Sold-out Gorge Grown conference connects area farmers and buyers

At Monday’s sold-out Gorge Grown Food and Farm Connection event, 200 farmers, chefs and buyers from the Gorge and Portland congregated to learn from each other and even speed-date in a networking frenzy.

The conference, at River of Life Church in Hood River, brought together local producers, buyers and sellers of food to network and find inspiration, according to Michelle McGrath, outreach coordinator for Gorge Grown Food Network. Gorge Grown is gearing up for another full season of markets, classes, forums and outreach. (See box for details.)

Kathy Watson, owner and chef of Nora’s Table, started the conference with a challenge for the audience: to help create the Gorge cuisine.

“Open your next CSA box. Do not consult a cookbook. Instead, just let your eyes wander over the bounty inside, and make something with the contents that you’ve never tasted before. Challenge yourself to eat what has sprung up together. Then open a bottle of local wine, and bon appétit.”

Watson said that when she started her first restaurant, Viento, in 2005, she had to convince farmers to sell to her directly because they weren’t used to providing restaurants food. Times have changed, as shown by the 100 farmers attending the conference.

The day was well worth it for Robert Wright, owner of The Farm Stand, who found four new local products for his store, including puffed wheat berries, a pancake mix, dates, and jams and jellies. Wright prefers to stock his shelves with local goods, but says he has to make 20 calls to obtain products and urges Gorge farmers to work together to make it easier for the buyers.

Chef of Celilo, Ben Stenn, echoed the suggestion for farmers to get organized and work together. He praised Nick Walrod from Dancing Moon Farm, who Stenn says is “hyper-organized with a spreadsheet detailing what produce the restaurant bought.” This information makes it easy for Stenn to know what to order next year.

Director of Gorge Grown, Rebecca Thistlethwaite, raved about the lunch made almost entirely from local ingredients. Thistlethwaite worked with Revelyn Rawdin of Pampered Palette to obtain local products, including lamb from Goldendale, chicken from Snowden, vegetables from Mosier and Hood River and even specially made wheat and pastry flour.

“It wasn’t easy for Revelyn to create a meal that’s 90 percent local,” said Thistlethwaite, but said the lunch tasted delicious and showcased the good food in the Gorge.

In the afternoon, Sue Davis from the Washington State Department of Agriculture held a seminar on agri-tourism, hoping to inspire Gorge farms to continue to be creative and come up with ways to open their farms to tourists. Across the way, Megan Foucht from Food Hub showed the group how to connect online with their innovative and fast-growing website linking farmers and buyers.

Thistlethwaite said the day was so successful that Gorge Grown is already setting the wheels in motion for next year’s event.

Gorge Grown in 2012:

Gorge Grown Food Network’s Farmers Market is preparing for the 2012 season opener on May 3, two weeks earlier than usual.

GGFN is about more than the farmers markets, and helping producers start growing earlier in the year and extending their harvest later will be among the educational outreach efforts to look for this season. Others will include growing grains and beans, and operating small-scale poultry operations.

“A longer market season encourages longer growing seasons,” said Todd Dierker, market manager. “This means more access to locally grown, fresh foods for the residents of the Hood River region. Plus, farm viability is improved as farmers extend their sales for longer seasons.”

The May 3 opening will not only celebrate the return of the market at Hood River Middle School, for the seventh year, but will also coincide with the school’s celebration of its new Community Kitchen, where culinary classes for the public will create synergy with the market and seasonal produce.

Markets run 4-7 p.m. Thursdays from May 3 to Nov. 15 on the east end of the HRMS campus. In addition to the sale of fruit, produce, eggs, flowers, meat and many other local items, there will be music, kids activities and community and vendor presentations each week.

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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 to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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