This month marks the one-year anniversary of an Oregon success story that made national and international news.
On October 18, 2019, Rogue Creamery from Central Point, Oregon, earned the title of “best cheese in the world” for their Rogue River Blue Cheese at the World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy. It was the first time in the history of the competition that an American cheese was selected as grand champion.
Similar to the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976, when American wines triumphed over the best French vintners in a blind taste test, this was a statement win and a landmark moment for American artisanal and farmstead cheeses.
The U.S. Dairy Export Council President, Tom Vilsack said, “This is more than a win for Rogue Creamery of Central Point, Oregon, The ‘Best Cheese’ title creates a halo effect that will cause global customers to look at all U.S. cheeses in a brighter light.”
This was no small feat. An international panel of 260 judges selected Rogue River Blue out of more than 3,800 cheeses from 42 countries.
The judges experienced the signature Rogue Valley terroir captured within each taste of the organic, cave-aged blue cheese wrapped in Syrah grape leaves soaked in pear spirits, with flavors of sweet pine, wild ripened berries, hazelnuts, morels and pears. It earned their high praise and respect.
This special cheese is the product of many years of hard work and refinement by President David Gremmels with support from his dedicated team at Rogue Creamery and their organic herd of Brown Swiss and Holstein cows. Rogue Creamery is a certified B-Corporation that serves as a model for sustainability in dairy, committed to leaving a positive impact on people, animals, and the planet.
“I am humbled and filled with gratitude. This is the greatest distinction a cheese can receive,” said Rogue Creamery President, David Gremmels. “What extraordinary validation of our commitment to quality, of the place that inspires our cheese – Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley – and of the excellence of the growing American artisan cheese industry.”
Since the 2020 World Cheese Awards were postponed to 2021, Rogue River Blue will have the rare distinction of continuing its reign as “best in the world” for two years running.
This is just one example of Oregon’s dairy producers and processors who bring our state’s great agricultural bounty to our tables.
As if the year wasn’t already challenging enough, 2020’s wildfire season has been named one of the most destructive on record in the state of Oregon. Burning more than one million acres, the fires destroyed thousands of homes, and blanketed the entire state in heavy smoke for many days.
In early September, unusually high winds combined with an extremely dry summer caused multiple wildfires to expand quickly throughout the entire state, including Southern Oregon, the coast range, and the Willamette Valley. The fires caused level 3 “go now” evacuations for about 40,000 people and placed 500,000 people in evacuation zones, including more than 10% of Oregon’s dairy community.
As evacuations levels were announced, 20 of Oregon’s dairy farms were faced with the terrifying realization that they could lose their homes and livelihoods to a wildfire. Many packed up family members and moved some cattle, but in most cases the difficult decision was made to not evacuate the milking cows. Instead, farmers worked hard to create fire breaks around their farms, using their tractors to plow the ground to mineral soil, moving combustible materials, and using sprinklers designed for crop irrigation to keep the fields surrounding their barns wet and therefore safe from floating embers.
The decision to wait out the fires was not made lightly, and it was based on the best care for the cows. Milking cows require a specially formulated diet, a comfortable place to rest, and consistency. Darleen Sichley, one of Oregon’s dairy farmers faced with evacuation orders shared her story online stating that care for their animals was, and always will be, their top priority:
“Long term, yes, these conditions are not good for us and them. But honestly the stress of trying to move them to another farm at this point would be worse… I know that seems like a crazy concept to not evacuate the cows and we pray we are making the right decision, but conditions in our whole area make us confident they are safer staying then maybe having to move them multiple times as these fires continue.” – Darleen Sichley, Farmer, Abiqua Acres
In Southern Oregon, thousands of families lost their homes to the Almeda fire. Among those thousands were several employees of Rogue Creamery.
“After a harrowing night of wildfire blazing through our community, we are heartbroken and devastated to learn this morning that several members of our team have lost their homes. Many others are waiting to return home to see what’s left … For now, Rogue Creamery has been fortunate as our cows are safe and our facilities have been spared. But our hearts ache for all those in our community that have lost everything.”– Rogue Creamery
And yet, through this tragedy, the farming community demonstrated their dedication to their families, farms, and communities through their bravery and resiliency. Some spent long nights sleeping in their barns or offices, others helped their neighbors evacuate animals, and many farmers donated hay and feed to local fairgrounds housing evacuated animals.
