Wednesday, January 14, 2004
The consumer packaging industry recently bestowed its top awards on Kraft, Hershey’s and a company run by a Hood River farmer whose primary business motive is to preserve the home orchard business for his son.
The “Golden Mummy Award” sponsored by Exxon Mobil Chemical, recognizes consumer products which use Exxon’s petrochemical films in its packaging.
Gorge Delights, the Hood River company started by third-generation orchardists Gary, Mike and Rick Willis and fellow growers Mike and Ken Goe, began marketing an all-natural pear bar two years ago to diversify markets and increase dwindling margins for their produce, according to a press release.
Sharing the industry honor is Pak-Sel, of Clackamas, a flexible packaging company that came up with the innovative two-ply design that addresses Gorge Delights’ dual marketing strategy: the natural, matte finish of the exterior film is designed to appeal to the natural foods and outdoor recreation retail market.
The high-barrier inside film, which keeps the product fresh for two years, has attracted interest from NASA’s Food Technology Center for possible inclusion in the Space Program and from the U.S. Military, which is considering the bars as meal supplements. The 40-gram Gorge Delights PearBar, the equivalent to “eating two fresh pears,” is available in 200 stores in the Northwest.
Gorge Delights has also developed and is selling an 18-gram snack bar to public schools in the region. But between the pear bar’s two sheets of polypropylene film lies a bigger story of how a small business, with the help of the USDA, applied American ingenuity and resourcefulness in the fight to preserve family farming against foreign imports and multi-national conglomerates.
Lower-cost produce overseas from Chile, Mexico and Asia and locally from large corporate farms in neighboring Washington State have driven profit margins down over the years. Larger harvests and more land were needed to stay in business. As family orchards went out of business, they sold their land to neighbors. “We get the same price for our produce as we did five years ago, and yet, our costs have increased 20 percent in the same time,” said Willis, whose family apple and pear orchard has grown from 30 acres when his grandfather started to 285 acres today. “We were losing ground fast. I wanted to do something to make sure my son would be able to keep farming 20 years from now.” Willis joined with another Hood River farming family, father and son Mike and Ken Goe, to start Gorge Delights in 2002. Tara McHugh, Ph.D., of the USDA’s processed foods division, leads a team of 11 Ph.D.s and 15 support scientists to develop value-added technologies that businesses can then apply to create new markets for U.S. farmers.
McHugh’s team first helped the company find a way to market fresh sliced pears in resealable bags by inhibiting discoloration and extending shelf life for fresh pears to 21 days. McHugh then found a use for second grade pears by developing the all-natural pear bar.
Gorge Delights has a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the USDA and a licensing agreement on the patented process to extract the juice from pears, dry it into flakes and reconstitute the pear into an all-natural snack bar with no additives or preservatives. “This project has been personally rewarding because of the impact of helping to sustain rural communities,” McHugh said.
Gorge Delight’s 15,000 square foot plant, which can produce about 400 bars a minute, may soon be running at capacity. In addition to purchasing all produce locally, Gorge Delights also returns six percent of net profits to the USDA for continued product development. According to the USDA, the process developed for the pear bars can also be applied to other fruits and vegetables including corn and carrots. “We are doing this to keep future generations of farmers in business, not so we can sell it to a package goods giant so they can buy the produce from overseas. That goes against everything we are working for,” Willis said.
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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"
Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge