New Decade, New Look!

Today is a very big day in the 14 years that I’ve been writing Good Stuff NW. For the first time it has a brand new look and feel that I hope will enhance its function and readability, and make it a better experience for everyone who visits. For a—hopefully—short while there will be some visual back-and-forth between the previous site (still at Blogger) and the new site, until I get all 2,621 (Yikes!) posts migrated to the new format. I hope you will bear with me during this transition. Look for a lot of exciting news to break in the near future.

The new search function at the top of the right-hand column (or at the top of the mobile version) should make it much more productive when you’re looking for that creamy tomato soup recipe or the post Anthony Boutard wrote about how to escape a swarm of yellow jackets. I used to have to type “goodstuffnw tomato soup” into the Goog’s search bar to find an old post, so you should find this a major improvement.

There’s an About page where you can find out a little about me, and a Media page where you can follow me on your preferred social media platform. By the way, I’m particularly fond of Instagram these days, but Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing articles and information. The Media page also has a curated selection of articles I’ve written if you’re curious about my work outside of Good Stuff NW.

And for you mobile device users, including tablet, phablet or “slate" users, your experience is going to be oh-so-much enhanced by the new format, loading more quickly and efficiently and with graphics that will make the old site look like the doodles on your high school Pee Chees (remember those?) in comparison.

A shoutout, as always, goes out to our stalwart sponsors for their support and encouragement. Please let them know how much you appreciate that support by stopping in and mentioning Good Stuff NW by name. Big thanks to the Beaverton Farmers Market, Providore Fine Foods and Vino wine shop!

As always, thanks for reading!

Profile: Filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg's "The Beaver Believers"

There’s a saying about making documentary film that likens it to taking a bunch of sentences, slicing them up, putting them in a bag, dumping the bag out on the table, then trying to rearrange the pieces into a cohesive story, according to filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg.

Documentary filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg.

Sarah Koenigsberg’s first documentary, The Beaver Believers, tells the story of an unlikely group of activists from around the country who are united in trying to bring back the American beaver from the edge of extinction. These advocates believe that the beaver is a keystone species, that its near-demise at the hands of fur traders caused much of the West to become arid land, and that returning the beaver to healthy population levels would restore ecosystems, creating the biodiversity, complexity, and resiliency watersheds need to absorb the impacts of climate change.

Already well-received at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, the film is a finalist in the prestigious Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, and will be screened at the Environmental Film Festival at Yale. The film was several years in the making, and shot in eight western states as well as Mexico and Canada.

“We had to really work as a team,” she said of the challenge of working with college interns to film the easily spooked animals in their natural habitat. “We had to learn to intuitively sense each other's movements. It was a really cool little dance that we ended up working out. Especially for students who'd never done anything like that before, watching them get it and watching their confidence build.”

Her own path to becoming a filmmaker was circuitous. Like many young people, it took time for Koenigsberg to find her calling.

With some theater experience in her early years, by the time Koenigsberg got to college she’d decided it wasn’t the career for her. An introductory class in environmental studies intrigued her, as did a geology class, both of which exposed her to the problems of pollution and climate change. An intro to film class she took required making a short film, and it was while putting that very first film together that she had her epiphany.

“The first time I put some clips together in a timeline, and put in some music, and [saw] what happens when clips go together with music, a light bulb clicked,” she said.

One of the stars of Koenigsberg's first feature films.

She also did work with place-based collaboratives in the West. “[I was] meeting small groups of people, potentially with very different mindsets, recognizing that if they all care about the place they live, even if they disagree, they need to figure out how to work together and hear each other,” she said, helping them to use a collaborative rather than a litigation model.

Koenigsberg moved to New York City, volunteering to work on film crews, jumping in to grab a light or hold a boom microphone. That dogged persistence earned her a stint on a film crew in Ecuador, which cemented her decision to go into documentary filmmaking.

“Being in the field, collecting stories of a community that had no voice in the world, but they were trying to have more sustainable agriculture to lead to better lives for their kids,” Koenigsberg said. “It all just resonated.”

She returned to Walla Walla and started her own film company called Tensegrity Productions, named for a term coined by architect Buckminster Fuller to describe the fluid interconnectivity in nature, a tensional integrity, or tensegrity.

Living out her principles and challenging her own presumptions is a key to being a successful documentary filmmaker, Koenigsberg believes.

