culinaria eugenius on the coast: intertidal zone

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Pacific Oyster Co., Bay City.
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Lincoln City clammer.
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Cliffhanging blackberries at Oswald West State Park
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Lincoln City historic district.
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Fisherwoman at Hug Point Beach.

Like nearly every other citizen of our great state of Oregon, I made my way to the coast over the weekend.  I know this is not hyperbole, because I couldn’t find a single vacant camp site from Seaside to Florence on Saturday night.

But for the one lame child who had to stay behind while the Pied Piper pulled the rest of us all out to the cliffs, here’s what went down.

I had my fill of creamy summer local oysters, supping them raw at Shucker’s Oyster Bar in Lincoln City; raw and sandy at Pacific Oyster in Bay City; and fried and not very good in Newport upon learning the film I had been envisioning, Steamed Ginger Oysters at the Noodle Café, would be delayed due to it being the restaurant’s night off.   Oh well.

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Seaside taffy shop and Icarus, prohibited.

IMG_5259I ate gross taffy at the human zoo they call Seaside, including flavors called Molasses Mint, Black Widow (licorice and redhots), and Ocean (which stained my tongue dark blue and freshened my breath with peppermint).  Also had a good bowl of pho, surprisingly, on The Prom.  Fleeing the floaters and the sinkers, I peered in the windows like a creeper at Seaside High School, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost of James Beard, who held cooking classes there back in the day.

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Ripe salmonberries, Oswald West State Park.

On hikes, I snacked on the first blackberries of the season; salmonberries, which are like many tender young things much prettier than they taste; and thimbleberries, who do redheads proud.  Hey, and I felt kind of pleased, too, that I am finally Oregonian enough to recognize many of the edible plants that hug the waterways.

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Peace Crops Farm girly girl potatoes, Manzanita farmers market.

Fate smiled upon me because I saved a beached anchovy’s life, tossing it back into the sea.  It presented me with a couple of days in Nehalem and Manzanita, exploring the coastal communities there.  We take for granted our extensive farmers market system in Eugene, so it’s invigorating to see the vibrant buzz of a new farmers market in a small community.  I chatted with the Master Gardeners and the crepe makers at the market, making off with a pint of boysenberries, and visited the folks who own and run R-evolution Gardens, who founded said farmers market a few years ago.

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Nehalem, which is so f#%$&^ gorgeous I can’t even stand it.

R-evolution Gardens is an organic, off-grid farm in Nehalem producing lovely sound vegetables and, from what it looks like, a future herbal medicine line.  An entire drying table of calendula reminded me of little petals of the sun being preserved for winter, and in a way, it was. On the lower parcel of the farm, nestled along a clear clean river, everyone’s summer fantasy of ratatouille was ready for harvest: already lush heavy peppers, fat sweet onions popping out of the soil, monster summer squash plants, long vined tomatoes, an impossible amount of humid nightblue eggplant.

I really try not to romanticize farming, but Jesus, it is hard with this place.  Co-owner and farmer Ginger Salkowski has appeared in the Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, and seems cut from the same tough cloth as Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner Fleming, as I recall from the panel we did together a few years ago at UO’s Food Justice conference.  Co-owner Brian Schulz builds foraged and sustainable structures powered by solar electricity, including a Japanese bath house where I would have gladly spent the entire weekend and a Japanesque A-frame covered in forest that the farm rents out on airbnb.com.

Also of note was an excellent meal at Dinner at the Nehalem River Inn, a recently revivified restaurant run by a young and talented chef, Lee Vance, who uses produce from R-evolution Gardens and other farms and gardens within 10 miles of the restaurant.  Yes, a farm-to-table restaurant 5 minutes from the coast!  Standouts included a silky sweet beet soup crowned by a nasturtium, simple roasted bone marrow over toast, a lamb ragú with ricotta gnudi, and rather hearty, plump, excellent house-made ravioli filled with pork and morels, served over creamed carrot purée with English peas.  A glass of lambrusco and a chèvre cheesecake in a warmly hued, cozy dining room certainly did not hurt matters, either.  From the few menus I browsed online, it appears they almost always have a local fish and a salted chocolate pot-de-crème that I’m sad I didn’t try.  The restaurant will reopen in a fab new building on the main drag in Manzanita, Laneda Avenue, right next to the farmers market, in fall, so check it out before the crowds figure out it’s the best thing going.  Seriously.

