Our Vendors

Melchemy Craft Mead: Makers in the Forest

By Ryan Gaughn, Alcohol Buyer

As the alcohol buyer at the Co-op, it’s one of my great pleasures to discover new, exciting beverages for our shelves – products which stand out from the crowd and speak to the place we share on this planet.  Mead is one of these specialties that, with a somewhat undeserved bad reputation, is nevertheless perhaps one of the truest expressions of our region’s flora.

Mead is known as the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. It is the end product of fermented honey, water, and additional botanicals. Evidence of human production of mead dates as far back as 7000 BC in China, where found pottery remnants contain chemical clues of the beverage. Mead has played a prominent role in Greek and Scandinavian early civilization, where it was often produced in places or times when making wine from grapes was not available (or not yet known of). Several centuries of innovations in alcohol production – beer and various liquors, primarily – and the international transport of wine resulted in greatly decreased mead production, to the point where it was almost forgotten.

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In recent years, the Pacific Northwest has seen a burgeoning revival of this ancient delight. Spurred by innovation (and an overtapped beer market) but definitely rooted in a quest to continue the legacy of PNW craft beverage exceptionalism – mead producers in Oregon & Washington have dug up the old techniques, and thrown out the overly sweet amateur mead stand-ins. Just as wine and cider consumers have grown accustomed to terroir – the idea that the ingredients in an alcoholic beverage can impart a sense of the place in which they are grown – so, too, does honey production suggest the flavors of plants and crops in our bioregion. Bees, afterall, are critical players in modern human survival, being responsible for a massive portion of the pollination required in industrial farming, both conventional and organic.

I’m very pleased to present Melchemy Craft Mead as a harbinger of the great things to come for this category of alcohol.  Produced by two friends, Tim and Jeffree, from their beautiful communal home and farm property in Carson, WA, Melchemy Mead holds many values – as a brand and a product – that are in alignment with the Ends Statement at People’s:

A passionate community working together for sustainability, progressive land and animal stewardship, human rights, social and economic justice.

My visit to Melchemy began shortly after a trip over Bridge of the Gods, and into the beginning of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southern Washington. The property is nestled into a  tree lined mountain side, and it doesn’t take long to feel as if you’ve left much of the contemporary world behind. It’s difficult to believe that not that long ago colonizing interests coordinated the large scale clear cutting of timber in this region. In fact, the land we were standing on was probably devoid of vegetation in the mid-20th century, like much of this part of the Columbia Gorge, as trees were pulled from the land en masse to fund the accumulation of capital.

“We have a neighbor who logged in this area,” Jeffree tells me.  “He can tell you exactly which acres came down, for miles. It’s a source of pride for him, and many people in this community.”

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Jeffree’s speaking to a reality of life and economic existence in the region which has profound implications. The land we’re standing on as we talk is the ancestral home of the Wishram Tribe, members of what is currently known as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. For centuries, the Wishram harvested food from the forest and the great river which flowed below it. As this area was colonized, workers from around the world were imported to extract seemingly endless natural resources.

In current Carson, WA – as in much of Skamania County – the remnants of small, colonizer communities linger around a severely diminished timber industry. For much of the latter part of the 20th century, environmentalists and the timber industry in this region engaged in struggles mutually held as critical for human survival and prosperity under the backdrop of the Gifford Pinchot, some of the last remaining, pristine rainforest in the state.

“How do you make money in the forest, other than cutting down trees?” Jeffree asks. It’s a great question, because the geography of land here – mountainous, rugged – prohibits large scale agriculture and urbanity from sprawling along its surface.

Addressing this question, and breathing new economic (and sustainable) life into Skamania County is a key component of Melchemy’s mission. Tim and Jeffree routinely participate in the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative, a democratic multi-stakeholder advocacy organization frequently attended by the U.S. Forest Service. It’s part of a next generation of forest preservation, in which environmentalists, logging communities, tribes, and business owners meet to talk face to face about balancing the survival of the forest with the economy of sustainable logging. Melchemy Craft Mead has a place in that, operating as a small business with a big mission: build a producer and service economy in the region with as minimal environmental impact as possible.

