If you're a sustainably conscious shopper, you may have noticed that our little mountain town is sans a local co-op.
The reason for this lack is pretty obvious: Farming in Central Oregon hits a brick wall after the first freeze, which means little to no produce from local farms from October to March.
But those long cold months aren't stopping Locavore. The nonprofit that provides a direct link between local farmers and consumers opened a new storefront on Jan. 30.
The online farmers market has been around since April 2010, taking grocery orders that are filled by local farmers for everything from tomatoes to cheese, to T-bone steaks, as available seasonally. The addition of the brick-and- mortar location is an opportunity to expand efforts to educate the community about local food, said Locavore founder Nicolle Timm.
"Our goal for this place is a local food marketplace and education center," said Timm.
Locavore has been exploring options for a storefront since last spring. With community support, it raised $10,000 through its "Help Locavore Grow" Kickstarter campaign, which facilitated the storefront concept becoming a reality.
"The community has been asking for it for a long time. We needed more money so we said, 'OK, let's do a campaign and see if the community is serious,' " said Timm. "You said you wanted it, and we did it."
Locavore has taken over a former recording studio east of downtown, behind Miller Lumber. The new space will serve as a marketplace and an event center available for rent by the community.
"I think that what Central Oregon Locavore is doing is providing a hub, a local food headquarters, which is a catchy thing right now," said Timm. "The quality of our food is rapidly decreasing and to get healthy, yummy, fresh food, you have to go local."
Locavore has a hand in many aspects of the local food movement. On top of providing a direct link between shoppers and farmers, the organization offers food-oriented education classes and community suppers. It is also involved with Central Oregon Food Policy Council's planning committee to examine how the region's food system is operating and what can be done to make that process more efficient and beneficial for farmers and consumers.
"We're in the middle of defining what a food hub would look like in our community," said COFPC Program Administrator Katrina Van Dis. "We've started the process of bringing together members of the community that represent the food system—chefs, retailers and grocers—and that includes Locavore."
Despite high levels of involvement with local food, the financial risk of the store is high for Locavore. Trying to ensure a fair profit for farmers and reasonable prices for consumers doesn't leave much left over for the organization. Much of the work setting up the store has been done by volunteers, and Timm understands that continued community involvement will be necessary for the store's success.
"Don't forget to support us or it will go away," said Timm. "This was a huge leap financially. It's scary."
Earlier this month, the event space housed around 60 people for Locavore's quarterly community dinner. Chris Carbone, who has worked as a chef across the country, cooked up the meal on a range grill borrowed from local food cart Real Food Bistro. Carbone, a newbie to Bend, found Locavore right away and believes wholeheartedly in its mission.
"The local food scene is good for everybody to keep the local economy going instead of going to Safeway or Costco or Wal-Mart," said Carbone. "It creates a strong sense of community where people rely on each other and take care of each other and feel a little more connected, and it helps us to be a little happier in our lives."
A sense of community is already inherent in the new location. The store feels like an episode of Cheers. Everyone seems to know each other by name. A local farmer is serving olive samples. And before I leave Locavore, Carbone gives me a hug.
Don't take my word for it, check out the space and the community for yourself. This weekend, Locavore celebrates its new location with an open house on Friday and a fundraiser/dance party on Saturday that will feature a pink pancake feed, stationary bike races, drinks and tunes from local DJs.
1216 NE 1st St.
12 p.m.- 6 p.m.Open Wed.-Sat.
Grand Opening Open House
10 a.m.- 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15
Locavore Loves U Dance Fundraiser and Dance Party
8 p.m. Saturday Feb. 16
Tickets are $25 in advance at
locavorecentaloregon.com, $30 at door.
Bend's increased interest in sustainable food means a desire for organic, local product even in the winter. Knowing that outdoor produce framing is near-impossible for around half the year, local couple Jimmy and Shannon Sbarra are starting Volcano Veggies, an indoor aquaponic growing system that will produce vegetables and tilapia year-round.
"We've lived in mountain towns our whole lives. Trying to find fresh vegetables in Wyoming or Oregon can be tough when it's negative 2 degrees out," said Jimmy Sbarra. "We want to provide a fresh source of veggies."
What started as a living room project to grow vegetables for green smoothies is now a commercial venture that the Sbarras hope will work in cooperation with other community-supported agriculture groups to bridge the winter gap for local consumers.
Aquaponic systems use fish waste to nourish vertically growing plants in a recirculating environment, no soil necessary. The process is extremely sustainable and uses even less energy than hydroponic systems. One Volcano Veggie module is approximately 900 gallons of fish tank water, and can grow 1,100 plants, said Sbarra.
Volcano Veggies is beginning work on its space just around the corner from the new Locavore location, and aims to have its first harvest in late April.
"We could walk vegetables over to Locavore," said Sbarra.
Sounds pretty darn sustainable to us. The first Volcano crops will be salad greens, romaine, mixed greens and spinach along with darker greens like kale, collard and chard. As the project progresses, the Sbarras will be producing tomatoes, basil and strawberries. After about nine months they'll be able to harvest the tilapia.
Folks can sign up for approximately the same price as other CSAs, around $20 for three to five freshly harvested items per week.
"If you look at it from a practical point of view, it just makes sense," said Sbarra. "Bend has a great community, especially in the summer, trying to get organic, local product. We're trying to fill that nitch in the wintertime."
Learn more at volcanoveggies.com