I am declaring Portland, Oregon a foodie mecca. It doesn’t boast the rich culinary history that charmed Ms. Julia Child in Paris, or the centuries-old traditions of Tuscany and the Italian countryside. Portland doesn’t have as many restaurants as New York City. But in terms of devotion to healthy, organic, local and from-scratch foods… well, I think Portland can teach the rest of the country a thing or two. Take the incredible farms and cutting-edge restaurants and bakeries we have in the New York’s Capital Region and then multiply it by some large number. Now you have a sense of Portland’s commitment to sustainable, delicious food. I’ve spent the past week visiting a good friend in Portland and soaking up all that the local food culture has to offer.
First, there are the farmers markets. There are 20 farmers markets within the city limits and an additional 21 in the immediate metro area, scattered geographically and spread throughout the week so that on any given day you can find a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruits and prepared goods. I walked outside this morning and even saw a small farm stand set up right in the neighborhood! 35 of these markets accept Farm Direct Nutrition Program Senior or WIC vouchers (Oregon’s administered program under the federal Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and similar to this NYS program). SNAP benefits are accepted at 31 Portland-area markets.
Then we have the restaurants. From grass-fed sustainable meat, ethnic eateries and niche food vendors to vegan, macrobiotic and raw cafes, this city has it covered. Maybe it has something to do with my rose-colored tourist glasses, but it almost seems like the norm for restaurants to source their ingredients locally. There is a deep pride in locally-grown food. (And beer and wine! I could write a whole post about the incredible local breweries and vineyards in Oregon). That pride runs throughout the entire city, from upscale bistros all the way to the food carts perched along city sidewalks. They even have an organization that offers food tours throughout the city!
Before you pack your bags for the West Coast, though, look around. This region is on the right path. We have vibrant small farms, thriving farmers markets, locally-sourced restaurants, neighborhood gardens, food swaps and a community of DIY, From Scratch, Locavore food-lovers that is growing every day. The wave of support for local farms in the aftermath of Irene proves that we already have a commitment to healthy, local foods and a conviction to support the growth of our local food system. We have community groups that are passionately working to expand access to fresh, healthy foods in every neighborhood and every dinner table. We have what it takes to sustain our local food movement and people who are dedicated to making it happen. Let’s get to it.