Crop Talks celebrate local small farms
By Flora Gibson
Through this year’s Crop Talk tours, local farmers and gardeners can learn from each other’s triumphs and challenges, sharing ideas about everything from marketing to soil health across the Gorge.
Gorge Grown instituted Crop Talks several years ago, and now runs them in partnership with Underwood Conservation District, with an average of six tours yearly.
The informal networking events highlight a variety of places — usually smaller market gardens, vineyards and orchards, and meat and dairy operations — in at least four counties on both sides of the Columbia, according to Tova Tillinghast, district director of UCD.
“It’s great to just kind of cross-pollinate. They can compare how things grow in the east end of the Gorge versus the west end,” she said.
As a crowd of about 30 local farmers and growers toured The Gathering farm near Husum on Aug. 24, talk turned to seeding equipment, growing and cooking tips, low-cost solutions for small growers, and pest control: Everything from aphid infestation (set Google calendar alerts for aphid-smashing tasks) to the merits of ducks versus midnight hunting sessions for controlling slugs.
This is The Gathering’s second season as a market garden. On three small plots of clay soil in a slanted coniferous forest, Shruti and Jacob Larson tend an estimated 1/3 acre of herbs and vegetables. They do a lot of gleaning from local fruit and vegetable farms, harvest their own crops, sell both at the White Salmon Farmers’ Market, and breed a few Highland cows, Shruti Larson said.
Crop Talks help local farmers and growers like the Larsons get acquainted and trade knowledge, space and resources. “The real benefit ... is that we get seasoned farmers visiting,” said Shruti Larson. “I think there’s just a real sharing of knowledge and green wisdom. And good food!”
She learned that, interestingly, other more seasoned farmers used the same kinds of tools the Larsons borrow from the UCD Farm Tool Library.
Crop Talks are half to get together and chat, and half to learn, said Finley Tevlin of Tumbleweed Farm, Parkdale. “It’s interesting to see how people do things at different scales,” he noted. “It’s amazing what people can do with just an acre or less.”
Indeed, the Larsons grow about 20 different varieties. “That’s how you have good soil, is having a diversity of species,” Shruti Larson said, although getting familiar with so many crops is challenging: “Chickens have eaten well here, as we’ve learned!”
And the key to good soil is providing for the microbes in their slanted, forested clay plots, she said. “It’s amazing how much food you can get out ... if you’re taking care of the soil,” she explained later. Some of their soils cannot yet grow a full-size carrot, resulting in “cute dwarfy rainbow carrots” that customers loved. The shade garden, once used to feed cows, is more fertile and grows salad: Greens like brassica, lettuce, arugula and cilantro, which benefit from shade. The sun garden and greenhouse foster flowers and vegetables like tomatoes, onions, Japanese eggplants and Thai basil.
“I think I’ve gotten a degree in market gardening just by doing it,” Shruti Larson remarked. Thanks in part to community programs like Crop Talks, “It is a very community-supported thing.”
More information about Crop Talks is available at www.ucdwa.org/current-news/2023-crop-talks. The final tour is scheduled for Sept. 28, with a Farmers’ Social on Oct. 26.
explore the delicious world of apples
By Sarah Harper
The arrival of Autumn brings cozy nostalgia. From fall festivals to the colorful foliage to joyous apple picking, it all comes together to capture the spirit of the season.
For me, apples are a symbol of fall. Farmers markets brim with them, and restaurants are weaving apples into their seasonal menus. It's a wonderful time to incorporate apples into your culinary creations.
Now, let's explore the world of apples and discuss their culinary uses.
The United States grows about 2,500 different varieties of apples. Some top varietals grown in the Pacific Northwest include Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, and Honeycrisp.
Flavor profiles differ widely among apples. From sweet, tart, sharp, firm, crisp, juicy, dry, crunchy, spicy, tender, or tangy, each varietal has its culinary purpose. Some apples are best for eating fresh in a salad or as a snack, while others are better for baking, making into cider, apple butter, or applesauce.
For instance, are you looking to bake an apple dessert this fall? Consider Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Jazz Apples. These varieties are firm and hold their shape well when baking. They also have a balanced flavor profile and pair well with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
While you can find apples in supermarkets year-round, there is something magical about using freshly picked apples from your local farm stand or handpicked.
Beyond Dehydrated Apples and Homemade Applesauce, you can toss apples in lunch boxes, plop them in Baked Oats, add them to charcuterie boards, mix them in a Harvest Kale and Quinoa Salad, or add them to baked dishes and desserts like a Warm Maple Walnut Apple Crisp.
Baked Apples with a Pecan Oat Topping
Baked apples are simple and easy to make for several reasons. They require minimal ingredients and have a quick prep time. Moreover, baked apple recipes are customizable, versatile, and don't require fancy equipment.
Now, get cooking!
Are you feeling motivated to cook with apples yet?
