SEEDS of Change

Our SEEDs adventure consisted mainly of eating organic food. We also got on a school bus and drove an hour out of Portland to meet local farmer Charlie Harris. Charlie owns and operates Flamingo Ridge Farm, where he grows tomatoes and romaine lettuce. When Charlie says that Flamingo Ridge is a “family farm,” he means it. Every worker is on a first name basis. They sit around on hammocks and share sodas specially made by a close friend of Charlie’s. Everything on the farm is homemade and friendly.

When we arrived at the farm, we pulled down a large dirt road until we came to a field with rows of greenhouses. Charlie waved the bus into the driveway, jumping aboard to welcome us booming his hellos and bowing profusely. Charlie and his wife, Dina, are the quintessential old married couple. As we stepped off the bus and onto the farm, the couple were already fighting lovingly over where our tour should start with Dina grabbing Charlie’s bike as he tried to speed away.

Before reaching the bottom of the hill, home to a yurt and a hammock, we walked around a pond that can hold up to one million gallons of water. Dina’s labradoodle tailed us on our trip towards the yurt. Once there we feasted on homemade bread with marionberry sodas made by Hot Lips Pizza, a local pizza shop.

Standing in a circle, we took turns introducing ourselves and giving our reasons for coming to the farm, and why we care about food.

After the refreshments we began our tour. Strolling up the dusty hill, we passed rows of greenhouses. Charlie explained how he maintained his monoculture crops (only one species of plant in a given area). He planted Romaine lettuce in the fall and winter, but switched to tomatoes in the spring and summer. Up until recently, his farm was labeled as “organic.” In the last few years, however, due to changes in the agricultural regulations, monocultures can no longer be certified as organic. Despite Charlie only using organic brands and techniques on his crops, Flamingo Ridge Organic Farm had to change its name to Flamingo Ridge Farm after 2008.

Towards the end of the tour, as we loitered in a clump by the back greenhouses, the Northwest Fellow for Bon Appetit, Autumn, spoke to our group a little bit about food justice and how Bon Appetit works to create a more sustainable company. Autumn’s job is to visit small farms that are direct suppliers to Bon Appetit and check their processes. She works directly with the farms and farmers to ensure sustainable operations.

After the tour we returned to the yurt to find the table once again laden with food. Jenny Nguyen, the Executive Chef at Commons, had prepared a whole meal for us from local, organic food. Flamingo Ridge farm contributed their signature lettuce, which was grilled until to a delicate crispiness and formed the base of a salad. The corn was coated with unpasteurized butter, grilled, and sliced off the cob. Charlie and Dina’s private garden provided a few of the last tomatoes and cucumbers of season. There were pears that one of their neighbors brought from their orchard, and a local goat cheese. Homemade bread was arranged in baskets beside olive oil, which Jenny used to make a vinaigrette. Roasted hazelnuts added the finishing touch to the salad. Dessert was baklava from Hot Lips Pizza.

After eating dinner, Autumn taught us some more about Bon Appetit’s work with local farms. She told us about the programs that Bon Appetit has in place to encourage sustainability. At all of their locations, at least 20% of the food must be locally sourced. However, each different location is free to expand on that policy. Based on requests from customers, such as comment cards in Commons, more local food is added. At Reed, at least one entree option every meal is completely locally sourced. Bon Appetit also has a food recovery program that collects all salvageable food that hasn’t be served and donates it to feed the hungry in Portland.

At the end of the trip, on the bus riding home, we realized what this trip really taught us. Bouncing in a school bus, watching the sun set, we realized that Charlie surrounded himself with the people he loves, doing a job he loves. While we learned about food justice and the importance of eating locally, we also got an in-depth look at a man who loves his job and his life.