McMinnville creamery set to reopen as organic facility

The former Farmers Creamery Cooperative in McMinnville, Ore., will reopen in August as the newest facility operated by the nation’s largest organic dairy cooperative.

The creamery was purchased last fall by Wisconsin-based Organic Valley, which produces organic milk, butter, eggs, cheese, soy and other products. The McMinnville plant will primarily make butter under the Organic Valley label, and is the company’s first brick and mortar facility outside of Wisconsin.

The renovated creamery’s grand opening is Saturday, Aug. 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the facility, 700 NE Highway 99W, McMinnville. Company spokeswoman Sasha Bernstein said the public is invited. Shuttles will be provided to take people on tours of dairies that will provide milk to the creamery.

Louise Hemstead, Organic Valley’s chief operating officer in Wisconsin, said the Farmers Cooperative Creamery had long been on the company’s “risk assessment” list. That is, it was an important supplier in the region and Organic Valley would need to buy it if something happened, she said.

Hemstead said Organic Valley spent more than $12 million above the purchase price to renovate the creamery and “bring it around to be a modern facility.”

Among other work, the company rebuilt the dryer that is used to produce skim milk powder, upgraded the electrical system, rebuilt the drains, improved the pasteurizing section and installed a better machine that forms and packages the familiar butter cubes.

The company also pulled out the industrial churn, shipped it back to Wisconsin to be rebuilt and will send it back to McMinnville next week to be reinstalled, Hemstead said.

In addition to butter and skim milk powder, the plant will produce buttermilk powder and a cultured butter that is more of a European type spread. The plant will make trial batches in the first week of August and should be operational in time for the grand opening, Hemstead said.

The renovation and reopening cap a year of changes for the McMinnville creamery. In July 2016, co-op members accepted an agreement that allowed dairy farmers to apply for membership in the much larger Northwest Dairy Association of Seattle, which includes Darigold. The McMinnville plant then was sold to Organic Valley for an undisclosed price, and it is reopening as a strictly organic operation.

The facility will provide 37 jobs and will process milk delivered from 72 member dairies in Oregon and Washington.

Nationally, the Organic Valley cooperative represents more than 1,800 farmers in 36 states and describes saving family farms as its “founding mission.”

New tractor company targets small farm market

The manufacturer of a new, small tractor patterned after the Allis-Chalmers Model G of old is targeted at the small-scale farm market.

Horace Clemmons, a partner in CleBer LLC making the Oggun tractor in Fyffe, Ala., says he left IBM in 1983 and started a software company for computerized cash registers that used non-proprietary software.

Clemmons and his business partner, Saul Berenthal, a Cuban-born software entrepreneur, decided to do the same thing with small tractors after U.S. relations with Cuba eased in 2014.

The government there returned land in roughly 40-acre tracts to 300,000 family farms. Clemmons and Berenthal decided the best help would be affordable farm equipment.

They liked the open, simple design of the Allis-Chalmers Model G, of which 29,976 were built from 1948 to 1955 some 40 miles away from Fyffe in Gadsden, Ala.

With rear engines, drivers could see the ground ahead of them, and they were excellent for close cultivation in row crops. Their demise coincided with the growth of farms as bigger tractors were needed on bigger farms, Clemmons said.

The Oggun coincides with the local food movement, where regional farming can be applied globally and solve global food supply issues that will grow as the world’s population does, he said.

“We know we will be successful manufacturing tractors, but it’s not about that but changing the entire business model,” Clemmons said.

He envisions the Oggun, named for the god of metal works in the Santeria religion in Cuba, as a starting point for other countries manufacturing as much of their own farm equipment as possible to help their economies.

The Oggun is built with off-the-shelf non-proprietary components for easy parts replacement. The 19-horsepower gas model sells for $12,500, weighs 1,720 pounds, is 123 inches long and has a ground clearance of 17 inches. A diesel version, when available, will be $15,500.

Production started in December. Since January CleBer has sold 60 tractors in 18 states, six countries and to eight land-grant universities, Clemmons said.

Seven have been sold to small farmers in Oregon and Washington, and the company donated a prototype to Oregon State University, said Locky Catron, a CleBer partner.

Most have been sold in Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New England because they have the most small farms, Clemmons said.

Noted wine climatologist will head program at Oregon’s Linfield College

In the wine world, and in the curious niche it occupies in Oregon agriculture, it is big news that a professor, a wine climatologist, Greg Jones, is moving from one college to another.