As Mister Rogers is famously known to say, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
In Tillamook, one helper was dairy farmer Derrick Josi, who called on his 400,000 Facebook followers to support their local first responders. His call to action resulted in a Tillamook coffee shop receiving over $1,000 to cover breakfasts for firefighters working to save homes and dairy farms threatened by the Pike Fire.
Also in Tillamook, the helpers were at Tillamook Creamery, where they provided free boxed meals to families in their community who were required to evacuate.
In Saint Paul, the helper was dairy farmer Brandon Hazenberg whose farm was safe from evacuation zones. He spent his days hauling feed and bedding to nearby shelters and offered his dairy to neighboring farms in need of a place to house their animals.
In Rickreall, the helpers were from Darigold where single-serve milk was donated for food boxes provided to evacuees. In Central Point, the helpers were located at the Rogue Creamery, where, after several of their own teammates faced unprecedented tragedy, they offered fresh, hot food and women’s necessities to those displaced by the fires.
And in Scotts Mills, the helper was Darleen Sichley, whose farm was only miles away from the fire. She quickly shifted from saving her family’s farm to caring for her community as evacuation zones were downgraded and her neighbors returned to find unhealthy air conditions both inside and outside of their homes. Within a day, Sichley was able to secure 72 difficult-to-find air filters for her community to use to help purify the air inside their homes.
Many farmers are volunteer fire fighters, which proved extremely valuable with preparing for the approaching wildfires. Sichley’s husband, Ben, has been a volunteer fire fighter for over 16 years, and her father, Alan, has been serving the department for 39 years. “I think volunteer firefighting and that farmer mentality just go hand-in-hand in serving our neighbors in their time of need. It’s that sense of community service that has us not only caring for our farms and cows, but the future generations of our community.”
“Farmers just know about helping other people. You help your neighbor, it’s just what you do.” – Steve Aamodt, former dairy farmer and volunteer firefighter for over 28 years.
As summer came to an end and rain provided a much-needed assist for fire fighters, the smoke has dissipated and flames and hot spots are being extinguished. This has been yet another surreal chapter in the book of 2020 that we hope is behind us. Once again, it showcased an enduring theme of the Oregon dairy story – the resiliency and generosity of our farmers and processors.
Like so many people throughout our state, the dairy community has been struggling with the impacts of wildfires. The widespread nature of the fires has impacted farms in many parts of the state including the coast, the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon.
While our farmers and animals are currently safe, more than 10% of dairies in Oregon have been under some level of evacuation warning and 100% have been impacted by smoke and unhealthy or hazardous air quality conditions. And with such large fires and widespread impacts, dairy farmers are certainly not alone.
With more than 40,000 Oregonians evacuated, many have lost their homes and businesses, some have even lost their lives, and others remain missing. It is an historically bad wildfire season in a year that has already posed its fair share of challenges. But here are some ways that you can help make a difference:
American Red Crossis helping evacuees and providing shelter and resources. They accept donations on their website, by calling 800-RED CROSS or you can text the word WILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also volunteer to support local relief efforts.
Wildfire Relief Fund is a disaster relief fund created by Oregon Business & Industry, the Oregon Business Council and the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce to support Oregonians who have been displaced.
What’s old is new again as companies like Milk Run and Alpenrose bring back milk deliveries of the past with a new twist. Vans splashed with colorful logos and full of local milk and produce are bringing the farm directly to your doorstep so that you can experience the fresh taste of locally harvested food.
Alpenrose, a dairy that began in 1916 in Portland, recently returned to it’s milk delivery roots this August by delivering daily milk and produce within the Portland metro area. You won’t get milk in glass bottles, but it’s easy to order through their website or mobile app.
“It’s been nearly 40 years since our trucks delivered fresh milk to the area,” said Josh Reynolds, general manager for Alpenrose. “We are ready to bring back a new, modern twist on home delivery.”
