Thursday, December 9, 2010

Eleanor and her gathering and hunting partner Anna Spears at the San Juan Community Co Op have found so many wonderful local producers tucked away in the wilds of WA and Oregon, and sometimes right in plain sight! We have honey from the Cascade foothills, cheese from SJ island and Skagit Valley, pickles, jellies, sauces, salsas, nuts, eggs, milk, meats and produce from small family farmers and producers all over our region thanks to these two. If you take a look at the archived newsletters Eleanor writes every week, here, you'll read of marvelous adventures and wonderful things to eat that all end up in our little Coop. (Go here for the Land & Sea list of SJ Islands producers and where to find them

Sometimes other Co Op members have the good fortune to be fetchers of some of these things, too, with a little guidance from Eleanor. Last month, Linda picked up fresh bottles of juice and cases of dried fruit from the South Oregon coast. From Linda:

Not too far south, in Bandon, Oregon...

The Vincent brothers are just regular young guys who are really great. Ty told me their grandfather planted their family's first cranberry bogs at Cape Blanco, (which is the windiest point on the west coast of the US) south of Bandon and Langlois, and I guess after their mom and dad married, their dad left commercial fishing out of Port Orford and became a cranberry farmer, too.
The bogs are like big basins, enclosed by raised earthen dikes covered with scratchy grass and bits of tiny brush. Inside the bogs are the maroon cranberry bushes. The Vincent brothers told me how many cranberry bogs they have. I think they said they have something like 16 bogs.

I met Ty at the corner of his road and 101, where he was waiting for me in his black work pickup in the rain, his little daughter next to him along for the ride.
Just before I got to that intersection, I was listening to a show on Jefferson public radio about old sayings people have heard, and what some of the less common ones actually mean.

A guy calling in to the show wanted to know about a saying his mother used when things got sort of frenzied. It turned out to be the phrase "busier than a cranberry merchant". What's the chance that would be something somebody would ask right when I was going to pick up Vincent Family dried cranberries and cranberry juice?
Even though the saying is cranberry merchant, not farmer, the explanation on the show about the origins of the saying were that cranberry farmers have to flood their fields right before a big freeze to protect their cranberries but have to wait until the last minute to do it, and so have to work in a hurry. An alternate explanation was cranberry farmers will try to hold back as long they can before the first big frost to pick their cranberries, which they also will then have to do in a hurry.

Ty and Tim said they had never heard this expression themselves. Since the word in the expression is 'merchant', Ty said maybe it's because they have to really work fast when it's time to sell and send out the cranberries. And that's when Ty mentioned how many bogs they had for their farm.
I told Ty and Tim I guessed they must end up hiring a few people to work with them when it's time to pick the cranberries and work in the bogs - when they heard that, they looked at each other right away, and started laughing, like I said something hilarious. I guess during that time, the two of them and their families must all be as busy as cranberry merchants.

Tim had driven up at the farm just moments after I had gotten there with Ty, and not too long after that we got Tim's 3 young sons to come out to get their picture taken with Tim.
A few minutes before, Ty's little daughter was out in the tool shop where the cranberry juice and dried cranberries were all stacked up, and she carried the boxes of juice and helped Ty load them into the back of my truck, so I took pictures then, too, and while Ty and Tim stood with bottles and boxes and talked to me about their business and our grandpas who worked in mills and the woods and our dads who fished ( in the '60's and '70's my dad fished out of Charleston a lot, and my brother and uncle fished out of Bandon) - for a few minutes.  Ty also has an eleven year old, who was likely taking it easy in the great indoors while he could have it all to himself.
I think Ty and Tim's wives, their sons and daughter, and their mom and dad look to all be pretty important parts of their cranberry operation.

I think Tim said they have only started doing their own bottled juice and their boxed dried cranberries with their Vincent Family label on them since last May. Ty said our San Juan Community Co Op was one of the first places to carry their juice and cranberries.

Tim said that, by far, the most common question at the farmer's markets when they were selling their cranberries and juice was: "Is it local?".
Isn't that a great thing? Most people, more and more all the time, have made the connection between local products, a healthy economy, and
about where they can get really healthy and better tasting food on top of that. So, to more and more people, "Know Your Farmer!" is starting to really mean something important.

I feel lucky to get introduced to the Vincent brothers and to have visited their farm - thanks, Eleanor, and Co Op, and Ty and Tim, for the chance. The Vincent family has a wonderful website, with beautiful photographs of them and their flooded bogs with the clear Bandon sky above them. Their label design is beautiful. Their juice and cranberries are the greatest. Ty said next season they will also have more fresh cranberries available.
Tim said he likes how it's working out with the people who come by to pick up their orders, like us.
He said initially he didn't know how that would go, but that it's actually working out very well. These guys are also driving their juice and cranberries all over the place, up and down the coast.
It's inspiring to see a family work like this to make something incredible available to all of us. Thanks to Ty and Tim, their wives and children, and their mom and dad, we all get to have amazing cranberry juice, and lovely berries as well. Thanks, Vincent family!

Vincent family website address is:

To volunteer as a hunter-gatherer, or the many other fun tasks available at the 
San Juan Community Co Op in Friday Harbor, or to join, go here.

Photos by L. Degnan Cobos. (Got a nice new camera, still getting used to how it slides out of focus so easily. That's the build up to explaining how what's known as 'operator error' resulted in the blurring of action photos of Natalie carrying some of those heavy boxes,  & some off exposures. Even blurred,  the Vincents can't take a bad picture!!)