My Proudest Moments: 2020 in Review

I'm not normally a person who lives in the past, sifting through decisions or the lack thereof, weighed down with regrets (not that I don't have some, mind you). I tend to move forward instead, looking at tomorrow with anticipation of what it might bring. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to look at the major stories I posted in 2020, a year, as so many have already said, unlike any other in living memory.

First up, on January 13, was a big moment in the 14 years I've been writing Good Stuff NW, and that was a top-to-bottom redesign of this blog, originally begun as an exercise in a new marketing medium that turned into a whole new career as a journalist.

But now to the proudest moments of the last year:

Your Food, Your Legislature

Oregon's Capitol in Salem.

I'm extremely proud of this annual series of reports that follows Oregon's yearly legislative sessions at the Capitol in Salem, focusing on the bills that affect our food system. They give a comprehensive look at legislative process, from the inception of bills, through the committee processes that can amend, kill or pass them on to be voted on in the House and Senate chambers. These reports give you the chance to express your opinions to legislators, which I sincerely hope you do. Look for the new series to start in January on the 2021 session.

Farm Bulletin

Carol and Anthony Boutard

I have been publishing contributor Anthony Boutard's missives from Ayers Creek Farm since 2007, almost exactly a year after first starting this effort. Anthony and his wife, Carol, have been instrumental in teaching me what conscientious, thoughtful, respectful farming looks like, and what it means to steward a piece of ground. His always-stunning prose, as well as his and Carol's friendship, has shaped this blog in ways beyond counting, and I encourage you to read back through them both here on the new site and in the archive. You won't be sorry.

Farmers' Markets Take on the Pandemic

Farmers' markets learned to cope.

When COVID-19 hit in March, there was no guarantee that our up-to-that-time robust local food system would survive. With the governor instituting a lockdown that month and with a great deal of uncertainty about how the virus was spread or how long it would last, restaurants closed down and grocery stores were being inundated with shoppers "stocking up" (i.e. panic buying) dried beans, canned goods and paper products. The future of farmers' markets was uncertain, but working with state officials and pivoting on a dime as regulations changed, our open-air markets have thrived and provided a lifeline to our small farmers. I'm proud my series of reports on this topic has kept the community informed.

Local Food Gains Traction

Our local food system is thriving.

I've been so amazed and inspired by our farmers and ranchers in this pandemic, and I've been taken aback by how fervently the community has embraced and supported them during this most difficult year. From figuring out home delivery to starting Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions to holding a virtual celebration of local vegetables, our food community has proved their ability to overcome obstacles even in a pandemic.

Pesticide Contaminates "Organic" Compost

Result of contaminated compost.

This story originated when I was talking with my neighbor about her extensive vegetable garden. She mentioned that she'd just found out that the gorgeous organic compost she bought from a supposedly reputable local company was contaminated with pesticides. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) became involved, and a lawsuit seeking compensation is in process. It's a story you can be sure I'll be following as it develops.

COVID Outbreaks Threaten Essential Food Workers

Crowded conditions and lack of proper protective equipment have proved a deadly combination among essential workers at food processing plants like those owned by Tillamook Cheese as well as workers harvesting crops in the fields.


Skies turned dark at mid-day.

The intense wildfires that raged through Oregon this past summer and early fall had a devastating effect on our rural food system. Many of our farmers and ranchers lost homes, livestock and fields of crops ready for market, some barely making it out with their lives. Many had to move themselves and their animals multiple times to stay ahead of the unpredictable flames. This on top of a punishing pandemic that has no end in sight. Really, 2020?

Dungeness Crab: MIA

No crab for the holidays in 2020.

I love our local shellfish and the family-owned businesses that comprise the bulk of Oregon's coastal fishing industry. This story explains the too-opaque, behind-the-scenes machinations by powerful players stifling progress in the name of profit and hurting our food system. (Not to mention our holiday dinner plans.)

Serving in a Pandemic: Local Chef Delivers for Essential Workers

When I asked chef Berkeley Braden how he got involved making and delivering free meals to nurses, truck drivers and his fellow food service workers in the pandemic—most of it on his own dime—he said his motivation was two-fold. "My first motive was selfish, " he said. "I need to be busy so I don't go stir-crazy. I can't just sit around…I have to have stuff to do."

Berkeley Braden with free meals
for truck drivers.

The second reason?

"Restaurants are fucked," he said bluntly. "Lots won't reopen, and if they do they'll have to do so in a radically different format, which screws with your margins." Braden believes that will leave a majority of industry workers—think everyone from chefs to sous chefs to prep people, wait staff, bussers, dishwashers and more—out of a job, most with no savings and short on money for food for themselves and their families.

That's when he decided to step in.

As a personal chef and caterer, Braden said, he'd done really well the last few years, so when his business slowed down due to the pandemic, he started cooking for out-of-work friends and acquaintances in the service industry who didn't have enough money to buy food.

"I enjoy helping people," he said. Plus, "as a chef, I know how to produce lots of good food for very little money."

Minestrone soup for out-of-work service industry people.

The industry lunches tend to be simple—soups, stews and sauces that he cooks in large quantities once a week. Nutritious, filling and packed with flavor, Braden ticks off a list that includes minestrone soup, coconut tomato curry, pasta puttanesca and a vegan posole. Regulars come by his kitchen to pick up packaged meals to take home. He also delivers to neighbors like the wait staff in a coffee shop near his commercial kitchen, which enables him to keep in touch with how they're doing. Another industry friend will take several meals to deliver to people he knows who are having a hard time getting by.

Braden then partnered with a client to organize a fundraiser to take lunches to long-haul truckers. His takeaway was that they're a very underserved group "who continue to get us the things we need."

Braden and coworker Izzy Davids delivering to truckers.

Following the fundraising event, Braden, his coworker Izzy Davids and friend Beth Everett teamed up to take meals out to a couple of area truck stops, looking for people sitting in their trucks. A few were confused as to why someone would do that for them, he said, since they're used to being overlooked or taken for granted.

"One guy even told us to fuck off," Braden said. But a little while later as they were packing up to leave, the trucker came back and apologized, saying that he wasn't used to having people give him something without expecting anything in return.

Kara Morris, a supervisor with Kaiser Home Health, said that Braden jumped at the chance to make lunches when Morris mentioned to Braden's wife, Tracy, that she was looking for resources for meals for her medical staff.

Meals for frontline medical workers.

"He said he wanted to donate meals, and only asked 'when and how many?'" Morris said. "It was great—he's been so organized, thoughtful and meticulous." She said it's wonderful that her staff can swing by between rounds and pick up a meal in the middle of a stressful day.

"Home health care staff are often forgotten" in the stories about frontline medical workers in the pandemic, she said. "They're taking care of COVID positive patients, going into their homes." Morris added that the meals are so hearty that there's often enough left over for workers to take home to their own families.

Braden has been posting photographs on his Instagram feed of the meals he delivers and the masked—but obviously smiling—faces of medical staff holding their meals. He said a few people have contacted him "out of the blue" and offered to send money to "put toward something good," including one man from Alabama and another whose wife brought home leftovers from the meal he'd delivered to Kaiser that day.

While Braden said he's taking it a week at a time, he doesn't see stopping anytime soon. "I'm just happy to help people," he said. "I want to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. It all manifests itself and gets itself out there in so many ways."

Morris agrees. "[Braden] really cares about food, the process, and the people," she said.