Beehives kept on the land represent that work. The homestead employs biodynamic farming practices, in which the plants and animals of the surrounding area, along with the seasonal elements of wind, sun, and rain, are integrated into land use decisions. The bees here collect pollen from the Wind River Valley, imparting terroir into the honey they produce. While some of the honey harvested from their hives ends up in Melchemy products, much more is needed to achieve the 17 gallons required for a 275 bottle batch. Priorities are placed on sourcing the most local honey possible, with 10% coming from an ultra local network of beekeepers, and the remainder being sourced from elsewhere in the Columbia Gorge and the Willamette Valley.

Jeffree and Tim are quick to dispel what appears to be a growing piece of misinformation, perhaps promulgated by new mead producers, that increased production of honey counteracts the diminishment of bee populations. Many consumers have become aware of Colony Collapse Disorder, and other complications in bee survival that have been publicized in recent years.  Much of the threat to bees is directly correlated to their interstate transportation for agricultural purposes – primarily to California, and especially for almond tree pollination – and the bees’ exposure to transport stress, pesticides, and herbicides throughout the duration of their work in the fields. While it would be ideal for Melchemy to source honey exclusively from beekeepers who do not participate in this practice, it is simply not economically feasible for them to do so and keep their prices accessible. “The economy values bees for pollination fees,” Tim tells me. “The honey is a by-product.”

Melchemy believes very strongly in this degree of transparency in what they do – from the ingredients sourced for their mead, to their place as landowners and business people in their community. Each bottle produced is hand numbered; you can view the ingredients used in the bottle and their sourcing by visiting their website and correlating the batch number. Their website, www.melchemy.wine, also contains a great deal of information about the mead making process and the founders’ philosophy of land stewardship and community development. One exciting piece of this for me is their commitment to developing Melchemy as a worker-owned business. Both partners want to participate in a business that directly profits the people who produce its products, rather than a small group of investors.

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I invite you to enjoy Melchemy Craft Mead this upcoming fall and winter. This mead is a perfect compliment to feasting in the colder months, and a lively addition to cheer around the dinner table. We currently carry “Uprooted” – infused with ginger, turmeric, and peppercorn – and blackberry-infused “Triple Bee”. Both are aged in oak barrels, and are not overly sweet or syrupy.

These meads retail at $21.99, but are on sale at $18.99 throughout the month of October. Come give them a try!






Ayers Creek's Farm-Direct Preserves

Farm-direct preserves are a very special thing: rarely does a farmer devote their time, energy, and dollars to transforming their produce into delicious jams, pickles, or hot sauce. Very lucky for all of us, sometimes they do! Such is the case with Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon, where Anthony and Carol Boutard grow everything from berries to beans to chicories to popcorn. They partner with a local food processor to make preserves from the many varieties of fruit they grow. People's stocks three varieties of these special preserves -- right now Veepie Grape, Boysenberry, and Golden Gage. If your sweetie isn't a chocolate lover (and perhaps even if they are), these jars are a perfect gesture for that upcoming holiday. 


By Anthony Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm

Our preserves are made from the farm's fruit only. If the fruit is shy in the field, it is shy in the kettle and then in the jar, but we hope never shy on toast. The fruit is predominantly the first run from the field, the very best for processing because it has high acidity, along with high aromatic and pectin content. Lots of character and an outgoing disposition. Acidity not sweetness defines a fruit. Paradoxically, on most berry farms this highest quality fruit is left to over-ripen or rot because there is not enough to justify mustering a crew to harvest it, let alone the time and fuel needed to deliver such a small quantity. The economics of berry production are tight. Fortunately, we are diverse enough that staff can harvest for a hour or so in the cool of the day, and then set up irrigation and perform other essential tasks. And we only have to deliver the fruit to one of our freezers.

  Anthony (left) at the vat. 

Anthony (left) at the vat. 

Because of the fruit's quality, we achieve a good set without adding commercial pectin. We freeze the berries whole in the harvest crates without crushing them. This preserves the aromatics and avoids any enzymatic degradation while the fruit is freezing. For the plum preserves, staff harvests a blend of firm, acidic fruit and riper, more aromatic fruit. The mix lends more character to those preserves.

