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.

thanksgiving in eugene 2012

In addition to the Fill-Your-Pantry event with local beans, grains, and produce available for bulk sale in Eugene (deadline to order ahead is today, event on Nov. 18), and the Holiday Farmers Market at the Fairgrounds beginning this weekend, you might be wondering what else is available for a local Thanksgiving supper in Lane County.  Well, wonder no more, and make your plans soon!

Poultry and Other Meats

  • Biancalana Pork Growers have their own turkeys and chickens this year, although I can’t find anything on their Facebook page.  Great sausage (try the apple-rosemary) for stuffing, too.  Email da915@comcast.net.
  • Boondockers Farm has succulent ducks and chickens.  More information on their website.  They might be able to make one more delivery run to Eugene?
  • Long Tom Grazing Company has pastured turkeys at $6.25 a pound. Every turkey comes with a bonus — free vegetables!  5 lbs. potatoes and onion and decorative gourds! All organically grown. Email ltgrazing@gmail.com.

Need help with your turkey preparation?  Call the annual Oregon Statewide Holiday Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-354-7319.  November 13 – 16; Tuesday thru Friday: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm; November 19 – 21; Monday thru Wednesday: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.  Staffed by Master Food Preserver volunteers from Douglas and Lane Counties.

Pies

Visit these local bakeries/shops for more information about varieties. Plus, you’ll be able to sample some of the goods.

  • Mom’s Pies (traditional pies from a venerable Eugene baker)
  • Noisette Pastry Kitchen (traditional pies from our newest, wonderful bakery)
  • PartyCart (traditional pies to order, all local ingredients)
  • Red Wagon Creamery (ice cream pies and a layered ice cream cake, local ingredients)
  • Vanilla Jill’s (ice cream, frozen yogurt, and traditional pumpkin pies with sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free options)

Prepared Dishes for Takeout/Order Ahead

  • Ivy’s Cookin’ (vegetarian meals? I don’t see their menu on their website yet)
  • Heidi Tunnell Catering (from her post on the Food for Thought on KLCC Facebook page: “We’ve got a list of Thanksgiving items that folks can purchase from us. Items are all available a la carte from appetizers to the whole turkey (brined or roasted), sides, bread and desserts. Menus are available by a link on our website. Or they can come pick one up at our kitchen in Creswell we can also email menus as well. Orders are due on Sunday, November 18th; pick up happens the day before Thanksgiving and items come complete with cooking instructions.”
  • Marché Provisions (Beaujolais Nouveau tasting and lots of other goodies)

Restaurants Open on Thanksgiving:

  • King Estate (full Thanksgiving spread)
  • Govinda’s (vegetarian)
  • Marché for breakfast
  • EDIT: Excelsior (see comments)
  • EDIT: The Barn Light after 7 p.m. (sandwiches, full bar, coffee downtown: see comments)

Did I miss your favorite place?  Let me know (with as many details as possible, including contact information) what else is on offer for Thanksgiving in Lane County!

carts and a cold one TONIGHT!

The third annual Carts and A Cold One Cook-off at Ninkasi Brewery will be held tonight!  The festival is a benefit for Slow Food Eugene‘s programs: School Gardens Project, Farm to School, and Terra Madre Program.  Carts battling for supremacy: Vanilla Jill’s Frozen Yogurt, The Sandwich League, PartyCart, Rolling Stone Pizza, and Sammitch.  Way cooler than Faerieworlds, in my opinion, but I’ve never really been one for elven ears or excess vowels.  If you want a taste of what you’ll see, watch Whiteaker tastemaker Elliot Martinez on a short film from last year’s CACO.

Also: listen in on Food for Thought on KLCC today at noon with Laura and Ryan, who will host Farmer John Karlik of Sweetwater Farm.  They’ll discuss the local food movement, a new farmer’s market in the Fairmount neighborhood, and Sweetwater’s efforts to bring fresh produce to a low-income neighborhood in Springfield with LCHAY, WFFC, and Dari-Mart.