Greg Jones, although as unassuming an academic as you’ll find, carries that kind of heft.

Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., in Yamhill County where the state’s wine industry came of age, announced that Jones has been hired to oversee its Wine Education Program. The college offers an interdisciplinary minor in the subject, which seems unfair to previous generations of college students.

Nonetheless, Jones is leaving Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he directs the Division of Business, Communication and the Environment and is a research climatologist with SOU’s Environmental Science and Policy Program. He’s considered an expert on how climate variability and change affect grapevine growth and wine production.

The website Great Northwest Wine said Jones’ move to Linfield is “international news.” Tom Danowski, president and CEO of the Oregon Wine Board, described Jones as a “longtime friend to Oregon’s grape growers and winemakers.”

“His stellar global reputation for excellence in his field continually reminds us how lucky we are to have him here in Oregon’s wine community,” Danowski said in a prepared statement.

Linfield President Thomas Hellie said Jones has “earned an international reputation for his research on wine, climate and the environment.” In a prepared statement, he said Jones is a “perfect fit for Linfield.”

Jones agrees. The opportunity was unexpected, he said, but came at a time when he was ready for change and new challenges after 20 years in Ashland. The move puts him physically at the nexus of Oregon’s expanding and well-regarded wine industry, with 100 wineries within 50 miles.

Equally exciting, Jones said, is the chance to shape Linfield’s wine education program. The first task, he said, is to make wine studies an academic major in addition to a minor. He said Linfield will not compete with universities to crank out winemakers, but instead will offer a broad liberal arts overview of how wine functions as a business and a sustainable agricultural enterprise.

He envisions students getting a four-year degree in wine studies from Linfield, then perhaps going on to master’s degrees in viticulture from Oregon State, Washington State, the University of California-Davis or elsewhere.

Jones organized the industry’s Terroir Congress that was held at Linfield in the summer of 2016, with about 100 scientists attending from around the world. Wine Business Monthly named him one of the top 50 industry leaders last year as well. The Oregon Wine Press chose him Wine Person of the Year in 2009 and the website picked him as one of the 100 most influential people in the industry in 2012 and 2013. He’s one of 10 Americans honored for his work with the Portuguese wine industry.

Jones, 57, said his interest in wine climatology is a “chicken or egg” question. His parents, Earl and Hilda Jones, founded Abacela Winery in Roseburg, Ore., in 1995. It was questions his father asked while starting the Tempranillo varietal winery that started Jones thinking about the niche science of wine climatology.

Jones said he still has projects in Southern Oregon and will remain involved with the region and will continue producing his email climate reports.

“I’m really not leaving, I’m just residing somewhere else,” Jones said.

“I’m grateful for all SOU and the Southern Oregon wine region have allowed me to do,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful 20 years.”

Kosher among oldest niches for food certification

Kosher may be the original niche certification for food. After all, the first certified kosher product came out in the late 1800s.

Despite its long history, kosher certification continues to grow in demand, creating an industry that brings in $12.5 billion annually, according to the most recent study in 2012 by Lubicom, which tracks the industry.

Tuvia Berzow, executive director of Oregon Kosher, a regional certifier, said it’s not a question of if companies should get certified, but when.

“Consumers expect it,” he said. “Certification is not a complicated process that is going to change everything they’re doing. The market is there, and it’s an important value-added certification to reach a niche market that otherwise you couldn’t reach.”

Last year the Jewish population in Oregon was 40,650, approximately 1 percent of the state population, according to statistics from the Jewish Virtual Library. Not every Jew chooses to eat kosher, and Reform Jews tend to be more lenient on these laws.

Kosher follows the Jewish law of Kashrus, meaning suitable or pure, and is broken down into three categories: meat, dairy and pareve — food prepared without dairy and meat. Although many natural ingredients are kosher, once they are processed further, a certifying agency is needed to verify its status.

“In kosher law, the vessel can take on the status of food cooked inside of it,” Berzow explained. He used vegan sauce as an example.

“Ingredient-wise everything is essentially kosher, but if it’s made in a factory and they’re making meat sauces in the same equipment that vessel then becomes non-kosher, and any subsequent products will impart non-kosher status,” he said.

Any metal vessel can be “kosherized.” The machine has to sit unused and clean for 24 hours before being filled with water, which is then boiled.

There are over 1,000 certifiers worldwide, and each is distinguished by regional versus international domain. Berzow estimates there are six or seven major agencies that certify thousands of companies and millions of products internationally. The others, such as Oregon Kosher, are considered regional.