“No matter how good your education, there are always other modalities of knowledge, other bodies of experience from living and working in a place, that you've got to listen to,” she said. “If you go in assuming you already know everything that person has to offer as a character or as a viewpoint, you're not going to give them the chance to give you the most little beautiful nugget of truth. You're just turning them into a very flat character. I want to find very vibrant characters who, through their personal journey, are hinting at much larger, global-level issues.”

Photos from Tensegrity Productions.

Providore Adds Revel Meat, Two X Sea

I just got word that I can unburden myself of a secret I've been keeping for almost two months, one that is going to make my life—and hopefully the lives of many other fans of local meat—so much more delicious. Fans and those whose lives were bereft when Ben Meyer closed down Old Salt, his palace of sustainable meat, can now rejoice: He and his partner in Revel Meat, James Serlin, have just signed a lease and stocked cases of their local meat inside Providore Fine Foods.

Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore and longtime Portland specialty grocer, Pastaworks, with her husband, Kevin de Garmo, and Bruce Silverman, termed the partnership a "perfect marriage."

The meat case is packed!

Bringing Revel Meat to Providore continues the group's commitment to partner with providers who have deep relationships with local farmers and can give customers the kind of high quality, thoughtfully sourced products they're looking for, Wellman said. "Partners who excite us are the people who are as passionate about food as we are."

Serlin echoed that excitement, saying it was Providore's roster of partners like Rubinette Produce, Little T Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers that made it an ideal choice for Revel's first retail outlet. "It's a big deal for Revel to be associated with Providore," Serlin said. "The idea behind it, as a place where people can come to get the best produce, meat, fish, cheese and bread, is a perfect fit."

Beef and pork from local farms like Pat-n-Tam's Beef in Stanfield, Campfire Farms in Mulino, Rieben Family Farms in Banks, and 6 Ranch in Wallowa County will stock the big meat cases on the west end of the store with both frozen and fresh cuts. Don't see what you're looking for in the case? Revel will also be happy to accommodate orders for custom cuts—I've already put in my order for some beef neck—with pickup available at Providore. (Read more about Revel Meat and its mission to rejuvenate local meat processing.)

Kenny Belov of Two X Sea.

And who will be occupying the coveted space recently vacated by Flying Fish Company? None other than Two X Sea (Two By Sea) the Bay Area fishmonger born in 2009 out of owner Kenny Belov's frustration with the lack of honesty and accountability in the seafood marketplac and fair pay for the fishing industry.

"The only way to change wholesale was to become wholesale," said Belov, who has been selling seafood to top Portland-area restaurants for more than four years. All of Two X Sea's suppliers must answer specific questions before their fish are accepted into its program: Who caught the fish? Who was the captain? What's the name of the boat? How was the fish caught? Was the fish caught on purpose (as opposed to it being bycatch, which means fish caught while targeting other species)? Belov believes that those answers give an opportunity to share with consumers all of the information about every piece of fish in the case.

"Their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere," Wellman said. "These guys walk their talk."

Belov said that architectural drawings for the new space are being completed, and he's hoping for Two X Sea to open in late spring. Plans include an oyster bar and a menu that showcases the offerings in the fresh case. He said it's an opportunity to expose guests to preparations of seafood that they might also make at home, and he's excited to see what chef Jacob Harth—chef at the much-lauded Erizo and who will compose Two By Sea's offerings—orchestrates in conjunction with Providore's other partners.

Wellman said that Pastaworks, with its nearly 40 years in Portland, and now Providore, are set to move to the next level in its evolution as a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," Wellman said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."

Then comes the throwdown: "Nowhere else in the U.S. has this level of a food experience and offers customers this kind of engagement with their food."

Providore Fine Foods is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Farm Bulletin: Appreciation for a Well-Grown Potato

If you love potatoes like I do, you can do no better than to read the following appreciation from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, who apparently wrote a treatise on the spud when he was a mere sprout. As mentioned, he and Carol only grow them for personal use, but they can be obtained for a short time at open farm days, one of which falls this weekend, December 14 and 15, from 2 pm to 5 pm. They are, indeed, worth the drive.

This summer, the Bonnotte made headlines as the world’s most expensive potato, apparently with some selling at auction for roughly $270 per pound. There is no good explanation for this high price other than there are some people with too much money. It is good that they share some of it with farmers. The potatoes are grown on Noirmoutier, a sandy island off the Atlantic coast of France where the farmers enrich their soil with seaweed. The entire crop is sold as new potatoes, before the tubers mature.