And a note to project managers: if you want me to promote your food-related festival in Lane County or thereabouts, send me a very short blurb (paragraph-length) and .jpg image like the one above at least a week in advance to my Facebook page or email at wellsuited [at] gmail [dot] com.  The easier it is for me to post, the more of a chance I’ll be able to do it.

sweetwater farm’s two new markets — and one partnership with dari mart!

Excited to learn that two of my favorite local farmers, Lynn Crosby and John Karlik of Sweetwater Farm/Good Food Easy CSA, are breaking ground yet again!  That’s Farmer John, above, at this year’s Fun with Fermentation festival.  Creswell-based Sweetwater Farm has two NEW farm stands, one in the Fairmount neighborhood at 19th and Agate on Sundays, and one in an unexpected place — outside the Dari Mart at 1243 Rainbow Drive (at Centennial) in Springfield on Wednesdays.

As excited as I am to see Sweetwater join together with a new local meat and poultry vendor Fair Valley Farm (Edited: some of the participants I listed earlier are not participating) at the Sunday market from 10-2:30, filling a void in our week full of markets, I’m even more excited about the Springfield market on Wednesdays between 4 and 6 p.m.

Why’s that, you say?

It’s not just because today, Wednesday, July 25, is their grand opening with cooking demonstrations and a kids’ activity area from 4:00-6:00 p.m…

It’s what this Springfield market represents: a growing movement to bring healthy and fresh local food to areas that don’t have easy access to fancy supermarkets and almost daily farmers markets like we do in South Eugene.  Dari Mart, a family-owned local company that also operates Lochmead Dairy, has almost 50 stores in the Willamette Valley, and we are so thankful for their interest in sustainability initiatives.  Last year, they formed a partnership  with several local non-profit organizations (including the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition and NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation) of Springfield) to improve good food access and fight childhood obesity in what are called “mixed-income neighborhoods.”  The organization spearheading the effort, Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth (LCHAY), notes that Dari Mart is a pioneer in this type of partnership, as there aren’t many mid-sized chain operators interested in connecting with local farmers and non-profits to introduce fresh produce and other healthy food to the convenience store.  You can learn more about LCHAY’s initiative called the Healthy Corner Store project, and more about Dari Mart’s efforts to bring fresh food to its customers, here.

Sweetwater Farm has been selling produce now for a few weeks at Dari Mart’s Centennial location, and Lynn tells me that it’s been going well so far.  Come make it even more of a success today, and enjoy their official grand opening!

And if your organization is interested in participating in a similar project or you’re looking to give these folks some welcome media exposure, LCHAY’s contact is Claire Syrett, Manager, Policy and Advocacy Initiatives, Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth (LCHAY), 541-682-4306, claire at lchay dot org.

breaking news for bite of eugene’s iron chef 2012!

Updated:  Congratulations to Chef Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro, Iron Chef Eugene 2012!

Don’t forget about the Bite of Eugene festival, tomorrow, Friday, July 20, from 3-10 p.m.

The Iron Chef competition will feature battles among four local restaurants:  Chef Codi Lapoint of Falling Sky Brewery and Chef Anthony Parshall of Lewis & Clark Catering will face Chef Adam Peterson of Wild Duck Café and Chef Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro.  (Edited to add: Previous reports that Chef Mike Meyer of Red Agave was a competitor were mistaken.)  Celebrity guest judges will include Boris Wiedenfeld, Lance Sparks, and last year’s Iron Chef Eugene, Chef Heidi Tunnell.  To give you a taste of what’s to come, check out some of the dishes in the championship battle of 2011!

And keep in mind that the action extends to sampling other eatery “bites” from local venues like Café 440, Cornbread Cafe, Davis Restaurant, Delacata, Excelsior, Falling Sky, Rabbit Bistro & Bar, and Wild Duck Café, Coconut Bliss, Divine Cupcake, and co-sponsor Lochmead Dairy. (if I missed anyone, let me know!)  A $5 suggested donation will support the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition. There will be plenty of bike parking, music, and an area for the kids.

tonight!!

