It seems fitting that we find ourselves back on the big island for our final trip considering it is here where we started this journey over a year ago. Some of us are no longer here and some of us have experienced major career changes, however growth, learning, and friendship have been constant factors throughout.
Nothing fuels the soul quite like traveling to faraway places, and road trips especially ignite the imagination in wonderful ways. Living on an island it’s easy to forget the simple pleasure of measuring space and time in miles and days. Last week in DC, we tested the waters separating relations from relationships, as we navigated the distance between Metro and Ma kai. Today in Dupree, Oregon we made new friends and caught up with an old one, building a bridge from aloha to goodbye. Here’s my notes of the experience and pictures of the day.
We left La Quinta for the Northwest Wine Company in Dundee, Oregon in the Wilamette Valley and reconnected with ex-ALPer, brother Brett Miller, now Hyland’s Vineyard Manager.Winery tour with Anne Sery Winemaker.
2015 processed 4000 tons of grapes
fermentation 10 days to 2 mos
60 gallon barrels made from oak from france 200-300 yr old trees.
Williamette Valley wine does not get as much of a premium as a single vineyard wine. $20 bottle vs $40-80 for single vineyard.
Increase yield to keep cost lower.
9600 gallon tanks
They store wine in 60 gallon barrels for up to 18 months, each barrel is used about 8 years.
temperature 14-18 degrees C.
pack 1900 cases per day
Robert Moshier NW COO
2014 a record year for Oregon wine
NW is a custom biz to biz maker started 2003
2007 bought first vineyard w Hyland, now own 500 acres out of 25k statewide
Produce an average 2 to 3 tons of grapes per acre; 63 cases per ton
Oregon wine production relatively small at 5M cases annually vs 2015 CA’s pinoit noir production down 3.8M cases, almost equal to OR’s entire output.
NW’s custom crush focuses on price points of $15-25 per bottle.
65-70% of production is pinot noir.
NW grows and process their own grapes and also process and package fruit from other vineyards for their private labels, who trust them to make the wine they desire.
2015 bumper crop created a surplus of pinot noir wine which is suppressing prices. due to shorter spring so it gets warmer earlier creating more fruit.
they are being true to their sense of style and sense of place in Willamette Valley.
Prefer synthetic cork vs natural cork bc natural has a bacteria that causes as much as 10% wine loss. they use natural corks mostly for the higher end wines. synthetic corks don’t last as long (5yrs) and could allow wine to oxidize quicker. natural corks maintain their elasticity longer. 15c vs 50cents per natural cork.
vineyards are 12 miles away from tasting room which is unusual.
Brady Moran, Direct Sales Manager, runs the tasting room, Their wine club has 465 members; most live within driving distance. min $380 for 11 bottles and double that for premium members.
May is Oregon Wine Month
During spring 100 people per day on weekends visit the tasting room.
Dundee is the epicenter of Willamette Valley winemaking
1% of US wine made in Oregon but Willamette is on the rise.
Hyland brand is only 5% of the wine they make.
Brett Miller vineyard tour, dude has clearly found his true element.
Site we visited had 185 acres, about 800 foot elevation; planted in 1979
one crop per year per vineyard.
They plant radishes and cover crop between rows.
Workforce of 5 tractor drivers plus 20 on the ground workers.
season starts when avg temp is 55 and ends when it isn’t
white wine fruit picked by hand because fruit is more sensitive.
red wines mostly harvested mechanically.
They plant on sloping hillsides to direct water away from the vines and to increase airflow. no irrigation; every other row cover cropped for better water use.
They snip the tips and cull small leaves to increase fruit yield and maximize canopy for sun exposure.
$50K an acre to plant and get it going.
Hyland Vineyards (crop) and Northwest Wine (production) are separate businesses.
grape vines are self pollinating.
Brooks Hand Crafted Wines
Davin McNeil, Kaneohe boy has managed Brooks for 6 years
Claire Jarreau, winemaker
23 acres, annual production 380 tons, 26k cases
doubled production in past two years.
2013 built new tasting room
ferment in very small lots
Founded by Jimmy Brooks in 1998. passed away in 2004. Other winemakers came together to help his sister keep Brooks dream alive for his eight year old son.
Demeter biodynamic certification. requires 10% of land set aside for biodiversity of certain plant and animal species. no spray natural methods to better sustain the land. proactive rather than reactive management. do no harm and take methods to enhance the land and wildlife. vermi-composting a big component. work within the community for their inputs – eg manure from nearby dairy farm is used to cut the waste from their pressings.
red wines age 10-18 months
barrel cellar doesnt need refrigeration. 700-800 barrels. bought a lot of barrels from CA b/c of drought which stunted crop yields and wine production vs OR which had surplus grapes causing barrels to be in short supply.
I could feel the proverbial weight of sensory overload and crammed metro stations lift off of our should as we left the metropolitan area of our nation’s capital on a near empty metro line for rural Maryland. It was a relief to breath the open air as we stepped out of the metro station and met with Dr. Janet Slovin to head out to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Station. Her passion for agriculture was immediately apparent, and we could see why, once we began our tour of their facility. Having met with members of The House and Senate Ag Committee’s, it was great to see where the policy and dollars were being spent so close to the center of our democratic system. Where the rubber met the road.
