The Sustainable Table: Eating Local

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DORENA, Ore. — Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis, a small-scale farm just beyond Dorena Reservoir, sustains itself. The grain and hay grown here feed the horses, chickens, cattle and pigs. Those animals produce the fertilizer that helps the farm’s tomatoes flourish, onions develop and apples ripen.

“We have essentially a closed-loop farm. We farm with draft horses, which you can see all around you,” said owner Walter Bernard. “Most of our products are heirloom-oriented, certified organic and certified biodynamic.”

Bernard — like every other vendor at the Lane County Farmer’s Market — banks on those products selling to keep his farm running.

“This is the main venue that I sell my produce at,” said Charles Duryea. “I depend on the Farmer’s Markets and the people coming down to this Farmer’s Market for my livelihood. I’m a full-time farmer.”

When the farm stands pop up, they bring a little country in the hub of the city.

“We have a lot of different fruits: blackberries, strawberries, cherries, currants …,” Duryea listed off all the local produce displayed on his tables at the farmer’s market.

A few booths away, shoppers can find the cart from McKenzie River Farm.

“We’ve got kohlrabi, some spring onions, some beautiful beets,” said Lynda Oosterhuis, the farm’s saleswoman. “We’re just starting to get Napa cabbages, raspberries, our blueberries are coming on, tomatoes, cucumbers, bok choi, collareds, kale, lettuces of all kinds.”

The Willamette Valley harvest is bountiful this time of year; so is the flow of customers through the market.

“I think it’s gotten a lot more popular as people started thinking about eating locally,” Oosterhuis said.

More people are thinking about it as they learn about its benefits, the most obvious being nutritional.

“I would encourage people to buy local as often as they can,” said Jamie Skiles, a registered dietitian. She said produce starts losing its nutrients the moment it’s picked.

“Some of the vital chemicals can decrease over time as the fruit or vegetable breaks down,” Skiles said. “So if you go to the store and buy something that was picked 10 days ago, it’s going to be a little more broken down than if you buy something at a local market or farmer’s market that was picked 24 hours ago.”

“The nutrients are so much more preserved when you get from field to table,” said local nutritionist Sandi Thompson. “You can’t do better than local when it comes to nutritional value.”

Local, though, isn’t always an option.

“Tropical fruit, coffee, tea, those kinds of things … we don’t live in an area where those are grown,” Thompson said. “So that’s a choice you can make.”

Added Skiles: “Those nutrients, like the Vitamin B and potassium and things like that that are found in those fruits and vegetables, you can find those in plenty of other ones that are still locally grown and seasonal. You shouldn’t be nutrient-deficient just because you can’t have a banana.”

That banana — and a lot of other produce — traveled thousands of miles to end up at your grocery store, so shopping for local products impacts the environment too.

“Less waste, less petroleum consumption, less shipping,” Bernard said. “And as far as food security, by producing our food locally, we are less at the whims of a tsunami or power outage or that sort of thing.”

They are at the whim of consumers.

“A lot of people don’t know about what can be grown here year-round,” Skiles said.

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