Most are processed using 750 grams of sugar per kilogram of fruit, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The currants and jostaberry are prepared using 950 grams of sugar per kilogram of fruit. All are cooked in two gallon lots using a set of four small steam kettles. We use sensitive digital thermometers to track the temperature of the fruit. We generally shoot for 220 - 221°. However, each of the 15 fruits cooks differently, and they vary from year-to-year. This year, the purple raspberry set at 216°, the lowest we have ever seen in our fruit. Still scratching our heads over that. The behavior in the pot indicated a set had been achieved, but the reading on the thermometers didn't match, so we decided with our eyes rather than the instrument. An overcooked preserve is a terrible disappointment. As a general matter, we err on the side of a runnier set rather than risk a gummy texture and dull flavor.

When finished, we have concentrated about a half pound of fruit in each 10-ounce jar. When we started making preserves, we found there were all of these baffling rules of identity defining jams, conserves, jellies, sauces, spreads and preserves. We artfully dodge the identity question by avoiding any description on the label. All we do is name the fruit and ingredients.

 Carol prepping lemons for the juicer. 

Carol prepping lemons for the juicer. 

Our ability to make preserves of this quality rests on a very special relationship we have developed with owners of Sweet Creek Foods, Paul and Judy Fuller. Since 2005, we have produced more than 35,000 jars of preserves at their factory in Elmira, about 35 miles west of Eugene. They are set up to process large quantities of fruit in several 200 gallon kettles, thousands of jars a day. The physics of cooking in large kettles require the addition of commercial pectin, something we have avoided because those pectins bind with the fruit's acids and dull the flavor. We pay extra to use the little kettles that otherwise are reserved for testing purposes, and eke out about 1,000 jars each day. As Paul notes, he could do that in an hour if we weren't so damned picky. We sweeten the deal by bringing down a huge pot of soup for Paul, Judy and their staff.

 Jam in the vat. 

Jam in the vat. 

The difference in price between the different types is not an indicator of quality differences. The difference reflects extra labor costs and shrinkage associated with deseeding, and removing the stems from the currants. In the case of damsons, labor associated with pitting such a small plum. Jellies are their own challenge because the juice and pectins must be extracted by slowly stewing the fruit, and then drawing off and decanting the clear liquid. They are our art project, the test of our mettle as preservers with their fragile, jewel-like essence. With jellies, there is no gracious exit from a mistake.

We don't have a favorite preserve as such; they all find their way onto our table. However, the one that is the true measure of our efforts is the red raspberry. Commercially prepared raspberry preserves, jams, conserves, spreads, however they are identified, are found in every grocery store in the land, and many of us had parents or grandparents who put up some raspberry jam. If we felt our red raspberry tasted the same as Smuckers or some tonier brand, we wouldn't devote the time and effort. On the other hand, we are not foolish enough to compete with memories and are very happy if the quality simply reminds you of the raspberry jam you enjoyed at your parents' or grandparents' table.
 

Serving the Land with Cider: Finnriver Farm & Cidery

This story was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Grass/Roots. Read the whole issue here!

by Ryan Gaughn, Alcohol Buyer

It was a People’s customer who first clued me in to Finnriver products. Having tried a cocktail featuring raspberry brandy wine, they started to look around the city to buy a bottle, without much luck. I contacted Finnriver, who dispatched a sales rep to our store almost immediately. From the moment I first tasted that raspberry brandy wine, I knew these products were something special, and a cursory view of Finnriver’s business ethics, particularly with land and animal stewardship, fell right in line with our values as a co-op.

In late September 2016 I was invited to participate in a tour of Finnriver’s farms and cidery, located in the beautiful Chimacum Valley in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Along with other alcohol buyers and retailers from Oregon & Washington, I was treated to a first hand, in-depth look at how this cidery accentuates a regional growing and production focus, coupled with a commitment to responsible agricultural practices acting in harmony with the region’s lush natural ecosystem.

Finnriver maintains two farms in the Chimacum area. The central hub of production for the cidery is located just 3 miles away from Finnriver’s main apple & pear orchards. This property hosts vegetable, berry, and hoop-house gardening operations which provide supplemental ingredients in Finnriver products. It was here that I received a tour of the cider making process.  Large bushels of apples are primed and pressed, with juice separating from the pulp in a mechanized pressing. From there, the fresh juice is pumped into massive fermentation tanks, where the addition of yeast and other ingredients encourages the magic that brings cider to life. 

