Keeping the product local
Prineville Produce is located on the east side of Prineville, and proprietors Patrick and Becky Clark work hard at making good quality fruits and vegetables available to local patrons.
Though the Clarks "had never done anything like a produce stand before," Becky thought the Prineville community could use and support one – so they dove into the project. And it's a family affair. The Clarks operate without any employees outside of help from their three children.
The Clarks try to keep their product as local as possible, sourcing produce from the closest places they can get it. But staying hyper-local is beyond difficult in the winter months in Central Oregon.
"It's pretty much impossible in the winter," she Becky, about keeping produce coming in from local sources. Much of what they have in the winter comes up from Mexico.
"But there is still a lot of stuff that is more local," she said. "The onions are all still Oregon, the potatoes are Oregon, the apples are all Washington or Oregon, the pears are Oregon. California citrus."
"But all your fun stuff, like melons, that's all out of Mexico," she said.
Becky said it would be a lot harder to try and have a produce stand in a region that didn't grow much produce. "Think about how much stuff California grows. A ton of stuff," she said. "And then Washington -- that whole Yakima Valley, they're crazy producing."
"It is definitely beneficial to us to have those neighboring states that don't have the limits that Oregon has. They have their different climates."
While they may have to go further away in the winter time to get the produce they need, in the summer, Becky said that anywhere from 10 to 20% of the produce they sell comes from Central Oregon producers and upwards of 90% of the produce in the summer is local out of Oregon or Washington.
"The only stuff that really comes farther is your exotics, bananas and mangos and stuff that does not grow in our region," she said.
So how do they get their stock of local fruits and veggies?
"Honestly, a lot of people approach us," said Becky. "'Hey, I have a garden and I have an excess of whatever, do you want it?'"
"A lot of it comes in that way," she said. Aside from that word-of-mouth scenario on an ultra-local level, she said they use a distributer who contracts with a bunch of local growers. The Clarks are then able to let the distributer know that she wants something and they can find it.
The business really serves as a connecter between agriculture producers and the public, and the Clarks strive to make those connections as local as possible and help people know where their food comes from.
"I think one of the first big, local crops that really kind of kicks the season off is the asparagus out of Washington, and we should start seeing that within a month," said Becky.
She said one of their top sellers are sweet giant carrots, something people can't really find elsewhere.
"They're sweet and juicy," she said. "They're fabulous. There are people who come because of these carrots."
Those generally come out of Canada, according to Becky.
Produce isn't the only agricultural commodity the business sells locally.
"Our milk right now has been going crazy," she said, pointing to a cooler case. The glass jugs come from Mulino, a small community near Oregon City.
They also carry Big Ed's Bread, made in Bend, as well as local meat including beef, pork, lamb and fish from the coast. She said that the majority of the meat, with the exception of the fish and lamb, is from Prineville.
The pork on location this week was raised by a 14-year-old 4-H girl.
In order to sell the meat, as well as several other items in the shop, Clark said they have had to jump through hoops with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, obtaining certain certifications and making sure the meat is processed in a USDA facility.
Becky is currently in the process of finishing up her licensing with the USDA. She's had to get a meat-handling license, an egg-handling license and a food-manufacturing license.
The manufacturing license comes into play because they break down large quantities of things, like dried beans, and put them into one-pound bags to sell.
She said they are also in the process of getting their kitchen certified along with all their licensing. In the meantime, they are still able to sell; they just have to make sure that they are working toward the requirements the USDA has set for them.
Clark said that they are very learn as they go when it comes to running a local produce and grocery operation like this. They had some mentors that have given them tips on how to handle and care for produce and much they have learned on their own.
She said when they get a shipment in, they have to go through and kind of "beautify" the product sometimes. She said that can mean taking the outer leaves off of a head of cabbage or freshening up the asparagus by butting off the very bottoms, the same way you would with fresh cut flowers.
Over time, the Clarks have learned that things like basil, while you might think it should be kept in the refrigerator since it is a cut green, actually prefers to be at room temperature. Becky said she learned that one the hard way, assuming it should be kept in the cooler, but it kept turning brown and so she looked it up and read about it.
A challenge for the Clarks is knowing how much of various items to order so things stay stocked, but not so much that product ends up spoiling.
"We call it shrink in the produce business," she said, which is when product goes bad before they can sell it.
"Getting to know Prineville's demographic is one of our challenges," she said. "It's different than Bend or Redmond."
For example, she said that last summer the couple went on one of their days off to check out other produce stands in the neighboring towns and what they discovered was in Bend, the stands don't sell full cases or flats of produce, they just sell individual crates and small portions. Why? She said because in those areas they don't have home canners.
Clark said that is certainly not the case here, they do end up selling in bulk for that very reason.
The Clarks also agreed that knowing how the food that people eat is produced -- it is really important.
"I think knowing how it's grown, I think wanting local is definitely a benefit because you get fresher food, you are supporting your neighbors," she said. "You're not using so much fuel to truck it and ship it all over the place. So, I think the desire to have more local is definitely an important thing."
Owners: Patrick and Becky Clark
Location: 2757 NE Third St.
Hours: 9 a.m to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 10 am. to 4 p.m. Sunday
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