A Girl and her Co-op

A little over three months ago I attended Indulge, a food blogging conference here in Portland.  I don’t really consider myself a food blogger in the traditional sense since I don’t develop my own recipes, but I do enjoy eating and might blog about a recipe I tried, a food product we like, or a restaurant we ate at.  When I found out that local food blogger Lauren Brennan of Lauren’s Latest got together with local event manager Christie Blake of Blake & Co. to host a conference focusing on food – and especially the Portland food scene – I knew I wanted to go.

OXO and Travel Oregon were conference sponsors and they put together a couple of day-trip options for attendees to choose from.  One trip went East to explore the Hood River Fruit Loop, and the other went South to see Willamette Valley wine country.  Since I’ve done the Fruit Loop a couple of times I decided to do the Willamette Valley tour and discover some new places in my neck of the woods.

The first stop on that tour?  A 58-acre farm in Sherwood, OR called Our Table Cooperative!

Our Table Coop

We started with a walking tour around the farm lead by the founder, Narendra Varma.  I was enthralled, I think I could listen to him talk all day long about farming!  The farm was purchased in 2011 and the vision is to create a “beautifully diverse Permaculture design that views the farm as a single, whole organism”.  How beautiful does that sound?  They grow a variety of vegetable crops, as well as blueberries, apples, and some livestock too.  There is a creek and pond that flow through the property which they use for irrigation, and the views aren’t too terrible.

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So, how exactly does their garden grow?  Organically, of course!  As of June 2014, all their plant-based crops are certified organic under the USDA’s National Organic Program.  They are very up front about their farming practices which I greatly appreciate as a consumer.

Here are the basic approaches we employ to meet the spirit and letter of the NOP standards:

  • For fertility, we use cover crops and compost them on site. We also add lime for Calcium and feather meal for Nitrogen based on soil fertility tests.
  • For weed control, we use a variety of hoes and occasionally our hands. Proper bed preparation and other cultural practices limit weed competitiveness.
  • For pests, our primary approach is exclusion by using floating row cover (spun polyester). Much of the pest control is more in the diversity of plantings and other cultural practices that encourage strong plant growth.
  • Crops and cover crops to feed the soil are rotated constantly, and these contribute to fertility, weed control and pest control.
  • We primarily use Organic seed, but also include a few varieties that we know to be excellent and are not available Organically (probably only a handful at most). We save some seed on the farm and hope to use more as time goes on.
  • We are diligent in our record keeping and always keep our doors open for visitors who want a firsthand look at what we do.

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If you look reeeeaaaalllllllllllly closely around the center of that picture you an see Mt. Hood.

I don’t know about you guys, but the closest I’ve come to farming is when my parents had a garden while I was in middle school.  Sadly, I could not have cared less!  To me, gardening meant dirt and worms and weeding.  Who in their right mind would choose to do something like that?

Since then, I married a guy who grew up working on the family’s farm in Salinas Valley, I’ve become more conscious of where our food comes from and how it’s grown, and I’ve met people who have insane backyard gardens and want to teach others how to grow as well. (Veggies, people! How to grow veggies!!)  As much as I’d love to have a yard to garden, I’m honestly not sure I’m the dirt / worms / weeding type, but what good is the Our Table farm to me if I’m not a farmer?

They run a CSA!!  What’s a CSA?  It stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it basically means they do the farming for me; I get the benefit of fresh, organic, in-season veggies with none of the work!!  Shoot, when I say it like that I feel kind of bad, but I do pay for the CSA share so I guess that’s my hard work… trading some paper greens for leafy greens.  Works for me, especially if it means I don’t have to pull weeds!

OTC CSA

I had heard of CSAs before, but as I’ve mentioned, my kitchen skills have become sub-par so the thought of getting a giant bin of veggies every week that I’d need to figure out what to do with before it all goes bad was basically my worst nightmare.  What I like about this CSA in particular is that it’s small, individual-sized shares and you can buy as many shares as you want.  We’ve only got one share which is perfect for us and gives me a manageable amount of veggies to play with in a way that doesn’t give me a panic attack.  CSA day is Thursdays and there are some neighborhood delivery locations or if you’re close enough you can pick it up at the farm.  I’m close enough, and Thursdays are becoming my favorite days because I love going out there, but what if I pick up my share and I wish there was more in it?

They have an on-farm Grocery!!  And it’s the prettiest thing ever!

All I ever really knew about co-ops is what you see portrayed and stereotyped on TV, so I fully expected the store to have a hippy/granola/patchouli vibe.  Not that “hippy” is a bad thing, but I was shocked to walk into a place that felt more like a boutique grocer on NW 23rd.  It’s a warm and beautiful space that invites you to come in and sit by the fireplace.  Seriously, there’s a seating area by a fireplace!

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You may think a farm store would only have farm veggies, but there is so much more!  Kombucha on tap, a bulk food section, a dairy case with fresh eggs and specialty meats & cheeses, BEER & WINE, honey from their own hives, a freezer section with local meat and fish and ice cream, and don’t even get me started on their prepared foods!!  They have a commercial kitchen that puts out some crazy delicious items!

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The grocery is 80% Oregon sourced and 90% Organic with both vegan and gluten-free selections.  You’ll find so many great local treats, and there is a delicious partnership with Roman Candle Baking Co. – fresh bread is delivered on Fridays and Saturdays!  Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t tell you that… leave some focaccia for me, okay?

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All the conference attendees were blown away and commenting that they wished they had a place like this in their hometowns.  It made me feel so lucky that Our Table is in my back yard and I can visit whenever I want to – well, Wed-Sun from 10-6 anyways.  The store pics above are from my first visit in May, they’ve rearranged since then, so next time you’re in Sherwood, or if you’re heading down I-5 just hop off at Wilsonville and check it out!

And here is the original chalk heart that sealed the deal… #loveatfirstsight

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Check back on Saturday, I’ll show you what was in this week’s CSA and what else I picked up at the store!

Are you part of a Co-op or CSA in your area?  Hit me with your favorite CSA veggie recipes for Fall!

(The fun legal disclosure: This September is membership month at Our Table and I’m partnering with them for a blog series sharing my co-op story and how they help me eat local.  I  am receiving a small discount on purchases I make, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.  If I didn’t genuinely love this place I would not be telling you about it.  Check out all my Our Table coverage here!)

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