Bonnette potato, $270/lb.

The report piqued my attention. My term paper for Biology 104, Plants and Human Affairs, was titled: "Of Things Algal in Nature, A look at the economically important algae of New England and the Maritime Provinces." One section was devoted to the use of seaweed as fodder and fertilizer. The coastal areas of these areas historically used seaweed as a manure; the proper term for a natural material used for the improvement of the land. They carefully gathered the wrack from the beaches and plowed it into the soil. Seaweed is rich in phyto-colloids which help retain moisture and nutrients.

The potato and other members of the nightshade family are heavy feeders and reward their cultivators' attention. You can throw every amendment on a turnip or a radish with slight effect. Lettuce and other greens are meager in their returns. The hungry spud, though, rises to the occasion.

Carol escorts potatoes to the harvest shed.

Seaweeds provide the potatoes with a rich source of iodine, vanadium, iron, boron, copper, cobalt, zinc, molybdenum and manganese. These are trace minerals deficient or wholly absent in our washed-out soils, or the sandy soils of Noirmoutier for that matter. They wash out of the soil and into the ocean. So seaweeds and sea salt are means of closing the mineral loop. Consequently, we have always been generous with seaweed when preparing our potato bed.

The seaweed most commonly used in agriculture is Ascophyllum nodosum. Acadian Sea Plants, Nova Scotia, produces a high quality, easy-to-handle dried kelp meal that we use as a soil amendment. It is relatively expensive, around $90 for a 50-pound bag. Maxi-Crop Kelp Meal is harvested from the Norwegian kelp beds, and is roughly the same price. Maxi-Crop has a soluble form we use in our seedling production. We add 50 to 90 pounds to the potato bed.

Potage bonne femme.

The other soil amendment we use for the potatoes is a finely ground, mineral rich rock marketed as Azomite. It is from a deposit in Utah where a volcano erupted into an ocean. Once again, it provides a wide spectrum of the elements. We add about 100 pounds of this ground rock to the bed.

Are these ministrations worth the effort and money? It depends on how you regard the spud. If it is used as a cheap starchy substrate for cheese sauces, butter or sour cream, or for deep frying, certainly not. The potato’s flavor is not the point of the endeavor. Sort of like the modern varieties of popcorn that are specifically bred to confer no confounding flavor in the kettle mix. If you are preparing a simple potage bonne femme, leek and potato soup, as we did for the staff at Sweet Creek Foods this Tuesday, a fragrant, flavorful potato is essential. The better the potato, the better the soup. A large pot disappeared in short order. As garnishes, we included freshly grated horseradish, ground cayenne and finely minced speck from the Alto Adige.

Anthony titled this "Desirée."

We don’t grow potatoes commercially; they are for our own table. Just not worth explaining the difference in price for a carefully grown potato. When we have extras, as we do this year, we sell them at the open days. Though it is comforting to know that in France, quelle suprise, they are esteemed enough to grow carefully, and the farmer is rewarded for the effort. We must admit, a tinge of envy, too.

A Festival to Celebrate Winter (Plus Celeriac Soup)!

Just about exactly a month ago I posted about an event called the Fill Your Pantry and Winter Vegetable Sagra, a gathering of farmers, ranchers, plant breeders and folks who care about where their food comes from and how it’s grown. It offers the community a chance to order in bulk from local producers and pick up those orders at the event, but since most of the producers bring some extra meat, produce and bulk items along, it becomes a giant community farmers' market.

Mona Johnson of Tournant.

Portland chefs known for their support of local producers—Chef Timothy Wastell  Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have; Jaret Foster and Mona Johnson of Tournant; Jim Dixon of Real Good Food; and Lola Milholland of Umi Organic Noodles, among others—cook up samples of dishes like radicchio Caesar salad, yakisoba with vegetables, bean and cabbage stew and creamy celeriac soup (recipe below).

So much goodness!

This year the event was literally packed cheek by jowl with people shopping, eating, talking and, in some cases, even singing the praises of our local bounty. I can't tell you how uplifting and inspiring it is to see your community come together to enjoy and celebrate the goodness that is produced here. The atmosphere was absolutely electric!

Thanks to Friends of Family Farmers, the Culinary Breeding Network and Oregon State University Small Farms Program for sponsoring this outstanding gathering.