This production facility is seamlessly integrated with the certified organic farm that surrounds it. The entire property is also certified Salmon Safe. Through intentional efforts by Finnriver, spawning salmon have recently begun to return to a creek that runs through the property, after generations of absence due to environmental harm from livestock farming in the area. 

Later in our tour, we travelled to Finnriver’s newest property acquisition, a 50 acre certified organic orchard. Finnriver has been integral in converting this lush soil, which was used as dairy land since the late 1800s, into a magnificent orchard of several thousand apple and pear trees.  Many of these trees are traditional, tannic varieties of apples not commonly found in grocery stores. This location is also where Finnriver has its tasting room and bottle shop, where many extra special products not currently available for sale in Oregon can be tasted and purchased. 

Finnriver operates both properties in partnership with the Jefferson Land Trust. This partnership ensures that the land on which Finnriver operates will remain designated for agricultural purposes in perpetuity — an important protective measure in an area of the state where extra-urban development is increasing (the Chimacum Valley is located South of Port Townsend, across the Puget Sound from Seattle). Much like Our Table Cooperative, a farm operation based out of Sherwood, Oregon which also borders areas experiencing urban development, land trusts help integrate food resources, sustainability, and the needs of urban dwellers by maintaining legally binding regulations which protect agricultural land for future generations.

Oh, and Finnriver cider is really tasty, too! I strongly encourage you to try out some of my favorites!

The Contemporary Series of ciders are the most widely distributed and produced of Finnriver’s selection. The introduction of a small amount of organic cane sugar in the production process helps round out the dryness of the cider, without creating an overly sweet “apple juice” like effect. Two of my favorites are the Sparkling Black Currant, which has an amazing, deep purple wine-like color, and the Habanero, an infused cider that leaves a really exciting spiciness in the endnotes.

If you’re looking for something to bring to a special occasion or dinner, consider the Artisan Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Cider. This painstaking cider-making process requires a secondary fermentation process that takes place in the bottle, which results in a very effervescent sparkling beverage similar to champagne. This bottle is a great substitute for wine, and definitely more on the dry end of the cider spectrum.

For something completely different, pick up a bottle of Raspberry Brandy Wine, a higher alcohol content dessert wine. Raspberries grown on Finnriver farms are coupled with apple brandy wine, producing a dessert beverage to be enjoyed in small pours. Finnriver brandy wines are very versatile, and can be used as toppings on ice cream, in homemade salad dressings, and as a lively kick to sparkling water, to name a few.

Definitely keep an eye out for Finnriver’s Seasonal Botanical ciders. This is a rotating series of bottles that feature unique combinations of herbs and ingredients. In the beginning of 2017, keep an eye out for Cranberry Rosehip and Solstice Saffron.

 

School Aid Fruit: 90% Proceeds Go To Local Schools

School aid apples and pears, which fill a bin at People’s every fall, seem too good to be true. The little fruits embody everything that the Co-op stands for.

They’re organic. They’re local. At only 99¢ a pound they’re affordable. They’re delicious. But best of all; more than 90% of what you pay for them goes straight to schools in our community. Essentially, when you buy school aid apples and pairs you are making a donation to local schools, and getting local organic fruit in return.

The program is simple. A local farm sells the fruit to the Co-op and donates 100% of the price to community schools. The produce buyers at People’s are committed to buying and stocking these fruits—fruit that the store makes no money by selling—year and year again. Our produce department saves space on the crowded sales floor and sells (they usually add 10% to cover losses) and folks like you chose to buy the school aid fruit instead of any of the other plethora of choices in the produce section. School Aid works because a farmer, a store and shoppers all make the choice together to support their community.

The School Aid apples and pears can make a powerful difference in our communities. However, to understand the School Aid fruits and the program they make possible you have to know where they come from.

The apples and pairs that fill People’s School Aid bins all come from Mt. Hood Organic Farm. The farm lies to the south of Hood River, 6 miles, as the crow flies, form the summit of Wy’east. To call the orchard beautiful is an understatement.