I challenge you to make a delicious apple recipe to celebrate fall, even something savory! From Apple Pecan Chicken Salad to Kale Apple Walnut Salad to Broccoli Salw Salad with Apples to Apple Cheddar Muffins, let your taste buds be your guide.
Sarah Harper is a Registered Dietitian, creator, and one of many eaters behind The Addy Bean. She is also an avid hiker, a registered yoga instructor, and a former nursing home dietitian.
Based in Hood River, Oregon, Sarah lives with her husband Jacob, her dog Huey and her blog’s namesake – her cat Adeline.
Buona Notte gets inspiration, education from local wineries
Story and photos by Laurel Brown
In 2016, a new winery in the Gorge bottled its very first wines and has been making a name ever since.
A small scale winery in Cascade Locks, Buona Notte Wines, boasts new and traditional takes on Italian wines thanks to the wide range of agriculture and grape varietals in the area.
Started by Graham Markel, Buona Notte Wines operates out of a warehouse space in Cascade Locks split with Son of Man Cider. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Markel comes from a family with a deep love for food and wine — his mother taught cooking schools in Italy for many years, and it wasn’t long before he shared that love.
Buona Notte produces around 3,000 cases per year and the name is Italian for “good night,” which Markel explained plays into his motto for the business: Good food, good friends, good wine, good night. They also offer a wine club with perks such as on-site tastings during wine package pick-up parties.
“They’re a lot of fun for our club members, and I enjoy getting to know the people who drink the wine,” he said.
Tastings at Buona Notte are more laid back, as Markel chooses high-quality meats and cheeses paired with seasonal fruits and about six bottles of wine to curate a personal tasting experience.
“If someone mentions a favorite type of wine or interest in a specific grape, I’ll open that wine instead of having a set-in-stone menu,” Markel said.
From roughly age 9 until 15, his mother taught in Tuscany just outside of Florence. There, Markel lived and attended school, spending most of his middle school years in Italy. He enjoyed the cultural education, too, and at 21 he started working at The Kitchen in Boulder, where he took classes to expand his knowledge of food, bartending and craft beverages.
He earned a bachelor of fine arts in writing and literature while working at The Kitchen and graduated in 2011 from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. After college, he got what he thought was an interim job picking grapes at Antica Terra, a winery in Willamette Valley. Markel worked closely with Maggie Harrison from Antica Terra and later Master Sommelier Nate Ready from Hiyu Wine Farm. Each was supportive of Markel’s path, teaching him the craft and instilling confidence in his own visions.
After four weeks working at Hiyu Wine Farm in Hood River, he knew he wanted to start his own winery. He worked there about four years and was named their assistant wine maker, and helped on the farm, vineyard and tasting room.
“I loved working with both Nate and Maggie. It was my goal and education path and I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done and taught me,” Markel said.
As he started forming a plan for his own winery, Markel felt drawn to making low-intervention style wines. He also wanted to lean on the Italian culture that had formed so much of his childhood, finding inspiration from his years there and trips back to visit. “I like vineyards and grapes that speak for themselves without much added or manipulated,” he said.
Their first year, in 2016, Markel made roughly 300 cases of wine at Hiyu, blending his style with theirs.
“I had to find what my voice was going to be in it all. I learned so much about technique and details from [Nate and Maggie], like how to find your own beauty within winemaking and seeking a connection to the land. That is so important,” said Markel.
In addition to crafting a Sangiovese with grapes from a vineyard in The Dalles, he felt drawn to dabbling in vermouths when he first started out. Markel was enthralled with the microclimates offered in the Columbia Gorge that create such a wide range of agriculture, soils, and produce. From volcanic ground to the Missoula Flood path, countless geological events over history have created everything from high desert to lush alpine growing environments.
“The Gorge has nationally-amazing wine growing that needs to be pushed to other markets and shared with more people,” he said. Traveling the world and talking with peers about the crafting process, the business side, and most importantly the agriculture of wine is one way Markel hopes to share the Gorge’s grape-growing with the world.
“Eventually I plan to buy my own land and explore all the possibilities like blending varietals. The microclimates here are amazing for growing all kinds of grapes and produce,” Markel said. For now, he is thankful for the vineyard farmers, owners and staff for all they do.
“Their work is integral and I’m very grateful for each of them. They have become some of the most meaningful relationships in my life and are very much a part of the fun things we do. Without them I wouldn’t be able to make great wine,” said Markel.
Buona Notte strives for food-friendly, pairing-oriented wines with simple, natural processes and Italian inspiration. Their packaging is eco-friendly, with glass bottles coming from recycling in Portland and Seattle as well as 50% hemp post-conservation waste labels, natural cork, and local beeswax to seal the bottles.
Tastings and wine club offers are available online, and Instagram is a great way to get more information about the winery (@buonanottewines).
For beautiful views of the Gorge cliffs and the Columbia River, along with expertly crafted wines, check out Buona Notte and explore all that they have to offer.