Background image of A farmers' market in a small town in the Columbia River Gorge

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Going local in the Gorge

Gorge Grown Food Network goal: "20 by 2020"

While the Columbia Gorge is rich in orchards and wheat fields, local food makes up only 1% of the diet of residents in the five-county area straddling the Columbia River between Hood River, Oregon, and Goldendale, Washington. The majority of the region’s bounty flows out of the Gorge via commercial packhouses and semi trucks. The nonprofit Gorge Grown Food Network aims to change that. Mobilizing farmers, food producers and community members using the slogan “20 by 2020,” Gorge Grown’s goal is for 20 percent of the food eaten by Gorge residents to come from local farms and ranches by the year 2020.

Through small grants, a Mobile Market, and the cultivation of strong food communities in small towns up and down the river, Gorge Grown strives for a future where more of what is produced in the Gorge is eaten in the Gorge. Edible Portland documents Gorge Grown’s trajectory over the past six years in our summer issue—but we didn’t have room to include this great story by Kerry Newberry about the birth of the Mosier, Oregon farmers’ market:

While Gorge Grown was building its program and establishing the Hood River farmers’ market, residents of Mosier planned their own local food revolution. During the winter of 2010, ten Mosier residents took part in “Menu for the Future,” a reading course sponsored by the Northwest Earth Institute. They were inspired to do something to connect residents to their food and farmers. As was true with Gorge Grown Food Network, the group considered a number of options and decided to start a farmers’ market.

The market kicked off the first week of July 2011. Through advertisements and word of mouth, the group rounded up about ten farmers and other vendors to set up on Mosier’s main drag. Their chief obstacle was figuring out how to close the street for a safe pedestrian market space. Mosier officials had never dealt with street closures before, and the market’s planners quickly became discouraged.

As small town luck would have it, the volunteer fire department was called out the afternoon of the first market. On the way back from the call, one of the firemen recognized the market’s need, and voluntarily pulled the fire truck up to the street, effectively closing it to traffic and starting a tradition that continues today. During the high desert’s summer heat, the firemen set out their portable water supply as a wading pool for kids to splash in.

Emily Reed, one of the market’s founders, says the Gorge Grown Mobile Market became “the anchor store” of Mosier’s market. About 200 people attended each farmers’ market—a considerable number, considering that Mosier’s total population rings in at 421. Between 10 and 14 vendors regularly set up booths.

Reed is documenting Mosier’s experience with the farmers’ market, and she has presented the results of the market’s first year at the OSU Small Farms Conference. She reports that other Oregon towns are eager to read about their market and replicate its success.

Read more about Gorge Grown Food Network, the Mobile Market and the Gorge’s new crop of farmers’ markets on p. 26 of the summer issue of Edible Portland.