From the Willamette Farm & Food Coalition:

Tuesday, October 18th, 6-9pm

The Davis Restaurant, 94 West Broadway

The Davis will share a percentage of all proceeds between 6 and 9pm with the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition.

Come for a drink, come for dinner, or come late for coffee and dessert!

The Willamette Farm and Food Coalition urges you to support restaurants that make it a priority to source food from local farms. In our EAT HERE NOW percentage night series, WFFC gives kudos to these businesses and helps to fill them on what is normally a slow night. In exchange, they contribute a percentage of proceeds to WFFC. It’s a win-win situation, and a fun win-win at that.

The Davis has been creating imaginative dishes with northwest ingredients for four years now. Their long bar, unique cocktail menu, and generous happy hours are all key to their happening neighborhood atmosphere.

benefit dinner at rabbit serves up boondockers and creative growers

Lovely fundraiser dinner for WFFC last night at The Rabbit. I got a chance to catch up with my friend and fellow Master Food Preserver Amy, of WFFC and Eugene Local Foods fame, and her husband Matt.  I met a tableful of new people, too.  I’ve been feeling a bit too cloistered, so it was nice to get out and talk to people from the community.

We started out with rabbit pâté bonbons, a fat cube of pâté frosted with foie gras, goat cheese, and some kind of delicious crunchies that may very well have been cracklins.  I am not ashamed to admit I ate about six of them.  Because seriously, WFFC dinner guests, I was NOT going to let those go back to the kitchen if you weren’t gonna eat them.

The tuna was seared and placed atop a nice little salad.  It wasn’t as good as, say, the silky watermelon gazpacho I had last week (and Chef Gil is letting me post the recipe — on to do list).  But it was bright and had enough nice acid to hold its own against the fresh albacore.

The Delaware chicken and Ancona duck were from Boondockers farm.  I had the pleasure of talking to Evan and Rachel, the farmers, and was really blown away by the conservation work they’re doing with the heritage breeds.  They actually breed the ducks on their farm instead of buying ducklings, and they’ve received a grant for an incubator and stock from venerable breeders.  Go ducks!  It’s really impressive and industrious.  They have been also working on other poultry species, including the chicken our chef served in a gallantine with an absolutely beautiful verjus mayo-ish concoction made with verjus, oil, and xanthan.  I was so happy to see the bed of red sweet and sour cabbage with the gallantine, what with my Eastern European fetish and all.

The duck was surrounded by small, jeweled vegetables from the other farm featured that night, Creative Growers, who provided most if not all of the produce.  I liked the addition of the slightly glazed chanterelle — it was like watching summer turn to fall right before our very eyes.  And don’t think we didn’t notice the various gizzardy bits in the sauce.  Pretty sneaky, delish!

The lamb, from Anderson Ranch at Long’s, was also delicious, a swirl of smoked jus jealously lurking around the real star of the show: a blackened, thick, smoked eggplant paste that set off the lamb perfectly. Oh, and the wines were really terrific, too, especially the Riesling matched with the gallantine.  The Lemelson was nothing to sneeze at, either.

And dessert was my fantasy, for the most part.  The pale rose caramel and glazed walnut were the only hint of sweetness.  A walnut cake and underripe seared peach were served with a peeled, marinated (I think) cherry tomato, like a full stop.

Thanks, Rabbit, Boondockers, and Creative Growers!  It was a wonderful meal and I so appreciate your efforts to improve the Eugene dining scene.  You’re doing fantastic work.

niblets: september song edition

This tomato is absolutely tired of the heat.  Hear me complain about it, and myriad other issues, on my first co-hosting gig on KLCC’s Food for Thought, this Sunday, September 11, at noon.  We’ve got a great show planned with a special guest from a local pizzeria (who also co-founded a prominent organic pasta company — any guesses?).

If you’re longing for East Coast summers at the shore, stroll over to PartyCart for their tarragon-shrimp roll (above).  It’s an interpretation of a lobster roll, and I daresay better than most lobster rolls out there with homemade grilled, buttered bread rigged out like a hotdog roll.  Plus, fresh-as-can-be Oregon bay shrimp.  And you don’t have to fight a hurricane to get it!

