Arts & Culture

Eat locally this season

It’s easy to forget where our favorite foods come from when we buy them off the shelf. Packaged and processed, these products are often as far from original as they can get. With family, travel and gifts to worry about, appreciating the people who supplement the season is perhaps our last concern. These local farmers, distributors and bakers prove the process doesn’t stop for the holidays.

There’s a small sign that says Sweet Briar Farms at the end of a gravel drive lined with young trees turning bright shades of red. Behind the old cars and trucks is a big, red barn, chicken pen and garden. The pigs are grunting from inside the barn.

The man behind the operation is Keith Cooper.  Despite his pierced ear, he looks like a typical farmer, wearing blue jeans and a button-up shirt. 

An electrician by trade, Cooper started Sweet Briar Farms in 2000 after helping his children raise hogs for 4-H. He was one of the first in the area to sell pork at farmers markets.

Over the last nine years, Cooper’s operation has grown to 125 hogs. He sells his pork at farmers markets up and down the Willamette Valley and supplies restaurants in Eugene and Portland.

On Sundays, Cooper opens his farm for U-pick pork sales where people can buy a cut right from the freezer.

“It’s a play off U-pick fruit,” he said.

Inside the barn are small concrete pens lining the walls with an aisle down the middle. Three to four pigs, around 600 pounds each, are in each pen. The dusty boars and sows grunt and squeal. A tarp covers a farrowing pen to keep the young, pink piglets warm. 

Cooper and his family raise the hogs, have them butchered by Dayton Meat and package the cuts themselves at Custom Meats.

“It’s almost 24/7. I can put 18 hours in a day easily during the busy season,” he said. The busy season runs March through October.

He’s ambitious, building a new barn by himself with plans for four more. And although Cooper says he has no recreation time, he doesn’t regret the long hours.

“I like doing what I do,” he said. “It’s what I choose to do with my time and life.”

Cooper sees a higher demand around the holidays as people purchase their Christmas hams, but he said he doesn’t feel overwhelmed. His deadline for butchering is three weeks before Christmas, so he has to plan accordingly.

Although pork is his business, Cooper doesn’t eat it at every meal. “I don’t eat pork more than anyone else does,” he said.

But, you can be sure that there is one day — Dec. 25 — that he does plan to eat ham.

Nothing says the holiday season quite like eggnog.

The traditional holiday drink marks the beginning of the holiday season when it appears on shelves around the first of October.

For Oregonians who appreciate local taste, the eggnog of choice is Umpqua Dairy’s.

“We’ve won numerous awards with our eggnog,” said Brian Bieghler, sales manager in the Willamette Valley.  Umpqua Dairy’s Old Fashion Egg Nog won a Register-Guard taste-testing contest three years ago.Umpqua Dairy, a family-run milk processing plant, has been in Roseburg, Ore. since 1931. The dairy processes milk purchased from Western Oregon family dairies into cheeses, sour creams and ice cream.  

“Everything we produce is hormone-free guaranteed,” Bieghler said. “There’s not a lot of dairies that can make that statement.”

Umpqua Dairy’s award-winning eggnog hit the shelves at the beginning of October and will stick around until the first of the year. The dairy makes three different kinds of eggnog: standard old-fashioned, light old-fashioned and Holiday Nog, which is made with 2 percent milk instead of eggs.

As a member of Think Local Umpqua, a community organization encouraging people to buy local, Umpqua Dairy is adopting the movement wherever possible. 

“We buy as much of the products we use local,” Bieghler said.  “As for instance, the paper milk cartons we use are produced in Vancouver, Wash., at a paper mill up there.”

Challah bread
Challah bread, a sweet, traditionally braided loaf made of eggs, is a staple of the Jewish Sabbath.  

Humble Bagel, at East 24th Avenue and Hilyard Street, has been baking challah since it opened 32 years ago.

“It’s the same recipe,” said Emma Katz, the owner who is in the process of taking over the business from her parents, Jill and Gary Katz). “It’s the challah I grew up on.”

The loaves are works of art, delicately braided into thick loaves and brushed with an egg finish.

“I remember my first braid,” said Katz, who grew up watching her mom bake in the same bakery used today.  “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can do this.'”

Humble Bagel produces 75 loaves of challah every week, but production jumps to about 100 loaves during the holiday season, Katz estimates.

“We see a huge increase” in demand from the Jewish community, Katz said.  The bakery makes special designs for the holidays.

“We make round challah, which is a symbol for the Jewish New Year’s, like the circle of life,” Katz said.  “We make a monkey bread, where it’s braided round with four rolls to rip off. It’s really beautiful.” 

The bakery also donates challah loaves and bagels to the Jewish synagogue every week and bakes challah for Studio One Café.

Humble Bagel employs about 30 people, including the sister operation, the Humble Beagle pub, owned by Katz’s sister, Anni Katz and her husband, Ari Gold.  Since its opening in April, the pub has been really busy.

Katz is proud of Humble Bagel’s place in the community.

“We give the neighborhood a bakery and place to get a beer and a burger and a pizza,” Katz said. 

“It’s a great life.”


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