29 March 2012

How Green Our Valley Is

Whole grains are delicious: wheat berries are chewy, tasty and go so well with roasted chicken. Oats, not the prepackaged, instant, cloyingly flavored variety, but the real deal, slow cooked and inviting. Buckwheat – kasha, a food that compliments and contrasts springtime asparagus perfectly. The problem with adding more whole grains to our diets isn’t a lack of desire, or locating recipes, it’s often finding the products.

This is doubly true if you track down an ingredient and wonder why crops that are grown up and down the Willamette Valley, the Inland Empire and as ‘far’ away as Montana are being imported from Ireland, Italy or Asia. You don’t even need to be a professed locavore to scratch your head about that.

Clint Lindsey of Willamette Seed & Grain explains the paradox, “There are other mills in the area who do a great job, but they import most of their crops from other regions.  Conversely, there are other farms growing staple crops for local markets, but they do not mill and distribute those crops themselves.”

Willow Coberly, owner of Stalford Seed Farms and Greenwillow Grains, hadn’t always grown food crops. Grass seed, the number one agricultural product grown in Oregon, had been the staple crop for her farm. When the downturn in the housing market that made grass less profitable coincided with a desire to restore local food system, eight years ago Stalford converted acres to wheat, both the hard red variety used for making bread and soft white used more often in the dessert spectrum – like cakes, cookies and pastries.

Teaming up other area growers Stalford Seed became a partner in Willamette Seed & Grain: They are akin to a traditional co-operative that pools resources to sell foods grown in the Willamette Valley more effectively, but they are also a partnership working to restore a local food system where over 90% of all foods consumed are imported into the state. Initial success in connecting local foods with local customers led to Willamette supplying the wheat and oats for the Oregon Grains loaf aka the100 Mile Bread from Nature Bake, whose co-joined company Dave’s Killer Bread, is familiar to market goers.

More success led to Stalford Seed investing in a milling facility in Brownsville, Oregon two years ago. Greenwillow Grains, the milling arm of Stalford, now employs three full-time and five part-time workers – jobs created in the same community where the food is grown, reinforcing the point for keeping food dollars local.

After appearing at both the Brownsville Farmers Market and Corvallis Farmers Markets last season, Greenwillow is bringing their grains and seeds to PFM this year. Again, Clint Lindsey, “[PFM] has such a large following. Being able to market our products directly to such a large customer base is a big step up for us.” Market goers can find Greenwillow’s organic wheat berries, buckwheat, flax and garbanzo beans; along with local oats – stone ground and rolled, bread and pastry flours.

If not with Roast Chicken; Then please make a salad with chard.

Saturday mornings at PSU you’ll be able to find local crops and growers who understand the firsthand importance of keeping food dollars local. Stop by the Greenwillow booth and ask about what makes their products and approach to farming different, it’s a conversation worth having.

Special thanks to Clint Lindsey for his time and insight. Additional information for this post was gathered from a blog post by Jill Rees of the USDA. You can be read her article in it’s entirety here.