Baker Emily Squadra Starts Sourcing Locally for a Portland Cafe
If you ask anyone in a kitchen why he or she cooks, the answer will usually be something about how a love of food grew from cooking for family and friends. I have found that this passion, rooted in a strong love for feeding people, extends down to the growers of the food as well. The farmers, who grow their crops with as much care and attention as chefs executing a fine meal, make up the strong base of this industry. Connecting these two groups of passionate people, the chefs and the farmers, makes not only for uncompromised food, but also sparks revolutionary conversations and yields innovative results.
This is why, working as a baker at Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry in NE Portland, I recently insisted on sourcing our produce locally. Gretchen Glatte, owner of WCP, was immediately interested in pursuing this transition and before I knew it, I was at the PSU Farmers Market. Buying produce at the market to use professionally has always been one of my dreams. I found myself falling into a childlike trance as I wandered from colorful farm stand to farm stand, picking and choosing the produce to use for that week. My guide has been Jobie Bailey from Firehouse Restaurant, right across the way from WCP. He is clearly a seasoned veteran of the market and gladly introduced me to a handful of farmers and vendors he has come to know over the years.
“Sourcing food from local farms has turned out to be more reasonable than expected in terms of pricing. It is simple economics really. The farmers need reliable customers who buy in bulk (restaurants) so the wholesale prices are competitive with commercial prices on most products.”
Tapping into this market has uncovered a whole community of people who really “get it.” They live, breath and eat food. It is what occupies every waking moment, every conscious thought and every driven motivation. Once these passions are recognized in each other, there is no holding back. I don’t feel ashamed of my enthusiasm for tree fruit or my desire to know more about cow portions. Conversations are sparked about what goes on in the kitchen and what is happening out in the field.
There has been a dramatic increase in the quality of the produce we use since sourcing from the PSU Farmers Market. The greens on our breakfast plate went from limp, pallid arugula that was delivered to us from the back of a truck, to a beautiful hearty mix from Gathering Together Farm. We now have a variety of beets and some colorful carrots from DeNoble Farms. We have even gotten to experiment with pineapple quince from Sun Gold Farm! A pineapple quince is this amazing fruit that grows in the Pacific Northwest. Although it is inedible when raw, it smells like a ripe pineapple. However, once cooked (poached, roasted, jammed) it turns this bright pink color and the flavor resembles something between an apple and a pear. Recently I have been obsessed with them and have been putting them on top of crème fraîche upside down cakes, almond danishes and in little buckwheat quickbread loaves. I have found it is so easy to make delicious food out of top-notch ingredients and everyone has noticed a difference.
Sourcing food from local farms has turned out to be more reasonable than expected in terms of pricing. It is simple economics really. The farmers need reliable customers who buy in bulk (restaurants) so the wholesale prices are competitive with commercial prices on most products. There are some things (like the incredible salad greens!) that are worth a little extra to get quality that is exponentially better. It is also great to know that local farms are supported buy local businesses and we keep the flow of money within our community. We aren’t outsourcing to some anonymous commercial farm for sub-par produce that has been sitting in a plastic bag for who knows how long. Instead, we get to shake hands with the man that grew the greens and know that we are helping him do what he loves to do and vice versa.
While finding all of this beautiful produce, I have been forced to connect with the climate of the Pacific Northwest. Obviously, the seasons are going to affect what is available, but so do more nuanced factors like wind, freezing temperatures and, of course, rain. Not only does weather play a part, but also the specific location of each farm ultimately determines what will grow best. DeNoble Farm, for example, is known for their hearty root vegetables rather than dainty greens, because they are located right on the Oregon coast and have to put up with harsh weather. Kiyokaya Family Orchards, in the Hood River Valley, grow amazing apples and pears because of the high elevation and glacial run off that create the perfect growing climate for these pomaceous fruit. Knowing these subtleties between each farm reminds us of the different growing regions that our corner of the country has to offer and allows for a better understanding of what it means to “eat local.”
The staggering amount of thoughtfully farmed produce that comes out of Oregon acts as an inspiration for local chefs and fuels the thriving food scene. I feel honored to be a part of this and I am excited to see where this year takes us. Knowing your farmer is about more than just going to the farmers market. It is about building relationships with people who are passionate about what they do. It means becoming physically aware of the environment that you live in and it educates us about the best food that is grown in our area. As human beings, these are the things that we strive for in life. Being part of a strong community and having a sense of place gives our life meaning and grounds us. There is no adequate substitute for these sorts of things, so I hope to see you at the farmers market!