“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” -Henry David Thoreau.
Evan Gregoire, local Portland area organic farmer also expects wonders. Not only does he expect them he has seen these wonders, and he has a passion for sharing them with his community.
Evan, a Master Gardener, is co-owner at Boondockers Farm in Beavercreek, Oregon about 20 miles outside of Portland where he specializes in sustainable, humane, pasture raised breeding stock, heritage meats, and eggs, as well as heirloom seeds. He has been educating himself over the past ten years about sustainable food production with hopes of empowering and educating others. Evan is passionate about all aspects of organic farming but as a farmer his main focus has been on preservation, and one area of particular interest to him is the preservation of heirloom seeds.
Heirloom vegetables are known as open-pollinators. This means they have been pollinated by a natural means, such as, insects, birds, or wind. An heirloom cultivator, like Evan, collects seeds from the best open-pollinated plants so they may be planted the next year, and harvested, with the cycle continuing hopefully for years to come. Since seeds are saved from only the healthiest plants, the traits that are passed on are the best in disease resistance, taste, and nutritional value. Heirlooms and hybrids differ in that heirlooms breed with the same species of fruit or vegetable, while hybrids combine two different species to produce a new variety.
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend,” states Evan. “We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations.”
Recently, Evan was given the opportunity as a delegate of Slow Food Portland to travel to their biggest international event, Terra Madre- referred to by some as the “Food Olympics” in Torino, Italy. Torino is near the hometown of the Slow Food movement founder, Carlo Petrini. Petrini launched the movement in 1986 when he organized a pasta-feed in Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps) in Rome in protest of the planned opening of a McDonald’s restaurant.
“McDonald’s opened anyway,” stated Petrini in an interview with Yes! Magazine, “but we achieved a compromise: the “M” sign was limited in size, and after this incident, we resolved to create a movement to save traditional tastes and products all over the world.”
And create a movement he did. The movement flourished and to this day Slow Food International is stronger than ever with over 100,000 people involved in over 150 countries and its headquarters remain where it all began for Petrini years ago in his hometown of Bra, Italy. Bra is a close neighbor of Torino, host of Terra Madre. As opposed to the Olympics’ motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” the “Food Olympics” boasts a motto of, “Slower, Slower, Slower,” which is summed up in this quote by Petrini, “The quest for slowness, which begins as a simple rebellion against the impoverishment of taste in our lives, makes it possible to rediscover taste.”
As a delegate at Terre Madre for Slow Food Portland, Evan stayed in five different regions of Italy residing in centuries old farmsteads, where he learned first hand about cultivating seeds from families who have been doing it for generations. His goal was to bring his knowledge and the heirloom seeds back to Portland. Not only did Evan want to plant and harvest these seeds but he also wanted to store them for the future. Evan then founded Portland Seedhouse, which is a growers collective and seedbank.
“The long term mission, of Portland Seedhouse,” states Evan, “is to ensure continued preservation of specific crops and to focus on planting resilient varieties while continuing to educate the local community about organic open-pollinated vegetables.”
There are a number of ways Evan shares his knowledge, inspires others, and puts education into action in the local Portland area. He enjoys teaching and is an advisor to small and mid-size farmers and homesteaders. He also facilitates classes and workshops for all ages on biodiversity, growing techniques, preserving foods, saving seeds, heirloom plants, and heritage animals at the farm. Evan brings people together by collaborating with local chefs, and restaurants to host dinners where these heirloom seeds, which have now produced their fruit- sit center stage. Guests are able to enjoy these beautiful fruits and vegetables prepared in innovative ways while they are being educated about where the seeds originated and how they ended up on the plate in front of them.
One such collaborative dinner series hosted by Evan via the Portland Seedhouse was called, Pomodori at P.R.E.A.M: A Celebration and Preservation of Heirloom Vegetable Varieties from Italy. At P.R.E.A.M, a wood-fired pizzeria in Southeast Portland (with a 900-degree Gianni Acunto oven straight from Naples none-the less), guests were treated to a four-course meal from, garganelli pasta made with sauce from the Canestrino tomatoes, to pizza with coal roasted San Marzano tomatoes, and red Orbassano basil. The meal ended with cake bites made with roasted Tromboncino squash and topped with Cascina Dei Frutasè jam. As the guests dined and enjoyed their food they were encouraged to ask questions of the host and were also given an opportunity to see the vegetables in their original form. There were plates boasting the Italian heirloom tomato varieties in their full majestic form and diners were treated to their sweet taste freshly picked from the vine.
As guests were leaving they were offered one more thing, a gift- packets of heirloom seeds to take with them and plant in their home gardens. They too can now expect wonders and share these wonders with others to continue and promote Evan’s mission of preserving heirloom varieties and ensuring a safe, genetically stable, (and delicious) source of food for generations to come.