First stop was their dairy, where they were doing production based research on milk manufacturing to help meet our ever growing domestic demand. The dairy industry in Hawaii has been decreasing dramatically over the last twenty years, similar to that of agriculture in general. Similar to other industries, it quite simply is more economical for us to import finished dairy products to the consumers in Hawaii than it is to maintain or establish operations locally. The millennials such as myself that were born and raised in Hawaii have probably never seen what a dairy operation even looks like, as the only two production facilities existing in the state are located in rural areas of Hawaii island. Because of that, even ag enthusiast find themselves becoming more and more separated from what goes into creating our milk products. With an effort to expand a recently purchased operation on the Hamakua coast however, this experience was very welcomed. It was eye opening to see the various metrics this industry uses to measure production, animal health, feed intake, and efficient breeding practices. Dr. Baldwin was very passionate about his work and gave us great insight into what sort of progress they are making to address the milk demand, even as dozens of large dairy operations are closing their doors in California this year.
We then spent some time with Dr. Kim Lewers in a few of their strawberry patches, where they are testing growing methods and varietal selection. Like many types of agriculture, they work to address the many diseases that come up when growing fruits. One interesting piece of research they are doing is figuring out how to come up with a uniform variety of strawberry that meets the need of both nurseries and fruit producers. Nurseries desire plants that produce a lot of runners so that they have a sort of seed stock readily available for higher potted plant sales, while fruit producers are seeking varieties that concentrate their growth on the actual fruit rather than the runners. With the research being done on gene triggering, they hope to find a hybrid that “triggers” the fruiting gene and switches off the runner producing gene at a certain point in the maturity cycle. We were also given the treat of eating as many strawberries as out tropical hearts desired throughout the educational tour.
On a more applicable note, we had a chance to spend time with Dr. Meihardt, who was doing significant research on cacao and coffee production in an highly technical greenhouse on site. Cacao for chocolate production is a sector of the Hawaii ag industry that many of us have had exposure to, directly and indirectly, as our state looks to find a suitable orchard crop to add to our unique portfolio of specialty and beverage crops. We learned that Hawaii is the only place in the US that is actively expanding their efforts to grow domestically, due to our tropical climate. We currently have approximately 30 acres in production with a few hundred more acres in development this year. It was great to see the support our federal government was providing us through research, and hope that this continues as we commit more of our resources to this universally desired sweet. With the coffee berry bore presence having a significant effect on one of our more well known exports this year, the work this station is doing on developing solutions to this concern is critical to the survival of one of our few success stories in Hawaii ag.
Having spent so much time in the previous 3 days with members of our delegation, ag committee staff members, and USDA representatives, it was refreshing to see positive proactive work being done to assist our food producers on the ground level. Being so far removed from the continental US, federal programs at times can seem daunting and reactive, with little progress being made to address our growing concerns before the next one is upon us. Beltsville was a visible representation that the money allocated for the Farm Bill was being used for more than Food Stamps, drought relief, and research that would never impact Hawaii in our lifetime. The researchers we met with were enthusiastic about the work they were doing, and were quick to point out the many ways their work was effecting even our little state in the middle of the Pacific.
A reoccurring theme that has been playing through my head as we tour Oregon is that modern food production is done on a scale that is unfamiliar to Hawaii. Yes we are famous for the endless acres of sugar, coffee, and pineapple that once painted the landscape of our state, but I am talking about things that we regularly see on our plates. Modern day farmers and producers have been charged with the daunting task of raising more food with less reliable labor sources, more stringent regulations, and higher overall costs. Our beef and dairy producers are finding new and innovative ways to fill this need, and scale is an important aspect to their success.
As our red minivan barreled down the freeway taking us further and further away from the verdant surroundings of the Willamette Valley, the landscape transition from rain soaked hills to dry flatlands paralleled the changes in the fields that lined the freeway. Large acre row crops stretching to horizon provided a clear indicator that we had entered the breadbasket of Oregon. Upon our arrival at the Beef Northwest facility, I saw a seemingly endless sea of cattle and was struck by the smell of what Yang would later aptly describe as the “smell of money”. It was at that moment that I truly realized what it takes to feed a nation.
We were met by Pete and Jackie who provided us with an excellent overview of the Beef Northwest program, and how our Hawaiian grown products are integrated into their big picture. The Boardman facility (one of three BN lots) which we were visiting has a 40,000 head capacity employing approximately 50-60 staff. While the majority of the cattle are run through their conventional feedlot, the Country Natural Beef and GAP programs are examples of specialty markets they participate in that require a different approach to the traditional model, including modified diets and alternative confinement structures. Pete’s most consistent message regardless of the program/market? ¾ of the cost of raising cattle is the feed, and water quality is the most overlooked nutrient. With French fries being one of eastern Oregon’s most prevalent exports, BN has found a terrific opportunity to partner with the various potato growers in the region to supplement their feeding ration. Does this make a burger and fries a sustainable meal? Maybe. Probably the most surprising fact I learned was that in order to break into markets like Whole Foods they have eliminated the corn in order to remain GMO free, and this has resulted in a ration that much harder on the digestion and nutrient uptake of the cattle. One example of what could be considered an overlooked negative to this type of marketing, but certainly not the last.