The farm is as unique as it is picturesque. The orchard is the first property to draw from the east fork of Hood River. The melt water that irrigates the trees is as pure as it gets. Mt. Hood Organic Farm’s altitude means that the fruits grown there are usually smaller, but sweeter, than those produced by other orchards. Just like wine grapes from different vineyards, apples and pears from different orchards—with their unique micro-climates—have very different properties. The fruits’ size and unique flavor makes them perfect for light snacking or for school lunches.

One of the most unique things about the farm is the man who runs it; John Jacobs. He exemplifies the old proverb about good deeds: “don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing”. The school aid program is his invention; he just doesn’t want any credit.

John Jacobs has an inspiring vision for the world and in his words it looks a lot like “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” In the Neighborhood, people know one another, and take care of each other. The philosophy informs everything that Mt. Hood Organic Farm does. The orchard was the first to grow and organic apples and pears in the region. Despite the financial challenges of farming in this way Mt. Hood Organic has worked tirelessly to be good to their neighbors downstream, their environment, and their customers.

Mt. Hood Organic Farm also gives back to their communities directly. Through the School Aid program thousands of dollars are donated every year to education. A few times a year the farm even hosts classes of kids who come out and pack bags of fruit to sell which raise money for class trips and other educational opportunities.

In Jacob’s neighborhood “People’s is the only grocery store.” The Co-op fits well into the vision of neighborliness that he describes. The Co-op has been buying organic apples and pears from the farm for 30 years. People’s has always given him the best price for his fruit. Produce buyers from other natural grocery stores consistently try to barter and undercut the asking price for the produce—making the difficult job of organic farming harder. The produce buyers at People’s, according to Jacobs, have never tried to haggle with him or buy fruit for less than the Farm knows they need to cover their costs and make a living.

People’s is also the only store in Portland to currently sell School Aid fruit. The store makes no money selling it, and gives up valuable retail space to do so. But offering School Aid apples and pears year after year is something that our produce team believes in.        

The little School Aid fruits stand for something huge. They stand for strong communities, for a long-term commitment to affordable organics, for high quality foods, and for a much-needed people before profits approach to life and business. It’s not often that a few little fruits can stand for so much good—or that your dollars can so directly support your community and values.


Vendor Profile: Sopie Kouame of Belle Aglaia

Vendor Profile: Sopie Kouame of Belle Aglaia

Belle Aglaia: Skin Care Products Safe Enough To Eat

Sopie Kouame, the owner and founder of Belle Aglaia, believes that nature has the power to fulfill all of our basic skin care needs. Originally from the Ivory Coast, she grew up making balms and salves from foraged plants. With experience in the cosmetic industry and a child with eczema, she was inspired to start making her own lotions and salves. Her organic, all-natural face cream and hand and body lotion showcase natural ingredients that are high in anti-oxidants, the key ingredient necessary in preventing and repairing skin damage. She uses the natural healing properties of citrus, herbs, and spices to create a light but luscious product that hydrates and nourishes your skin. She maintains that every ingredient used in her products is safe enough to eat.

Vendor Profile: Cider Riot

Vendor Profile: Cider Riot

Cider Riot! is an urban cidery located in a detached garage off East Burnside Street in Portland's North Tabor neighborhood dedicated to the production of dry ciders. They use a variety of apples grown in Cascadia, including rare English and French cider variety apples, wild apples from Yamhill County, Oregon, and dessert apples from the Yakima and Hood River Valleys. 

Vendor Profile: Ancestro Foods

Vendor Profile: Ancestro Foods

Bringing Mesoamerican Food Traditions to People’s Food Co-op

By Ryan Gaughan, Raw Foods & Alcohol Buyer, Collective Manager

People’s Food Co-op plays many important roles in supporting the genuine local food economy.  We pay a premium price to small farmers for their products, reflecting the real cost of labor and profit margin necessary to maintain their economic survival.  Grocery items that are produced blocks away from the co-op share shelf space with leading national brands.  And, importantly, we are willing to work with new producers to help them market their products at the co-op, serving as a stepping stone towards broader distribution and economic viability for their new businesses.