All in the [Apiaceae] Family Celeriac Soup

By Mona Johnson and Jaret Foster of Tournant

This creamy, comforting celeriac soup is served with a supporting cast of characters from the same Apiaceae family to which it belongs. Celery, parsley, fennel and caraway all play a role in complementing celeriac's mild, earthy flavor. If time is short, feel free to top with only the ghee or gremolata, or skip both and just swirl in a dollop of creme fraiche or a drizzle of brown butter.

For the celeriac soup:
3 Tbsp. butter
2 medium leeks (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise, sliced into thin half moons, rinsed and drained
2 medium fennel bulbs, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
2 medium celery roots (about 1 1/2 lbs.), trimmed, peeled and chopped in 1/2" dice
1 c. dry white wine
1 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 c. water
1/2 c. heavy cream

For the smoky caraway ghee:
4 Tbsp. ghee
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. smoked paprika

For the celery gremolata:
1/4 c. finely chopped Italian parsley
2 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbsp. finely diced celery
Grated zest of 1 lemon

To make the soup, melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until beginning to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add fennel and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Add the celery root to the pot along with salt, bay leaves and thyme, stirring to combine. Add wine and simmer until mostly evaporated. Add water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue simmering until all vegetables are soft enough to purée, about 10-12 minutes.

Purée soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender) until very smooth. Heat purée over medium low heat, then stir in heavy cream. Taste for seasoning and consistency, adding more salt, cream or water if needed for desired taste and texture.

To make the ghee, melt ghee in a small saucepan over low heat. Add caraway seeds and smoked paprika and cook, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes, being careful not to scorch spices. Remove from heat, let cool, then strain through a fine mesh strainer, discarding solids.

For the gremolata, add all ingredients to a small bowl, mixing to combine.

To serve, ladle soup into shallow bowls, swirl with infused ghee and sprinkle with gremolata.

Civil Eats' Top Stories 2019: Mine Included!

"We publish one or more thought-provoking and breaking news stories each day of the week. We’re on track to publish 250 articles in 2019; below are 20 of our best, in chronological order, and chosen to showcase the breadth and depth of our reporting."

Cory Carman of Carman Ranch.

With that announcement from Civil Eats' founder and editor-in-chief Naomi Starkman, I found out I was included on a list of the top twenty stories the prestigious national food news outlet published in 2019.

My profile of fourth-generation Oregon rancher Cory Carman outlines a movement taking place across the country where small farmers and ranchers are working to build a sustainable business, improve their soil and the health of the planet through pasture-based, regenerative practices. It was thrilling, as it always is, to talk with someone so articulate and passionate about what they're achieving, as well as to hear about the struggles and challenges of going against the prevailing "get big or get out" mentality that pervades current agricultural policy.

Grass and nothing but.

"The push is always for any brand to go national," [Carman] said. "Instead, we need to think about production on a regional basis and build out and support appropriately scaled infrastructure. That’s where you can really have the magic."

I'm honored to have my work included on this list along with some of my food journalism heroes. Read the full story, and please consider supporting the work of Civil Eats to tell the stories of what our food system could be, along with the challenges we face in getting there.

Library of Congress, Here I Come!

Well, actually, it's not just me.

The Library of Congress, which officially serves the U.S. Congress and is the de facto national library of the U.S., is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country and preserves important “cultural artifacts” by providing permanent public access to them. It has selected Civil Eats, an online news source for critical thought about the American food system, for inclusion in the Library’s historic collection of Internet materials related to the Food and Foodways Web Archive.

Which means that the articles I've written for Civil Eats about the food system of the Pacific Northwest—profiling farmers, ranchers and labor activists, and covering farmers' markets, industrial agriculture and other issues—will be included in this permanent archive along with the work of many of my food journalism heroes.

I'm pretty jazzed!

Farm Bulletin: Response to a Reader

Under normal circumstances I don't post reader comments, but in this case I felt contributor Anthony Boutard's response to the question about short-straw grains, from his previous post about the durum wheat he grows at Ayers Creek Farm, was important to understanding the whole story.

A reader commented:

I read a book recently that said the short straw varieties were specifically developed for warm climates like Mexico and India where rust is a serious problem. In your climate I'm guessing it's a wash.