The certification agency’s fee changes with the complexity of the facility and products that are being made. Oregon Kosher is the only regional certifier in the state and Berzow said its annual fees range from $1,500 to $5,000.

While 85 percent of facilities go fully kosher, not all do, according to Berzow. Those companies have to constantly kosherize their machines and keep the non-kosher items separate.

Shawn and Mark Preble of Sunny’s Frozen Yogurt in Portland have the state’s first and only partial kosher certification.

Approached by Rabbi Dove Chastain about becoming a kosher shop, Shawn Preble said initially she couldn’t because not all of her toppings were kosher, and it was too expensive to switch to all kosher. Oregon Kosher decided to grant the Prebles partial certification, as long as the toppings were separated from the kosher yogurt.

Although the Prebles aren’t Jewish, their store is within a large Jewish neighborhood of Portland.

“We recognized that it was part of our neighborhood. To be honest, I don’t know if it increased business, but we’ve got nothing by positive feedback. I get, ‘I don’t keep a kosher kitchen, but I really appreciate the fact you’re kosher,’” Preble said.

Kosher consumers are not always Jewish. Berzow said it’s popular among other religious groups, as well as those with dietary restrictions and vegetarians because the level of supervision is higher in the kosher industry and — unlike organic certifications — are independent of the government.

Not every industry can easily become kosher-certified. Wine can only be kosher if the production was done exclusively by Torah-Observant Jews, and the kosher meat industry is complex and expensive. The animal needs to be slaughtered by a Schochet, a specialized Jewish butcher, and requires thorough inspection before and after the animal is killed.

“There’s a misconception that kosher just means a Rabbi blesses the food. The joke I always say is ‘if I was just blessing the food, I could do it from home,’” said Berzow.

Organic food sales jump 8.4 percent in 2016

The U.S. organic industry maintained steady growth in 2016, with food sales increasing 8.4 percent to $43 billion — breaking the $40 billion mark for the first time.

The sizable growth is even more impressive considering total food sales increased only 0.6 percent.

Organic food now accounts for 5.3 percent of all food sales in the U.S., another significant first for the organic sector, according to the Organic Trade Association in its 2016 Organic Industry Survey, conducted by the Nutrition Business Journal this spring.

Organic non-food sales also posted robust growth, increasing 8.8 percent to $3.9 billion, far surpassing the 0.8 percent growth in all non-food sales of comparable items, such as textiles, supplements and personal care items.

“The organic industry continues to be a real bright spot in the food and agriculture economy, both at the farm gate and the check-out counter, said Laura Batcha, OTA chief executive officer, in the association’s executive summary of the survey.

The robust industry continues to gain ground, gaining market share and making its way into new channels — such as convenience and drug stores, foodservice and the internet.

Organic fruits and vegetables held onto the top position in the organic line-up with $15.6 billion in sales, 36.3 percent of all organic food sales. Those sales were 8.4 percent higher year over year, more than double the 3.3 percent growth in their non-organic counterparts, and now account for 15 percent of all produce sales.

Organic meat and poultry sales shot up 17 percent to $991 million for the category’s biggest gain ever. Meat and poultry is one of the smallest organic food categories, but organic poultry moved beyond many years of supply shortages and grew at a rate of 23 percent — compared with 9.2 percent in 2015.

The other smallest category, condiments, is not a headliner but is showing interesting trends, according to OTA.

“Dips and spices both hit home runs, recording the highest growth rates within the food categories,” OTA reported. Organic dips posted 41 percent growth in 2016 with $57 million in sales, and sales of organic spices increased 35 percent to $193 million.

The survey did note oversupply in produce, poultry, dairy and eggs in 2016. The change in the organic marketplace from undersupply to oversupply “simply exemplified the ebb and flow of supply and demand as the industry grows,” OTA stated.

“The biggest challenge is how to grow at a rate that allows for farmers to be paid fairly for the extra work they do in organic … while also assuring stability of supply, shortage versus glut, spikes in prices versus drops in prices,” said Matt Dillon, Clif Bar’s director of agricultural policy and programs.

Growth in the organic sector also continues to translate into jobs across the supply chain, OTA stated.

More than 65 percent of organic farms sold product in wholesale markets in 2016, and more than 60 percent of organic businesses with more than five employees reported an increase in full-time employment with plans to continue increasing staff in 2017.

“Organic offers in many cases the choice for growth and more viable, stable prices for farmers and food manufacturers,” Batcha said.