I ran into my friend Richard there, co-proprietor of the almost-famous Indy Pop soda company, who told me over a watermelon-ginger green soda that they’re working hard to roll out soda syrups for restaurant set-ups.  Soon, they’ll be bigger than Coke!  And speaking of cola, a new raspberry cola flavor is in the works. Great article on Indy Pop in the Eugene Weekly Chow! section recently, too.

On the other side of the lot, business was booming for Red Wagon Creamery.  Eugene’s new cult ice cream!  I watched them sell out every flavor by 8 p.m.  Co-owner and wit Stuart shared his growing experience with making natural bases and what goes in to other ice creams.  All I can say is check your labels, folks –yuck!  I was particularly pleased to see that their Buttered Corn ice cream will still be around for the near future.  It’s delicious, a buttery, icy version of kettle corn made with local Bodacious sweet corn and organic butter.

Yeah, that stuff.  Mmmm….

In other news, the Willamette Farm & Food Coalition is at it again, with a series of fundraising dinners with local restaurants.  Upcoming WFFC dinners include Marché, The Davis, and Ratatouille Bistro.  Next up, a delicious partnership with The Rabbit Bistro (update your web menu for cryin’ out loud, Rabbits!).  I’m a huge Rabbit fan, and would strongly suggest you set aside your inhibitions and try this set menu dinner, featuring some of our best local food:

On Tuesday September 20th Chef Gabriel Gil of the Rabbit Bistro will offer a 5-course dinner showcasing foods from Creative Growers and Boondockers’ Farm, with wine pairings from Willamette Valley vineyards.

Tickets are $80 (50% of which benefits WFFC) and can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets. Doors open at 6pm.

This event will be limited to the first 40 folks who sign up, so if you are a fan of Chef Gil’s at the Rabbit, don’t hesitate, order your tickets now!

Over at the Lane County farmers market, harvest is underway.  I was pleased and delighted to see that Mountain View Farm out of Junction City had not only red and green okra, but local sweet potatoes, too. That’s what I like about the South (Willamette Valley)!

Ross Penhallegon of Lane County Extension, for those of you who don’t know him, is a fabulous resource for what’s happening locally with our major crops.  Read all of his informative, timely, haiku-like field reports on the OSU Garden Hints Forum on Facebook.  This one was posted on Wednesday:

Apples ripening nicely.
Asian pears – about ready.
Peaches – nice but nearing end.
Plums – near ripe but small crop.
Veggies – very good.
Tomatoes – coming on full scale.
Few insects still.
Enjoy the weather.

As we venture into tomato canning and salsa season, I’d like to remind you that tomatoes are one of those risky foods to can if you don’t use an approved recipe.  There’s much more variance in acidity than there used to be in tomatoes, so it’s essential to waterbath-can with lemon juice or pressure-can. Try the Extension recipes in the downloadable .pdf files, “Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products” and “Salsa Recipes for Canning.” I’d suggest the recipe for chile salsa, if you like hot peppers, or tomato paste salsa if you like it thick.  Too many green tomatoes?  Clicky here!

There are also fall strawberries and raspberries, summer’s last hurrah.  Not the best for jams, but pick up a flat to freeze, or dry the strawberries with your Gravenstein apples, now ready for preserving at a number of local farms.

And don’t forget the fish for a simple grilled outdoor supper! Fisherman’s Market reports this morning:

Fresh fish in today: Blue Marlin, Sashimi Ahi Tuna, Oregon Albacore Tuna, True Cod, and Snapper! Also fresh Columbia River Chinook, Alaskan Halibut, and Ling Cod! Or get some fresh shellfish: Live Oregon Bay Crab, Main Lobster, Coos Bay Oysters, Savory Clams, Blue Mussels, Sea Scallops, and for a limited time Bay Scallops from Mexico!

cool beans in the eugene weekly, with appendix

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Some of you may have noticed I’ve been kind of bean-crazy lately.

My latest food column, an exposé of the heirloom bean craze, is out in this week’s Eugene Weekly!

