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Can a Small Town Tavern Become a Flagship Business for Local Foods?

Mar. 13, 2014

By Lynne Curry, Co-chair, Slow Food Wallowas

One of the perplexities of the farm-to-table movement is that it is both pervasive and scarce all at the same time. Its evolution is spotty.

Historic Lostine Tavern Where I live in Oregon is nothing like Portland with its artisanal bakeries, butcher shops and green markets for all. Five hours to the east in the Wallowa Valley, grazing cattle and wheat fields fill a fertile landscape where family farms and ranches remain a way of life. We have orchards and a host of small growers feeding four seasonal farmers markets. There are grassfed hamburgers at two brewpubs and the Little Bear drive-through.

Still, it's not easy to find local food to eat.

This is the main reason why I am opening a farm-to-table tavern with fellow Slow Food Wallowas chapter leader, Peter Ferré. I am a food professional, he is an entrepreneur, and we have both lived here long enough to recognize that a homegrown food movement needs a catalyst. In our case, it may only need a place where producers and growers and eaters-the whole community-can see and taste, celebrate and purchase all that we make right here at home. To validate it and value it.

This May we plan to re-open the Lostine Tavern involving as many local food producers as we can using ingredients from beef and bison to beets and berries. Lostine Tavern Ready for Rebuilding

The Lostine Tavern is an old stone building in the town of Lostine, population 208. A tavern since the 1940s, it has long been a community social center for taco nights and pie socials, a respite for ranchers and road trippers. We are now in the process of restoring the building to its original façade and renovating the bar and dining room to create welcoming spaces for people to gather.

We are expanding the kitchen to produce an array of value-added products from local ingredients. There will be everything from pickles and sauerkraut to corned beef and sausages and homemade sodas-for eat in and take out. And, there will be a small market where people can buy these products on their way into and out of the photogenic Wallowas, recently named one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon.

It is a monumental project we are funding, in part, with the Lostine Tavern crowdfunding project on the ChangeFunder site for businesses with social and environmental missions. Our aim is to make the tavern a flagship for sustainable agriculture and to be a vital centerpiece of the local food economy.

Just this past February, a raging fire burned down an entire block of Lostine's historic downtown, including the precious old grange. The tavern was saved by volunteer firefighters who soaked its 110-year old walls, and it suffered no smoke or water damage. Restoring and re-opening the tavern is now part of rebuilding this town, a community wide effort.

Our vision for the Lostine Tavern is a giant leap of faith. There is no template for our plan to support and promote local producers with such a small population base. There are no guarantees that we'll have a steady supply chain and there's no magic formula for keeping our menu affordable for the very people we most want to welcome into the new space: the food producers and everyone in this community who looks forward to taco night. We don't yet know how it will all come together. Chill Line at Lostine Tavern

We do know that our food movement--cultivated in place within the traditions and regional economy of eastern Oregon-is perfectly ripe. Given these conditions, just imagine what one old tavern in a tiny town might do.

More about the author: In addition to serving as Co-chair to Slow Food Wallowas Lynne Curry is the author of "Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut" She also runs her own blog at ruraleating.com

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