Oregon Bounty 2006 Day Three: Eastern Oregon – A Taste Of The Source
I’m about as far east in Oregon as one can get without tumbling into Hells Canyon. After a stunning drive up the Columbia River and through the Blue Mountains, I landed in Baker City. The food elite of the Willamette Valley would have you believe that I passed the last culinary oasis about 220 miles ago. In their mind, I think the food world ends right around Hood River and picks up again in New York, with a brief stopover in Chicago. Actually, I feel like I’ve traveled closer to the root of what makes food wonderful, rather than farther away from it.
Out here, things like eating local and knowing who makes your food isn’t some chic 15-year old mantra. It’s just what they do here, and have for generations. Your neighbor might be a couple hundred acres away, but there’s a good chance he raised that steak you grilled last night. And in Baker County, there’s a good chance that neighbor is Sexton Ranches.
After my long drive east, I headed out to Haines, a whistle stop northwest of Baker City. That’s where I met Dick and Andi Sexton, a sixth generation ranching family, and learned about their natural and sustainable lamb and beef. For Dick and Andi, tapping into the market of consumers who are willing to pay a premium for knowing where their food came from is the future.
It’s a philosophy they’re also impressing early into their two young children. While other kids more urban might be worrying about the next Play Station release, Jake and Samantha Sexton showed me their real-life version of a video game: two three-month old calves weaned early from their mothers. Jake and Samantha are responsible for remembering when they need to be fed, where they are in the field, and what they’ll do with the money once the cows go to market. That’s a life lesson that endless soccer games will never teach.
After a tour of the Sexton’s 1,200-acre spread, we came back to the house, sat in front of the wood stove, and enjoyed a taste of their bounty: spicy beef chili, ground lamb balls, and roast lamb shoulder. It was just simple, flavorful, natural food, made and served without a lot of pretense by the people who raised it. You can’t get any closer to the source than that.
During Oregon Bounty, a visit to the Sexton’s ranch is just one of many packages available. Check out the Eastern Oregon section of traveloregon.com/bounty and click on Experience Packages. To see a video diary of my experiences today, just click on the video window here.
Now, it’s time to get back on the road. Next stop? Central Oregon. See you there.