I mentioned the beans pictured above, the red anasazis and the yellow-eyes, in the article, but we weren’t able to fit a recipe.  Never fear, my friends, for clicking will easily conjure up recipes for my Tuscan bean and tuna salad with yellow-eyes and drunken pot beans with anasazis.  We’ve also got a thick, hearty, Triestine bean, sauerkraut and ham soup with borlotto lamons, and a smoky yellow-split pea soup with kale.  And don’t forget my Willamette Valley version of three bean salad with hazelnuts, made with dried kidney beans.  And my almost plebian chili recipe, likewise.

I also wanted to share some more information about local beans and some of the great resources now available if you wanted to take part in the great bean adventure of 2009.  Amy at Our Home Works, my friend and fellow Master Gardener trainee, is a Eugene food blogger who is very invested in all matters locavore, and she has a great resource page for beans and grains in Oregon.  This page includes links to her excellent posts on the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project and Rancho Gordo, plus information about Ayers Creek Farm, all mentioned in the article.

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The picture above features samples from the 2008 crop of one of the farms in the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project.  Stalford Seed Farm grew a handful of different types of beans; these are their delicious pinto and garbanzo beans.  I recently served them at our Master Gardener training course in dips for 60 or so hungry gardeners.  Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Spicy Green Jalapeño Bean Dip, mmm….

If you are interested in purchasing Ayers Creek Farm beans, you’ll want to head up to the Sunday Hillsdale farmer’s market as soon as possible (n.b., this weekend the market is closed; see the comment below).  Anthony Boutard, the owner of the farm, who was quoted in my article, grows extraordinary beans, grains, vegetables and fruits.  He was kind enough to email me a letter about his heirloom beans and other staple crops.  I wanted to share one part of it with you:

All of our beans are hand-harvested because it is hard to fully dry beans at the 45th parallel, especially on the west side of the Cascades.    Our extra care makes a better bean.  About four years ago, a couple approached our stall.  The wife was leading, with her husband following reluctantly.  She had heard that we sold very good beans, and want try them because they wanted to eat more beans.  The husband scowled, and told us he thought it was crazy to pay $5/LB for beans, when he cold buy them for 99¢/LB. I explained that we carefully fertilized and harvested the beans, and, no, we were not getting rich from growing beans.  She purchased one package, zolfinos on my advice, and they left.  The next market, he was in the lead and loading up on beans.  This scene has been repeated, in some form, time and time again.

Eugenia Bob sez check ’em out.  They’re worth it, and oh so achingly lovely.  You may find two dried fava bean recipes of Anthony’s in the Portland food blog, Good Stuff NW.  Here are his borlotto lamons, which I used in my Triestine bean soup:

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And last, but not least, I am almost heartbroken I couldn’t add my friend and extraordinary cook Trillium’s bean recipes to the article.  I realized immediately that I couldn’t edit down these suggestions; they’re too magnificent as is.  Trillium even gives notes on local sources for accompaniments.  Enjoy!

  • White beans (such as cannelloni, zolfino or bianchetto) simmered with a bit of shallot, garlic and sage, spooned hot with their cooking liquid over a rustic arugula dressed in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper with grilled grass-fed beef from Knee Deep sliced and fanned alongside.
  • Chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon with my homemade pancetta for the classic pasta e fagioli.
  • Sturdy and meaty tarbais, oven-braised with duck (from Raven’s Feather Farm), lamb shoulder (from Anderson Ranch) and garlic sausage (from Otto’s in Pdx).
  • A brothy stew of potatoes, chanterelles, onions and purgatorio (very thin skinned and dainty white beans) served under broiled black cod with crispy skin (I get Newman’s to leave the skin on a fillet of black cod and give me the fish frame to make a simple fumet for the cooking liquid).
  • Lastly, any sort of red, pinto or soldier bean cooked with a smoked ham hock (Long’s), sauteed onion and plenty of winter savory. Cook them until the beans break down and their starches turn the soup thick and glossy. Cornbread alongside is mandatory.