Anthony Boutard responded:

Often the second half of a story is left out to create a myth, this is especially true with respect to the “Green Revolution.”* Short-straw grains allow fungicidal sprays to penetrate into the planting more effectively, and that is one of the reasons they are favored. In the spring, spray buggies douse the field to control rust and tall plants would make it hard to get the penetration needed for effective control of the disease. Outside of organic systems, rust is managed by fungicides.

Pesticide spraying rig.

Tolerance for rusts in grains is genetic and I see no evidence that it is linked to straw length. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. Next spring, take a moment and see where the rust and other fungal diseases develop in the grain field. It is in the low areas where airflow is impeded. You can easily see the yellowing of the plants in these patches.

The problem with short-straw grains in an organic setting is the rain splashes soil and fungal inoculum onto the leaves and they take longer to dry out in the morning. Rust inoculum that blows into the field can thrive on the wet leaves and stems. Modern varieties are shin high, right in the splash zone. The durum, wheat and barley we grow are over waist high, so the foliage is well out of the splash zone. They do well in an organic setting. Bear in mind, these long-straw small grains have been grown successfully for eight millennia or more without employing a chemical arsenal. That is why we favor them.

Aerial application of pesticides.

The pernicious nature of spraying was driven home when we were planting melons and a neighbor sprayed his wheat field. As the buggy passed by, the brown ground spiders exited in a mass, crawling over our hands and legs. Thousands and thousands of refugees, an indelible moment, along with the chemical stench of the insecticide.

Unfortunately, pushing short-straw grain varieties that require heavy use of chemical inputs including fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides have damaged the health of farmers and ecosystems, especially in countries such as India and Mexico with lax environment controls. The Bhopal disaster was the result of a factory producing carbaryl, the insecticide marketed as Sevin.

Read more about legislative attempts to regulate spraying of pesticides in Oregon.

* Top photo shows an agricultural worker spraying pesticide on a short straw variety in India. These varieties require heavy use of expensive industrial pesticides (note the worker is unprotected from the spray). Often the seeds were genetically modified patented varieties, so farmers could not save the seeds from their crops as they had for millenia, and were forced to buy new seed every year or face prosecution.

Farm Bulletin: Return to Durum

James Robinson, an organic dairy farmer in Cumbria, recently wrote that farmers are always playing the long game. A female calf born today will not enter his milking herd for two years, and it will be two years after that before she will return much profit to the farm. Anthony and Carol Boutard have been developing varieties of organic corn, grains and other crops at Ayers Creek Farm, a process that can take several years before they'll know whether it fits their rigorous requirements. 

Sixteen years ago, we started growing durum, also known as hard amber wheat, for making parched green wheat, or frikeh. The original Economic Botany paper that described the process specified durum, so we abided. Durum is used for couscous, bulgur, fregula, tarhana and flatbreads, and is grown extensively in the Middle East and India. It is the region’s grain at hand, which explains its incidental use as a parched grain. The variety we were growing at the time had a short straw, so the heads were hard to harvest by hand, and it also turned out to be very susceptible to the strain of wheat rust that spread through the valley five years later. We abandoned the durum and started using a soft red wheat, which is a very long straw or tall variety, and resistant to that strain of rust. As we were parching the heads before maturation of the grain, the protein structure of the mature grain was unimportant. Still, we really loved the durum. A couple of years ago, we tried a different strain of durum and it has grown nicely.

Durum wheat at Ayers Creek Farm.

Botanically, durum is a cultivated species developed from wild emmer wheat, about 7,000 years ago. It is a very different beast from the hard and soft bread wheats, which were developed from wild einkorn and two other grass species. Durum and emmer have four copies of their seven chromosomes, and thus are termed a tetraploid species. Bread wheat and spelt have six copies, or hexaploid. Corn is a simple diploid. In the case of durum and bread wheat, the ploidy level simply points to two different ancestries. Although durum has higher protein content, those proteins do not produce as strong a dough as bread wheat. For this reason, it is used for pastas and flatbreads.

The milling fragrance and quality of durum are distinct as well. Because the grain is so hard, it does not mill to a flour using a traditional stone mill. Instead, the stones yield a semolina which we pass through a #26 bolt, removing most of the bran. For comparison, our cornmeal passes through #14 bolt. All foods have a standard of identity that is defined by the Food and Drug Administration under 21CFR137. Cornmeal must pass through a #12 bolt. Farina and semolina are defined as the fraction that passes through a #20 bolt. Flour is the fraction that passes through a #70 bolt. Consequently, our semolina and cornmeal are slightly finer than called for in their standards of identity. Before the development of wire cloth, sieves were made from loosely woven hemp, linen, cotton and silk. The bolt number is number of threads per inch, and silk produced the finest bolts. Mesh and bolt are synonymous, but we prefer the historical reference to a bolt of fabric, even though we now use sieves made of stainless steel wire.