Across from the Beef Northwest program (across is a relative term when you are talking about tens of thousands of acres…) we visited the Columbia River Dairy. Never in my life have I experienced an agronomic entity of that magnitude. The largest Jersey cow dairy in the world, CRD milks 35,000 cows twice a day producing 2.5 million pounds, and is the largest supplier of raw milk to Tillamook Cheese. The milking parlor could be classified as an agricultural eighth world wonder, and operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week in seamless fashion. Probably the most impressive aspect however of the Dairy was that it was implemented as a way to close the process loop with their 100,000 acre parent farm. As Jeff Wendler (Livestock Operations Manager) explained, the Dairy is the engine that turns the farm and capitalizes on turning waste into input from both ends (no pun intended). One thing that dairies have been criticized with in the past regarding waste effluent has also been dealt with in an innovative fashion. An onsite digester consumes 100 percent of the operation’s waste and converts the methane gas produced into 48,000 kilowatts of energy, enough to power 20,000 homes. When asked what his biggest challenge was, he was quick to reply that labor is and will be one of their biggest challenge which prompted them to utilize a refugee program that had short lived success. Most recently they are looking into automating some processes with robots, but as he pointed out with little excitement this is not the best option for community as they do not shop at stores and send their kids to school.
American consumers have been distanced from the food sources for some time, and I am grateful for the recent renaissance we are experiencing of individuals interested in exactly where and how their groceries were raised. The fact is that 2% of our population feeds the other 98%, and the reality of this are operations whose efficiencies and size may not match the ideology of your favorite farmer’s market vendor. What it takes to feed a nation may not fit everyone’s red barn vision, but I implore people to talk to these producers and learn before judgment. Chances are you will find passion, innovation, responsibility, and knowledge.
Arriving at our hotel shortly after midnight, we bid each other good night and retired to our rooms for some much needed rest. We left at 8:00 the next morning for our first site visit with Eric Pond, COO of AgriCare. Started in 1990, AgriCare provides land management services to large investment groups (of which KS in a contributor) in Oregon and California. Eric lead us on a tour through the conventional blueberry and hazelnut farm, accompanied us to Rainsweet packing facility and finally lunched with us at the organic arm of the blueberry operation. All along, explaining the operation and fielding questions from the group.
AgriCare manages 5400 acres in Oregon, from the Columbia River south to Roseburg.
A few highlights from the morning;
1. Blueberries are a life-long crop – some plants remaining productive for up to 75 years. Plants are generally replaced only for the purpose of providing new genetics.
2. On the subject of genetics, blueberries are selected and bred traditionally. This in an attempt to avoid some of the controversy that often surrounds biotech crops. This theme was also noted in the strawberry industry.
3. AgriCare dedicates part of its land to the establishment of natural bumblebee habitat. These are non-income producing plants that are grown to encourage a robust native bee population. The bumblebees are supplemented by rented honey bee hives that are used for 4 weeks during blooming.
4. Invasive species have made an impact on the blueberries – the spotted wing drosophila causes significant damage to the berry and has been studied extensively at Oregon State University. The bug is thought to have arrived from Hawaii and then spread though the I-5 corridor.
5. Oregon recently passed a new minimum wage law that raises minimum wage to $15/hr by the year 2020.
This raises ethical concerns for producers who are trying to balance a living wage with the demand for affordable food.
6. The Rainsweet facility delivers a frozen blueberry product ready to be shipped to repacker in either 30 lb cases or 1200 lb crates. The process is time sensitive – berries are picked, processed and frozen in less than 24 hours. It is likely that frozen berries retain more nutrient content than fresh berries due to the rapid freezing process.
7. Peak season for the berries is June – September and the plant has the capacity to move 250,000 to 1 million lbs. per day.
The afternoon found us headed back to Salem to visit the Parrish Middle School’s Farm to School Garden.
We were introduced to Rick Sherman, the state’s School Program Director and Brenda, the School Garden Coordinator. Their team also includes 2 Food Corp service members – Joel and Cat. There are 633 school gardens in Oregon and they vary greatly from raised beds to row crops to roof top gardens. The underlying goal is to connect students to the food they eat and expose them to farming. The program is currently grant funded but Brenda remains hopeful that at some point, the state and the schools will see the value of this project and provide for a permanent position within the curriculum.
There was a brief moment of disconnect when it was stated the school would likely not accept support from large industrialized ag companies such as Monsanto due to the GMO controversy that often accompanies their presence. It is important for us to continue to share our message in this regard – we support all production methods that provide safe, wholesome and secure food. If we, like Bernie Sanders, ideologically, naïvely and persistently continue to spread this message, we may, at least, be part of the conversation.
Overall a great day with a lot of diversity built in – tomorrow we catch up with our friend, Brett Miller aka “Crossfit Brett” for a tour of his new gig!