I hope I’m not embarrassing Trillium, who is shy, but I couldn’t resist posting these ideas.  Amazing, no?  I feel it almost an ethical obligation to show everyone in Eugene that we can have a stunningly delicious and original food scene here.  And as the local food crops diversify because we show there’s a demand, it’s well within our reach.

EDITED TO ADD TEXT OF ARTICLE, SINCE LINKS ARE UNRELIABLE:

Eugene Weekly : Food : 2.12.2009

Article | February 24, 2012 – 12:42am

Cool Beans

Why you should be crazy for heirloom shell beans

By Jennifer Burns Levin

Who knew beans would be the reason for the season?

Heirloom shell beans are all the rage, part of the local food movement that will only get bigger in 2009. And it makes sense. Because beans provide a filling, economical source of protein, fiber and B vitamins, they are served in traditional and rustic dishes all over the world. Furthermore, the push for recovering local heirloom seeds has stimulated a resurgence in crops native to the Americas.  Farmers — and consumers — are rediscovering how to grow and use myriad beautiful varieties.

In the past few years, Napa-based Rancho Gordo has created an almost cult-like following in dried heirloom shell beans, with a zealous group of followers that storms the weekly San Francisco Ferry Building farmers’ market in search of exotic varieties. Rancho Gordo’s yellow-eye and speckled anasazi beans (pictured) are only some of heirloom varieties they offer, with each bean having its own flavor and texture. Yellow-eyes are traditional in New England baked beans. Simmered with bacon, onions and jalapeños, then lashed with tequila, anasazi beans make a winter staple nothing short of transcendent.

Transcendent? Beans?

Indeed. Eugene food blogger Amy McCann was recently spotted with her arms full of legumes at the Hillsdale farmer’s market. “Who would have thought people could be so passionate about beans?” she wonders.

The farm that produced those love beans, Ayers Creek Farm, is an Oregon Tilth-certified organic farm located in Gaston, 30 miles west of Portland. They offer their bean bounty in winter at the Hillsdale farmers’ market. On a recent weekend, this included a selection of hand-harvested dried beans with evocative names such as purgatorio, a delicate white bean; black Basque; the chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon; the red-eyed Soldier; and Tarbais, the classic French cassoulet bean.

Owner Anthony Boutard sees his beans as a part of a systemic shift in producing staple crops. The great demand is less of a trend than an unmet need for well-grown, high-quality staples. His farm has offered unusual varieties of staple crops, such as grain corn, barley, sweet potatoes and potatoes, for the past eight seasons. “We are surrounded by wheat fields, and we wanted to find a way to bring debased staples such as wheat back into scale of the market farm in a profitable and interesting way,” says Boutard. “We wanted to scale down a cheap commodity and make it a high-quality food in the same way we manage our other crops.”

Eugene gourmand and longtime Ayers Creek customer Trillium Blackmer uses at least a pound of Boutard’s beans a week, especially in the winter. She stresses that high-quality beans are crucial. “I think part of the problem is that many people experiment with beans that are just not very good, get frustrated, and give up. Most beans, if they are fresh and dried with care, do not require any presoaking before cooking, and don’t get tough with early salting.”

Beans are also an important part of efforts in surrounding counties to recreate a local and sustainable food system. The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project has been holding field trials with two local farms interested in transitioning their crops from grass seed to food sources. Farmers Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm and Harry Stalford and Gian Mercurio of Stalford Seed Farms have had moderate success at growing popular legumes in Linn and Benton Counties in the past few years. Garbanzos, pinto beans and lentils grow well on the valley floor, they report, but the cold weather in 2008 created smaller yields.

But consumer desire for beans will surely motivate more farms to consider legume crops. “We have people calling us to get our product,” says Gian Mercurio, “it’s a farmer’s dream.” If the creamy, plump garbanzo beans I recently sampled are any indicator of the quality of beans that our valley can produce, the phone will start ringing off the hook.

Jennifer Burns Levin writes about local food at culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com, where you can find bean recipes from local cooks and links to the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project and McCann’s food blog, Our Home Works.