Oregon Department of Agriculture
The Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University are teaming up this summer to offer five dinner events in five different communities. What do these dinners all have in common? They will all feature Oregon grown specialty crops. The “Crop Up Dinner Series and Market Showcase”, which runs in July, August, and September, is designed to bring together local growers, food buyers, chefs, and the general public.
“We are hoping to educate attendees about Oregon specialty crops,” says Julia Turner, an ODA international trade manager who, along with OSU Research Chef Jason Ball, has been planning and organizing the dinner series. “Oregon produces more than 200 different crops and most of them are specialty crops. That’s pretty impressive. We hope to promote these crops, teach people where they are grown, how you can cook with them, and how they can be enjoyed in various recipes.”
Patterned after the trendy and popular concept of pop up restaurants, the crop up dinners are designed to be more than a venue for eating food. They are an event.
“Pop up dinners are so unique because their life span is so short,” says Turner. “They give people the sense that this is something special that they don’t want to miss. It’s not a restaurant you can go to any night you choose. It’s something happening in your community, for one night only. Don’t miss it.”
The dinner and showcase series is funded through federal Specialty Crop Block Grant funds. In Oregon, nearly $2 million is funding projects that help boost the competitiveness of the state’s fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and other specialty crops. Dinner attendees will be able to enjoy a variety of these crops largely supplied through donations from commodity commissions, food companies, and local farmers in the communities in which the events are held.
“In the five communities we will be holding these events, we want to bring the public together with food and agricultural industries for a fun and educational dinner,” says Turner.
The crop up dinners will reach different regions of Oregon but all will be held at OSU facilities:
· Aurora, July 21 at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center
· Astoria, August 4 at the OSU Seafood Lab
· Hermiston, August 18 at the Hermiston Agricultural Research Center
· Portland, August 24 at the Food Innovation Center
· Medford, September 13 at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center
“Unlike a restaurant, we will go to places that are somewhat remote,” says OSU’s Ball. “Very little cooking equipment will be available to us– maybe a grill or small stove top. We’ll use volunteers, get together, and be creative with food. It will be simple and highlight the specialty crops themselves.”
Each event has two main components– a market event and a dinner. The market event is simply a mini-farmers’ market with local growers offering part of their harvest and interacting with guests and buyers. Local food companies will also be on hand. ODA and OSU will have educational booths providing handouts and other materials promoting Oregon specialty crops. After the interactions, conversations, and education, it will be time to sit down for a fun and delicious dinner.
“We want to educate attendees about all the specialty crops Oregon has to offer, but we’ll also connect people with the growers of the food we eat,” says Ball. “Conversations will take place and hopefully relationships will be established with the producers. Lastly, through the dinner, we will showcase a lot of exciting and interesting ways to prepare specialty crops. It’s a fun type of event. A lot of people may not be familiar with pop up dinners, so this is going to be a great way to provide a new setting for a dinner event.”
Each of the five dinners is expected to be a little different and will depend on what is seasonal and available. The sit-down, family-style dinners are likely to consist of six to ten courses that will bring out the great taste of specialty food crops– the main ingredient in the dish. Ball will team up with local chefs in the communities hosting the events to collaborate on developing the recipes, preparing the food, and serving it up.
A very successful trial run last year at the Food Innovation Center in Portland helped encourage this year’s full series of dinners and market showcases. The two-year specialty crop grant will allow another series of events next summer in new communities throughout the state.
Oregon ranks sixth in the nation in specialty crop production. A majority of Oregon’s agricultural production involves specialty crops. Growing them isn’t enough. Events such as the crop up dinner and market showcase are great ways to spread the word about the quality and variety of the state’s fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts.
Even though the first crop up dinner is more than a month away, it’s not too early to circle the calendar.
“We are encouraging the public to attend,” says Turner. “Portland and other locations have many food festivals and events. Those are on much larger scales. I think everyone is excited about these dinners because they are more intimate– as if they were simply popping up in your back yard.”
“Anyone in these five communities that is interested in food, interested in supporting local farmers and growers, and interested in having a fun, unique experience should attend,” says Ball. “People most likely have been to a farmers’ market and they certainly have been to a dinner. But to have a farmers’ market and dinner happening side-by-side is really cool. It’s a great deal to have a great meal and the opportunity to bring all these things together under the theme of Oregon specialty crops.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to http://fic.oregonstate.edu/crop-dinner-series-market-showcase-0
Media contacts: Julia Turner (ODA) at (503) 872-6603 or Jason Ball (OSU) at (503) 872-6674.
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