La Faneuse by Émile Claus, 1896.

Our current durum strain is a much taller plant than the earlier sort, so we have a backup for parching if needed. We suspect it is also a much older strain. One of the key features of “green revolution” grains was reduction of straw length. When draft animals powered agriculture, the straw was as valuable as the grain. Long straw is also easier to scythe, then gather and stack (shock). The gathering and bundling of the plants was a task traditionally carried out by women and children. The captivating and sympathetic paintings of Émile Claus (1849-1924) and Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844 to 1925) document the structure of field economy and society at the time. The early farmers in the west had neither labor nor machinery to harvest and transport the grain. Instead, they would “hog out” the grain by turning swine into the field and shipping the animals or cured hams.

Short straw varieties move through the combine more efficiently and are less prone to falling over (lodging) under heavy applications of fertilizers. On our farm, we appreciate the long straw because it is a good source of organic matter for crops following the grain and efficiency is not a hallmark of our endeavor anyway. We have also observed that the taller grains have fewer disease problems, possibly because of better air movement in the field as the leaves are higher above the ground. Carol has been using the milled durum in her sourdoughs at about 10 to 15 percent. It lends a pleasant sweetness to the bread as well as a moister crumb. Durum is also used to make Indian flatbreads such as chapati.

Read Anthony's response to a reader's question about short-straw wheat, pesticides and the Green Revolution.

Top: Harvest by Léon Augustin Lhermitte, 1874.

Celebrate Local Cranberries with This Cranberry Tart

Oregon cranberries are one of those somewhat under-the-radar crops though, in fact, cranberries are native to the Northwest. The berries have been harvested by indigenous people for millenia and were (and still are) used fresh and dried in many traditional foods. They were traded widely among First Nation people on traditional trade routes, along with salmon and other products.

Cranberry bog.

Cranberries were first grown commercially in Oregon by Charles McFarlin, who settled in Coos County after failing, like so many others, to make a fortune during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. He planted vines he brought from Massachusetts, later developing a variety known as McFarlin that is still grown today.

Most of the state's cranberries are grown in Coos and Curry counties on the South Coast and, at nearly 3,000 acres and accounting for 95 percent of the state's production, it's just five percent of the nation's commercial harvest. Most cranberry growers are heavily reliant on pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds that can devastate crops, but there's a growing number of farmers who are transitioning to organic methods.

Cranberry harvest.

While small in number, organic cranberry farmers are joining forces and sharing successes and challenges, according to an article from Oregon Tilth, one of the region's largest organic certifying agencies. It says that state agricultural agencies, which normally provide support to farmers, are almost exclusively geared to conventional growers and aren't up to speed on the specific needs and challenges of organic farmers, so this homegrown network of organic growers has become critical to the success and availability of locally grown, organic cranberries.

Cranberries are a family affair.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” according to cranberry farmer Richard Schmidt, who is quoted in the article and, with his wife, Pam Schmidt, owns Schmidt Berries in Bandon. “We’ve really relied on our neighbor, Ty Vincent, and his dad, Bill Vincent [of Vincent Family Cranberries]. They were the ones that put the farm into transition [to organic] after 30-plus years of traditional practice. It’s their expertise and practical experience that have made our new inexperienced farmer reality much easier. They are the essence of succession in a community. We’d never really been farmers before, and had never lived or farmed on the Oregon coast…we mainly rely on our neighbors. We’ll help them harvest, and they help us harvest. They’re organic too, so we can share equipment, which is kind of nice.”

You can find local, organic cranberries at some stores and area farmers' markets, and I can't say enough about the flavor of these ruby-colored jewels in jams, chutneys, sauces and, of course, pastries. This recipe for a cranberry tart is one of those can't-miss, smash hits that has been the raved-about culmination of two dinners so far this season!

Cranberry Tart

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
Egg white (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. With the processor running, drizzle in the ice water over the flour mixture until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour.

Just before the dough finishes chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface. Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance.

Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Photo of cranberry bog from USDA. Photos of harvest from Vincent Family Cranberries.