DIY skill training in eugene and beyond

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Resolved to improve your DIY skills this year?  Winter is the time!  Take advantage of rainy days in Eugene to attend one of many classes and workshops on gardening, keeping various helpful critters, or food preservation.

The Fun with Fermentation festival at the WOW Hall on January 12, 11:00-4:00, is now in its fourth year.  I’ll be holding a workshop on fermentation basics — making kim chi and sampling salsa and other goodies.  And that’s just the beginning! There will be plenty of fun, learnin’, and fermented food tasting for all.

The OSU Oregon Master Beekeepers program starts in Eugene on January 16, 2013. See their website for details about the apprentice program and class schedules.

The Lane County Extension Master Gardeners are beginning their annual certification training.  It starts Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1685 W 13th (at Chambers) in Eugene. Here’s a taste of the schedule:

  • 8:30-11:30 a.m. is Tree ID with Steve Bowers;
  • 12:45-3:45 p.m. is Tree Fruits with Ross Penhallegon [in his last few months before retirement — congratulations, Ross!];
  • 3:45-4:15 p.m. is an informational meeting about the Pruning Specialist Program.

All MGs are welcome to sit in on classes, of course, but the public is welcome, too – $25 per class.

Another event:  Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 7 p.m. for the Master Gardener Seminar: Backyard Homesteading with Bill Bezuk. Note new location: EWEB North Building, 500 E 4th Avenue, Eugene. Free, bring a friend.

Lane/Douglas Counties Extension Master Food Preserver full certification class series will begin in April.  We’re taking applications now until March.  And don’t forget that Master Food Preserver winter workshops in Eugene are in full swing:

MFP Winter Saturday Special Classes:

Registration is now open for three 2013 Winter Saturday Specials workshops. Take one, two or all three of the classes. Cost per class is $25 if taken individually or take all three for $60. Print off the registration form and mail check made out to OSU Extension Service to 783 Grant Street, Eugene, OR 97402. Workshops are held at the Community of Christ Church, 1485 Gilham Road, Eugene from 10 a.m. -2 p.m.

  • January 12, 2013 – Soups & Stews: Learn to make Lamb Basque, Moroccan Chicken, and Irsh beef stews. Soups made will be Cambodian Sweet and Sour, Cuban Moros & Christianos, and Mexican Gazpacho. All served on rice. Credit card payment $25.
  • February 9, 2013 – Get a great introduction to the many varieties of beans and how to cook them even for dessert. Credit card payment $25.
  • March 9, 2013 – Discover many new whole grains and grain-like foods. Learn basic cooking techniques and ways to use grains in your meal-planning for health, economy and taste. Credit card payment $25.

MFP Spring Saturday Special Classes:

Registration is also open for three 2013 Spring Saturday Specials workshops. Take one, two or all three of the classes: Cheese Making, Fermentation, and Intro to Canning.

  • April 6, 2013 – Cheese Making: Learn the basics in this hands-on class. Make soft cheeses to taste and take home. Credit card payment $50.
  • May 18, 2013 – Fermentation: Learn tips on fermenting dairy, bread, pickles and other fermented delights. Hands-on class. Limited to 12 students. Credit card payment $50.
  • June 8, 2013 – Intro to Canning: Learn about equipment, tips for success, and what is safe to do at home and what is not. Credit card payment $20.

culinaria eugenius in indiana: pickled brains and medicinal plants

Nothing makes you feel more like potted meat than a good ol’ mental hospital.  I visited the Indiana Medical History Museum last week on the outskirts of Indianapolis, the grounds and history of the former — and notorious — Central State Hospital asylum.  The museum holds all the relics and settings of a restored, turn-of-the-century pathology department at a teaching facility on the grounds of the asylum.

The pathology department was remarkably efficient.  The corpse refrigerator, for example, is next to the autopsy room and the auditorium, where students could watch the bodies being dissected.  A small brick morgue was situated immediately next to the autopsy room, and above the autopsy room was the records room with its custom-build ledger table. 

