you shop for food at large chain stores, profits go out of state and often buy food imported from Asia and South America.
Food safety and traceability. Does news of millions of pounds of ground beef recalls have you questioning whether to eat meat at all? Buying direct from a small farmer is a completely different system of meat traceability. Many farmers sell only by quarters or eighths: all the meat in your share comes from identically one animal, and your family is sharing that animal with no more than seven other households. The farmer can recall 100% of that meat with seven phone calls, and buy all the suspected meat back for a few thousand dollars. This is a vastly different food security system than the commodity market with its tens of millions of pounds of recalled meat, and hundreds of millions of dollars of potential lost revenue, all sold into an anonymous distribution system that makes containment virtualy impossible.
Animal welfare. Talk with your farmer about how the animals are raised, treated, fed, and handled at slaughter. You’re likely to find animals that are treated gently and kindly from their first day to their last, raised on grass pastures with their mothers in one familiar herd, never crowded, and never in filithy or terrifying conditions. And yes, this does make the meat taste better. If you’re not eating meat because of concerns about animal welfare, ask some small farmers at the local farmer’s market pointed questions. You’re likley to be pleasantly surprised by the answers.
Reduced chemicals and pharmaceuticals. When animals are raised on grass pasture with a lower-population-density, fewer chemical inputs are needed. Less herbicides. Less pesticides. Less antibiotics. This is better for the animal, better for your health, better for our watersheds, and better for the environment.
Better nutrient density. Better-raised animals are fed better. They have more green food in their diet, typically higher-quality, higher-priced ingredients in their food, and a better ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats. This results in better HDL:LDL cholesterol levels for you. 100% grassfed beef and lamb, and pasture-raised pork and chicken, is much closer to wild game and a true paleo diet.
Better flavor. Yes, at the end of the day, all this really does mean a better-tasting steak, and chicken that actually tastes like chicken.
And we haven’t even mentioned fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Fresh, local, organically-raised, and heirloom-variety plants are far more delicious fare. Several Oregon farms are now growing wild rice, in addition to organic wheat for flour, dried beans, green beans, cornmeal for polenta, dairy and cheeses, and so much more.
Please consider buying a “meat share”. This is typically a 1/8th, 1/4th, or 1/2 share of a beef cow, or a 1/2 or 1/4 share of a pig, or a half or whole lamb. One of the main benefits of buying direct from the farmer is you can legally bypass the USDA feedlot and slaughterhouse system, allowing your reserved animal to be legally killed at the farm for you by a licensed mobile slaughtering service. This method is far less stressful on the animal, resulting in a less-bruised carcass and better-tasting meat. This can be kind of intimidating, especially the first time. Many farms offer you plenty of support information to help you make your decision; OSU’s extension office has issued a brochure that explains all the relevant laws (http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/publications/techreports/TRFAQsmeat.pdf) . Beef, lamb, goat, and chicken all keep well in the freezer for at least 18 months. Pork, which is higher in fat, is more volatile and will only last about 6 to 8 months; cured and smoked pork only 3 to 4 months. A typical family of four needs a seven-cubic-foot chest freezer (about $200 to $220) to store a 1/8th beef, and 1/4th pig, and twelve chickens, lasting them about six months all together.
Need help finding a farm?
Here are some of the best sources:
localharvest.org is a nationwide listing of small farms, CSAs, and farmer’s markets. You can sort by city or zip code, or sort by the product you’re trying to find, and many items can be bought right on line. Visit: http://bit.ly/1sSvSrD
Eatwild.com is also a great listing of farms. More than that, this is a great resource page. If you’re just getting ready to make the switch, or looking for more detailed information to substantiate the “why” claims above, this is a great site to browse. Site owner Jo Robinson has written prolifically on nutrition and agriculture and is a wealth of information. Her new book “Eating on the Wild Side” will forever change how you shop for produce.
www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org is a listing of all the farmer’s markets in Oregon. Really this is the best way to find a farm that will be easy for you to build a relationship: go to your neighborhood farmer’s market, and just start talking with the farmers. The most interesting products they produce may not even be at the farmer’s market that day. Asking “what else do you do on your farm?” will always lead to an interesting conversation.
www.portlandcsa.org is the site of the Portland CSA coaltion, and a great way to find a vegetable CSA near you.
Friends of Family Farmers is one of the very best organizations to support with your donations. This is a genuine homegrown Oregon grassroots organization. visit: http://bit.ly/1rH40W4
Some notable examples:
Ayer’s Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon, sells at the Hillsdale Farmer’s Market. They are certified organic, and specialize in berries, grains, and dried beans. Nobody has better polenta or popcorn, or more varieties of locally-grown dried beans.
Carman Ranch in Wallowa, Oregon, specializes in grassfed beef and sells at many area farmer’s markets.
Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, Oregon, has been offering pasture-raised poultry since 2007, plus 100% grassfed beef and lamb, pasture-raised pork, a vegetable CSA program, and mead and kombucha.
Sauvie Island Organics is 21 years old and offers a huge variety of certified organic vegetables at many markets all over Portland.
47th-Avenue farm has one of the oldest and most successful CSA programs in the area
Oak Hill Organics on Grand Island has a full-diet CSA that includes vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, and dairy.
Robert Plamondon in Noti, Oregon, is a pioneer of pastured poultry and writes a regular and helpful newsletter on backyard chicken keeping.