Oregon Organics

Oregon Organics

Its official: Oregonians are asking for more helpings of organic foods than ever before.

From Burgerville's new organic Oregon Harvest Veggie Burger made by Chez Gourmet in Tigard to Pacific Foods' just-unveiled organic soup line featuring USDA-certified organic beef, chicken and pork (the first in the nation), the state of Oregon's organic industry has never been stronger "¦ or more delicious and full of variety.

Consider The Divine Cupcake in Eugene. Specializing in dairy-free, organic cupcakes with buttercream-style frosting, this company has gone from baking in a home kitchen to featuring a lineup of exciting flavors. Choices like chai latte, gingersnap and electric pumpkin that are baked by contracted employees and sold at more than a dozen local shops—all evolving in less than two years.

This isn't unusual in a state that's always shown great interest in supporting small, locally owned businesses, especially those that in turn promote environmentally responsible farming and agriculture.

"Oregon is the perfect place for a great, awesome scene going on with organics," says Thaddeus Moore, who co-owns The Divine Cupcake with his wife, Emily Downing-Moore. "Many of us have grown up in the organic scene and it's like regular culture. To me, driving your car three hours to work and buying fast food is more like the counterculture."

How do these small, organic operations experience such successful growth? The secret seems to lie in a general shift among the attitudes of consumers. More buyers are looking for food produced in a way that's healthier for them, the environment and their community.

"A good example of Oregon organic ethics are a strong sense of regionalism, localism and a history of countercultural land ethic that has transformed itself into the business realm," says Andrew Rodman. He's editor of In Good Tilth, the bi-monthly magazine published by the non-profit, organic certification organization called Oregon Tilth.

"Organic retail is an avenue of note," he says, pointing particularly to Oregon's organic dairy industry.

When Organic Valley cooperative started selling certified organic milk in 1996, Springfield Creamery, Inc. was knocking at the door.

In business as a conventional dairy since 1960 and the pioneers of Nancy's Yogurt in 1970, owners Chuck and Sue Kesey and their children were looking for "the opportunity to offer folks an organic choice," says marketing director Sheryl Kesey Thompson.

"We feel like the opportunity to make organic dairy products supports the local farmers in our area who have chosen to take this road and make choices that are beneficial for the health of the cow, the consumer and ultimately the planet."

The creamery now sells truckloads of organic Nancy's Yogurt throughout the state and beyond, supporting sustainable agriculture and organic family farms along the way.

Another old-school Oregon producer is Kettle Foods. The company fried their first potato chip in 1982 and introduced an organic line in 1989.

"We were the first to start making organic potato chips and we're still one of only a few on the market today," says Jennifer Hauge, marketing communications manager for Kettle Foods in Salem. "When we started making organic potato chips, our employees looked high and low to find USDA certified ingredients — oil, potatoes and seasonings — that met all of our company's strict standards for taste and authenticity."

One of the places they found their ingredients was at Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman. The farm's rapidly expanding production of certified organically grown yellow dent corn and potatoes ultimately becomes the basis for Kettle Foods tortilla and potato chips. This helps the farm meet its goal of helping signature Oregon brands while maintaining its organic certifications from Oregon Tilth and the USDA.

Supporting organically grown crops from other countries is another way for Oregon businesses to go organic. Jared Rennie, owner of Noble Coffee Roasting in Talent, scours the planet for the world's best tasting and most responsibly grown and harvested coffee beans. He then imports, roasts, packages and delivers them to grateful customers, mostly in the Rogue Valley.

"Coffee is the most pesticide-, herbicide- and fungicide-ridden crop in the world," says Rennie. "The crops have caused a lot of damage to the land and a lot of chemicals that are banned in the U.S. are used. The effect is that the people in those countries aren't doing well."

"From a humanitarian point of view, it was very important for us to be 100 percent certified organic," he says. "And from a personal health viewpoint, it's good to know what you're drinking is pure."

Oregonians, who are clamoring for more and more organic selections when they shop for groceries, seem on board with this idea. Perhaps it's because so many of us understand the inherent connection between what we purchase and eat and where and how it was grown.

"In Oregon you see the natural world working well all by itself and people relearning through organic agriculture how to be in balance with nature rather than trying to control it," Rennie concludes. "That's probably why a lot of us here in Oregon feel the organic drive."

Looks like there's a bright future for Oregon organics around the next bend.

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