The records room pictured above, where all notes were made about the autopsy, has a 19th-century intercom on the wall.  The pipe ran down to the room below and amplified the conversation taking place in the autopsy room about the bodies, so the doctor could transcribe the discoveries being made on the table.  (The beige machine in the autopsy room is a child’s iron lung from several decades later.) Up to 40% of the patients in the early 20th century suffered from syphilis, so several areas of the ledger allowed for notes on that disease.

Another notable feature of the records room is the garden that’s barely visible outside the window, surrounding the old morgue building.

The garden is interesting, not only because it was installed in 2003 and maintained by Marion County Master Gardeners, but because it raises some questions about how we think nostalgically about old treatments.

The grounds of the facility are expansive, and they used to house massive dormitories for male and female patients that were built in a staggered fashion called a Kirkbride plan to allow as much light as possible in the rooms.  Fresh air and light were considered a radical way of treating the mentally ill, and they were encouraged to be outside on the grounds as much as possible.

Unfortunately, this did not mean patients were allowed to roam in a medicinal herb garden, or even in the beautiful manicured gardens that once graced the facility. No, they were there to work.  As part of a regime of “moral therapy” that asserted that the middle-class value of hard work and industry would realign skewed minds, the more sentient patients were made to cultivate the land and work in the facilities of the asylum, including a cannery that produced an astonishing amount of food.  The Indiana Public Records Commission has a short essay on this common treatment at the Central State Hospital, including a picture of the canning facility:

To prove their commitment to the new middle class values, CSH physicians attempted to engender in their patients a certain discipline and value system that fostered an industrial work ethic. Healthier patients were required, not encouraged, to follow strict work schedules, that included producing garment piece work and other products that could be sold to outside factories. In the early twentieth century, CSH instituted an “occupational therapy” program that entailed patients working with hand/foot operated machines to create products for no compensation. A few decades later, CSH built a cannery for patients, indicating that the hospital’s full integration into the industrial world had been achieved. Importantly, the work therapy program served another equally imperative function: it provided additional moneys to supplement unreliable state funding that ebbed and flowed with the changing political tides.

Regulated work, however, was not enough. A “well-regulated” diet, a highly “regimented” morning and evening schedule, the reading of wholesome books from the hospital’s “selected library”, and the partaking in “mild and innocent amusements” were sure cures for mental illness and a sure way of inculcating white middle-class mores. In retrospect, the living conditions at CSH may seem overly oppressive and the motives of the physicians questionable, but this highly structured environment did offer solace to many patients, particularly in a period when few other cures existed.

In some respects, patients and medicinal plants were alike.  Both were judged by their visible characteristics according to old theories of medical science.  Plants were tested by the Doctrine of Signatures, a concept from the 17th century that asserted one could “read” a plant by its characteristics, shape, and color to determine how it might be used to heal someone.  Spotted leaves, for example, could indicate a plant could heal a rash or hives on the body. (Click on the thumbnails below to see how some of the individual plants in the Medicinal Healing Garden were read.)

But where this sounds almost charming with plants, its extensions into human science weren’t so terrific. This diagram from the museum’s photo stream shows how 19th-century doctors used the quack science of phrenology — reading someone’s skull for imperfections that indicated mental illness — to diagnose patients.

A picture of good health!  Must be all that wholesome canned food.  Or maybe not.  Unfortunately, phrenology was used to determine all kinds of race- and gender-biased “degeneracies” that ignored social factors and all kinds of contributing factors.

Ultimately, the CSH was a bit too focused on cool new science and not enough on adequate staffing and maintenance of its facilities, so it had become notorious for patient abuse and vermin-ridden kitchens by the 1920s, when it housed up to 3,000 patients.  It’s not a coincidence that the pathology building survived intact and the rest of the hospital buildings on the 100-acre plot fell into decline and were razed.  We still have hundreds of patients’ brains pickled in jars available for viewing in the pathology lab. I’ll spare you the pictures, but the vintage canning equipment is divine.

niblets: what shall i put in the hole that i dig edition

What shall I put in the hole that I dig is a question for the ages.  This 1963 children’s classic by Eleanor Thompson offers a series of questions about what things can be planted and turned into trees.  But forget the whole appleseed/apple tree nature learning crap.  Too many possibilities for a teasing big sister:  What shall I put in the hole that I dig? If I put my sister in, will it grow into a weirdo tree?  Etc.

