In my last blog post I mentioned the numerous fruit, vegetable, and berry stands on my commute. A few weeks ago I stopped in to a grocery store near my office in McMinnville to pick up a few snacks. In addition to the locally grown strawberries I picked up a few generic items as well. One item in particular caught my eye in the bulk section. The tag on the barrel said “locally grown walnuts”…the price…??? $3.99 a pound. Yeah, you read that right. A full LB of freshly shelled locally grown walnuts.
I’ve stated it before…and I have no problem stating it again. The produce in Oregon is amazing! The reason? Well first off the farmers care if their product is quality because that’s how they make their living (shocking concept to some of you I know). We’ve become so far removed from our food source that we come to expect the grocery stores to be responsible for picking our produce for us. By the time it makes it into our shopping baskets, it has passed through a gauntlet of handlers, inspectors, grocer buyers, then finally the stockers’ hands. Do you think that happens overnight? HELL no! It takes time. The whole time the product is aging and fast. For example…the strawberry season is in full swing right now. Hood strawberries are the flavor of the month…in a few weeks another variety will be available. I stopped and picked up a few pints. Normally we’d have to eat them in a matter of days(if purchased in a grocery store), but up here they are bright red when we buy them…a week later they are still as sweet and healthy as the day I purchased. What gives? Of course!!! The time to market is shortened.
Why are the farms up here so successful…why are they so plentiful? Well there are laws in place to… 1. help the farmers and 2. to ensure farmland stays farmland. Not Starbucks, Old Navys, Targets or Wal-Marts (in fact Portland recently ran Wal-Mart out of town). What a novel concept! People need food…farmers need land to grow food and if we want the farmers to sell their food they must be treated fairly. The CEO of the company I work for explained to me that the area holds farmers in the highest regards and makes sure they have what they need. All of Oregon is apparently like this. The farmers treat the consumer fairly by not gouging the hell out of them and then using the excuse of “well we grew it with our own hands”.
I remember as a kid going to the real farmers’ market in downtown Dallas and coming home with produce much the same as what we are finding here. My father and mother would speak directly to the farmers and ask them “where did you grow this?”. If the farmer engaged my parents…then they would buy their produce because a farmer’s word was his bond. The last time I went to the downtown Dallas farmers’ market, I remember employing the same technique. Only the response I got from the “farmer” was shrugged shoulders and an “I don’t know” response. That happened repeatedly. What I came to realize is that there were food distributors just across the street…and the people in the market were merely resellers. Now it’s fair to say I didn’t go to each one of them and ask them…but those that I did had the 1000 yard stare. Shame on you Dallas for ruining what should have remained a success…instead you stuck your nose in it time and time again…ultimately destroying the farmers’ outlet. Luckily some smaller markets have started gaining traction in the DFW area.
Now this is where the “wow” factor comes in. Whether you hate reading this blog…or are intrigued by my giddy childlike wonder at all the “new” things up here, I promise this will amaze you too.
I stopped at the same farm store as I did last week to get some freshly roasted and locally grown hazelnuts. I was also going to pick up some of the latest walnut crop. I picked up a variety of prepared hazelnuts…roasted, dry roasted, honey roasted. Then I moved to the walnuts. They only had one variety “raw”. I picked up a 2lb bag and a smaller one to send to someone that I promised. I took them to the counter and the woman exclaimed “oh shoot, I need to call her”. I asked what she meant and she replied the lady across the street that I buy these from. Now I had seen the walnut farm before and wanted to visit, so I asked her why she needed to call them. She said that I just bought the last bag and she needed more. The lead time was a little long because…………….wait for it……………..the owner of the farm shells them by hand. What the what? I asked like by hand by hand? She replied yes 1×1. She held up the bag and pointed something out I hadn’t noticed before…how absofrickinglutely perfect the nuts were. There wasn’t a single discolored, scaley, gnarly nut in the bunch.
Yeah…I thought the same thing…that’s nuts!