On October 23, the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project and the Ten Rivers Food Web hosted the first Fill-Your-Pantry Market at A2R Farms just off Airport Road in Corvallis. The event was a huge success with several hundred people coming to buy a variety of beans and grains, honey, winter vegetables, root crops, frozen meat, and canned fish from eleven different vendors. Nearly five thousand pounds of whole, milled, and rolled grains (oats, barley, wheat, flax, malting barley, triticale) and beans (pinto, garbanzo, black, fava), in addition to all the other items, were either sold at the event or through online orders that were picked up at the event. Add wine tasting, beer from Oregon Trail Brewery , the music of When Picks Fly, a bunch of kids and families, and suddenly a first time market was a community happening.
While the focus was the selling of bulk beans and grains–to literally help folks fill their pantry for the winter, the event also highlighted the recent grain milling capacity that has come to the south Willamette Valley and the formation of the Willamette Seed and Grain LLC, a partnership of three farms (Stalford Seed Farms, Sunbow Farm, A2R Farms) and several individuals, which will jointly own the mill already up and running in Brownsville and the mill soon to be online at A2R Farms. Along with Stalford Seed Farms (Tangent), A2R Farms (Corvallis), Sunbow Farm (Corvallis), Horsecreek Farm (Albany), and J&D Farms (Harrisburg) all selling beans and/or grains, Soilsmith Services (Corvallis) and Queen Bee Aviaries (Corvallis) sold honey; Open Oak Farm (Sweet Home) and Goodfoot Farm (Hoskins) sold a mix of winter vegetables and root crops; Harmony J.A.C.K. Farms (Scio) sold frozen chicken, pork, and beef; and Oregon's Choice Gourmet Seafoods (Newport) sold canned salmon and albacore. It was really a great selection for buyers and a fruitful selling day for all the vendors at the stunning setting of A2R Farms, a long time grass seed farm now transitioning its entire 800 acres to organic. (Clint Lindsey's blog the tells the story of the transition to organic at A2R Farms.)
The day began with a low cover of clouds and a threat of rain that's arrival was only a matter of time. But the temperature was a pleasant 60 degrees, and the customers began to accumulate inside A2R's organic-seed-cleaning-facility-turned-market half an hour before the scheduled opening time of 2:00 pm. It really was a fun occasion, and many customers stayed past the five o'clock closing time, buying food to fill their pantry, socializing, sampling beer and wine, dancing or merely tapping their toes to old-timey music, tasting fresh-made cookies and bread and muffins, and watching Paul Harcombe of Horseshoe Creek Farm demonstrate how to de-hull barley and prepare it for cooking. At the stroke of five, the heavens opened with a downpour of rain pounding on the sheet metal awning of A2R seed cleaning facility like a hundred steel drums. To the awe and amazement of those still there, one family of customers loaded up several hundred pounds of purchases on two tandem bicycles with trailers and pedaled off into the storm as though the weather was nothing. It was a fitting and powerful closing to a beautiful, though gray, afternoon.
For those who have been working with the Bean and Grain Project, this was a transcendent event–both in the energy that was present in the gathering and the sense that the project had turned a critical corner. Several hundred people came to buy local organic and transitional beans and grains directly from the producers. This demonstrated the existence of a promising new awareness within the community. Grains and legumes are the basis of our diet. Buying in bulk and learning to the cook with whole grains, edible seeds, and beans is a way to stretch food dollars, increase nutrition, and create a sound bottom for our food system. This is all fundamental to the entire Bean and Grain Project concept.
What we saw on Saturday was the front edge of a growing community of Willamette Valley residents that understands the value and importance of the local production and sale of staple crops like beans and grains; not to mention the root crops, the honey, the preserved fish, and the meat that are all year-round products. Clearly direct farm sales need not be limited to the traditional growing season. It can be a year-round endeavor that opens additional income sources for local farmers as well as welcome economical food purchases for the customers.
Though clearly this was only one isolated event, involving only a tiny portion of the entire foodshed, what happened at the Fill-Your-Pantry Market represented the first few halting steps on the pathway to rebuilding our local food system and turning concerns for food insecurity into local plenty.
The first time market did suffer somewhat from getting a larger crowd than expected. The lines were long and the process needed streamlining. These problems will be addressed in ensuing markets, two of which are already planned–this same event in Corvallis again next fall and in February of 2011 at the new Hummingbird Wholesale location in Eugene.
Read another article on this event on the Ten Rivers Food Web.
Special thanks is extended to The Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, The Ten Rivers Food Web, Hummingbird Wholesale, and the Evergreen Hill Fund of Oregon Community Foundation for for their continued support of the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project. Also thanks to Erik Silverberg for market photos.