So if I haven’t called you back or graded your paper yet, this is what’s been on my mind.  Yes, spring fever has hit!

Digging holes and putting things in them will be on the minds of all Eugenius gardeners this weekend.

Wondering about next steps?

Finish weeding.  I assume you already have your soil amended and most of your weeding under control, but if not, you’ll want to do this soon before the last of the rain goes away.  Once we get that last shower, the clay soil bakes the weed roots in, often in just a matter of a few days.  To help, consider Grandpa’s Weeder.  This standing weeder has been recommended to me by several people (0ver similar products, too).  They might have them back in stock at Down to Earth now, or will be shortly.

Get ghetto.  Those empty plastic bags from compost/soil/mulch are great to put on the ground so your knees don’t get wet and muddy.  I find them much better than the scrawny little pads, since there’s more room to move around on the bags, and they can accommodate, um, more generous knees.

Get some ideas about how to improve your chicken coop TODAY! May 21 is the annual Tour de Coop — buy your guides to the self-guided tour of local chicken coops at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.

Check out this link from NW Edible Life for creative pea and bean trellises in operation in Seattle.

Call in to the Master Gardeners of Lane County Extension.  The hotline is up and running, and the new office handles walk-ins.  Ask weed, bug, and disease questions, what to plant, and how to fix what’s gone wrong at 783 Grant Street, between Garfield and Chambers. Hours of operation: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m.  Master Gardener Hotline: 541-344-0265.

Subscribe to our Extension Agent Ross Penhallegon’s “Garden Hints” group on Facebook for up-to-the-minute advice on what and when to plant in Lane County.  It’s almost like a telegraphic weather service, noting upcoming forecasts and how various South Valley crops are doing.  Get this man on Twitter!

Listen to Pat Patterson’s radio show, The Hatch Patch, on KPNW (1120 AM) from 9-noon on Saturdays.  Pat, the Master Gardener that the Master Gardeners turn to for advice, has encyclopedic knowledge about our area’s flora and fauna.  The radio program has a FAQ for PNW gardeners on their website, including info about moss on roofs and tomato blossom end rot.  (Note: this is the station that hosts Glenn Beck, so be sure to turn your radio off after Pat.)

Buy warm weather starts and start to transition them to your garden.  The most fabulous developments in Eugene gardening in 2011, as far as I’m concerned, are:

  • Log House Plants‘ grafted vegetables, selections of which are available at Jerry’s and that bookstore in Cottage Grove whose name I am forgetting.  Wonderful, fragile heirlooms grafted onto hearty stock for admittedly high prices, but it’s worth a try at least a plant or two in this miserable (so far) season.
  • Jeff’s Garden of Eaton‘s amazing selection of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and winter squash.  I went out to his place yesterday and picked up a dozen or so peppers, mostly Hungarian varieties that we can’t find anywhere else, but also some Sichuan ‘Facing Heaven’ pepper plants — peppers I’ve been searching for ALL OVER THE WORLD — and the peppers they use to make Ethiopian berebere spice and Turkish harissa.  The photo above is one Jeff sent me last week of my Facing Heavens as they were growing at his place.  It was like one of those adoption agencies where you get photos of the darling baby or puppy that will one day soon be yours.  Come home to mama!  Jeff’s plants are available at the The Hideaway Bakery Farmer’s Market (the Other Saturday Farmer’s Market), which is located behind Mazzi’s Restaurant on East Amazon in South Eugene from 9-2 p.m., and at his home in Santa Clara (2650 Summer Lane off River Road — look for the giant greenhouse in front!) most days from noon to 6 p.m. through June.
  • Lonesome Whistle beans, available at the downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  It’s perfectly fine to plant dried beans now.  Just sprout them under a wet paper towel for a couple of days first.

Or just say forget it and go down to Marché Provisions for a bottle of dry rosé, spring’s hottest drink, to drink on your weedy, unplanted patio.  Wine buyer Ryan Dawe-Stotz is a rosé fanatic, so he’s a great resource for consultation. I had my first glass yesterday, so take notice, winter, it’s all over for  you.

why i’m steamed: lane county extension, r.i.p.

Lane County Extension closes its doors today after 96 years of service.  We’re seeing this kind of thing happen all over the country because of the deterioration of the funding structure that requires financial commitments at the local, state, and federal levels.  It’s also happening because of deep, continuing budget cuts to personnel and programming at the land grant universities (often the “State” university system, like Oregon State U.) that were created specifically to disseminate agricultural research into rural areas.

As someone who grew up in a semi-rural area and spent most of her life in school, the loss of this educational structure is devastating.  The particular loss of our little Extension service outpost in Lane County is deeply shameful.  I haven’t said much about it here, mainly because I’m so angry that we lacked the leadership at the university level to pull off the stopgap bond measure, and I’m angry that we lack the leadership at the university level to protect the remaining programs we have.

Volunteers and faculty should NOT be doing the work of university administrators in trying to find ways to move around money, write grants, negotiate the Byzantine system that universities always have.  And quite frankly, they don’t have the time, resources, or training to do this kind of work.

These programs can’t be saved by volunteers, even the wonderful volunteers we have at Lane County Extension — some of the finest people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to serve. We’re happy to continue to give our time to teach the community necessary skills, even with barely functioning equipment in a crumbling building.  And to do so, we need dedicated, trained university faculty to do horticulture and food safety education, not fundraising.  Full faculty, not 0.2 FTE bodies that have to run themselves ragged among several offices.   I’ve never seen tenured faculty work as hard, for so little money, in such fractured, displaced, and exiled positions, to keep teaching (and I’m speaking as a former English composition instructor — we know from miserable teaching conditions).  They simply can’t do another job, too.

From my vantage point, no one in OSU administration — and I am shocked to discover there is a whole team of people working on our Extension programs in higher administration — got their hands dirty in trying to save the flagship county office in Eugene.  The only communications that moved quickly were the ones that said we couldn’t do this or that, and that the end was near.  This sent a clear message that the University wasn’t interested in keeping Extension alive in Lane County.

Is this reality, or just my impression?  Is it just the current leadership, or a systemic failure?  I’m not sure — all I know is that as of today, Lane County loses its ability to train generations of regular people in gardening, animal care, and food safety.  It’s a dire loss.

So that’s why I’m steamed.  Good thing I’ve learned how to vent.

(ETA:  I’ve received many private replies to this post, and I deeply appreciate the response.  Some point out that there are adminstrators who have worked hard to secure the tentative Master Gardener partnership with LCC.  This is a good point, and I stand corrected.  Many, many thanks to them!  I wish others had been willing to be as creative and diplomatic and forward-looking.)

save lane extension — vote!

Dear Local Readers,

You’ve heard me go on at considerable length about my volunteer work with Lane County Extension, a branch of the Oregon State University Extension system.

Without the passage of the bond measure on the Lane County ballot that was mailed out today, Extension’s future is jeopardy.

In the past few decades, the service has weathered fiscal crises on the local, state, and federal levels.  It has managed to stay alive and continue to offer a hotline and walk-in service for local farmers and gardeners; year-round garden and food preservation classes; a food safety and preservation hotline each summer and fall, 4-H services for children; and a host of activities educating and sharing with local farmers, foresters, neighborhoods, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

And these services are necessary at a time of growing self-sufficiency and interest in local cooking and gardening.  Folks that you rely on for your organic vegetables at our weekly farmer’s market and horticultural knowledge at places like Down to Earth and Coastal Farm & Ranch are often educated by Extension programs — and rely on the service continuing for questions and referrals.  It serves low-income people in programs like the food pantry education demos.  It serves seniors in homemaker training groups.  It serves middle-class people who grow food and raise chickens in their backyard.  It serves suburban mothers, rural kids, academics, truck drivers, lawyers, bakers, and homeless people.

Extension serves as a sturdy hub in the network that makes up the Willamette Valley food shed. We respond to questions that are local to our area.  This is a service that is not available anywhere else: not online, not in books, not in magazines.  I say this as someone who is very internet-savvy and specializes in culinary literature and history.  When I discovered Extension in Lane County a few years ago, I realized that we had an unbelievably rare resource right here in Eugene: a place where knowledge about local food and horticulture is centralized.  It offers the community a place to exchange information and organize programming.

If Extension in Lane County were to disappear, a vast store of irreplaceable local knowledge and organized outreach would go with it.  It would be foolhardy in good times to squander this resource.  In challenging economic times, however, when people are growing their own food and cooking locally now more than ever, allowing Extension to dissolve without allowing the public to voice its support would be irresponsible.

Lane County Extension has been serving the community since 1914, and now serves about 65,000 residents.  It is so interwoven into the fabric of our local systems that service the food and horticulture needs of our community, it would be nearly impossible for any new organization to fill these shoes. It’s much more cost-efficient to keep the organization alive at a reduced level than to realize, a couple of years down the road, that we really did need and value the services it provided.

Nonsense about these services being better provided elsewhere  has been circulating by a group described in this week’s Eugene Weekly article on Extension.  I’m frankly disappointed that the writer didn’t investigate the issues at stake more deeply, but perhaps it is indicative that no alternative plan is reported.  I have been unable to find any information on viable “better solutions” than Extension, other than vague gestures about how non-profit organizations could be models for private fundraising.  Um, no.  I heard two Extension staff members discussing the 15-hour days they’ve been working because of personnel and other funding reductions.  Who would build and maintain the fundraising infrastructure?  Even though there is a big volunteer base (650 committed souls), an organization can’t depend on volunteers to conduct sophisticated capital and operations campaigns.  (Oregon State University responds to more of the claims and misinformation being spread by the opposition here.)

Please join me in saving Lane Extension. The Register-Guard has endorsed the bond measure, and we hope the Eugene Weekly will, as well, in its voter guide next week.

For those of you who have never used an Extension service, I challenge you to see for yourself if it’s worthwhile.

Next week, call the Master Gardener hotline (541-682-4247) during opening hours for free, research-based, local advice about a plant you bought at the market.  Sign up for a $5 Kitchen Quickies class on savory pies, nuts, pasta-making, summer sausage, or sauerkraut.  Drop by the office during opening hours (M-Th 10-5:00 with 1-2:00 closed for lunch) to have a weed identified.  Check out the evolving local garden calendar or events at Lane County Extension on Facebook and learn when to plant and what pests to look out for in Lane County.

For those of you who have benefitted from the services, please consider donating to the Save Lane Extension political action committee.  You are invited to attend the second Taste of the Vine wine tasting party at a great winery, Pfeiffer Vineyards.

Pfeiffer has delicious, unusual wines, including a spry viognier and a fantastic pinot gris.  The two pinot noirs are wonderful, and the merlot has the faintest hint of smoky bacon.  If it’s like the event I attended a few weeks ago, you’ll come away from the event with a complementary Riedel Oregon pinot noir glass, too.  I won’t go so far as saying you’ll be able to ‘evaluate wine like the pros,’ as the poster says, but you will have a great time with warm, charming people who will teach you the basics in tasting red and white wine.

If you are unable to attend the event and would like to donate, the Save Lane Extension political action committee is looking for any donations for advertisements and other campaign-related costs.  Now is the time to donate to let others know about Extension.  Please see more information about donating here.

Thank you for your support.

A proud Lane County Extension volunteer,

Jennifer Levin, Sole Proprietor and Editorial Muscle, Culinaria Eugenius

osu extension master gardener annual plant sale

The Master Gardener Plant Sale will be held TODAY at the OSU Extension Service, Lane County, 950 W 13th Avenue, Eugene (in front of the fairgrounds).  Yes, today: Saturday, April 24, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Come early for best selection.

There will not only be great plants and book and bake sales, but also some deliciously whimsical garden art and a silent auction featuring gifts and services from local businesses.  Last year, I won a Friendly Street Market gift certificate, but I secretly coveted the sacro-cranial massage won by one of my friends.  Don’t miss it.

All proceeds will go to support the Master Gardener program in Lane County…and you know we need the funding!