Milk Run, the brainchild of farmer Julia Niiro, started with a question: How could farmers bring fresh food from their farms directly to their neighbors? Niiro, a partner with Revel Meat Co. in Canby, OR, reached out to a handful of neighboring farms to join her in answering it. A few short years later, Milk Run operates in Portland and Seattle and works with over 200 farmers across Oregon to supply it’s rapidly growing customer base.
With more people stuck at home due to quarantining, Milk Run saw an opportunity to shrink the gap between farmers and consumers and educate prospective locavores. “I think that the tactile experience of getting the food in our Milk Run box is the teaching tool for understanding what can be experienced locally.” said Lilly Harris, Operations Manager for Milk Run.
“We can think about local food abstractly,” said Harris, “But having it delivered to your doorstep and opening a box of local produce is a totally different experience. You’re able to see what’s in season and learn why it’s important to cherish the produce when it’s fresh and ripe.”
Farmers seem to be responding in kind to the local demand for their products. Lulubelle’s, one of Milk Run’s dairy purveyors, will soon be producing new products like Half & Half and Heavy Cream for it’s online customers.
In working directly with farmers, Harris commented, “I think farmers are the most grounded, intelligent people that we could possibly work with. They’re knowledgable about their craft and excited to share what they produce with consumers. I love being able to provide that conduit for their excitement and knowledge.”
Many activities have been cancelled during this pandemic, but don’t let that stop you from celebrating National Ice Cream Month and National Ice Cream Day on July 19!
Ice cream seems to make everything better, as we witnessed when ice cream sales increased by 45% in March. When the going gets tough, Americans reach for comfort foods, and ice cream is a quintessential comfort indulgence. After all, money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy ice cream and that’s basically the same thing.
So, how can you celebrate this national ice cream month? We have some ideas to get you started.
If you’re comfortable leaving your home, there are ice cream shops that have figured out a way to open their stores and still comply with social distancing protocols, and with the recent closures, these shops still need your support! Just in time for National Ice Cream Day on July 19, we have updated our crowdsourced Oregon Ice Cream Trail for 2020. Open the map, connect the dots, and check out some open shops near you. You could even plan an ice cream-themed road trip!
In select communities where county fairs have been cancelled, the Oregon Dairy Women and Wilco have partnered to deliver some happiness in the form of ice cream. Many Oregon State Fair attendees look forward to the Oregon Dairy Women’s soft serve ice cream every year, so this year the Oregon Dairy Women figured out a way to take their famous State Fair soft serve ice cream on the road with the “Red Barn on Wheels.” They will be set up in Wilco parking lots across the Willamette Valley and will be open most weekends in July and August, Friday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Money from their ice cream sales and tips will go to support dairy education programs in Oregon. Check out the Oregon Dairy Women Facebook page to see if they will be visiting a Wilco near you! And may we recommend you try the delicious Marionberry Milkshake?
If you’re not comfortable going out, ice cream can also be delivered straight to your home! Check out this article for ice cream deliveries available in the Portland area.
Or, maybe after you finish making your 130th sourdough bread, you’ll want to try your hand at making ice cream. It’s much easier than you may think!
You can make it in a couple of zip top bags, with ingredients you probably already have in your home, or with an ice cream machine.
It’s a great opportunity to try new flavors like the Loganberry ice cream Guernsey Dairy Mama recently created. Don’t forget to add your favorite toppings of berries, chocolate, or sprinkles!
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Have you tried a new flavor during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page!
In light of distance learning, spring field trips have been cancelled, and all education has moved online. But, you can still visit a farm—virtually of course. Check out these links to see Oregon dairy producers (and friends) doing what they do best- making delicious dairy products for your fridge.
In this video, Oregon Dairy Princess Ambassador Jaime connects us with Darleen from Abiqua Acres: Mann’s Guernsey Dairy in Marion County shows you their beautiful Guernsey dairy cows who are milked by robots! The camera even gets a kiss from the cow named Darleen.
Also in Marion County is Oregon 1st Alternate Dairy Princess Ambassador, Taysha, who will give you a tour of her family’s dairy. Explore cattle feed, maternity pens and feeding calves with a special appearance from the cutest barn cat.
Next, travel to Harrold’s Dairy in Lane County to visit with Bobbi, a fourth generation dairy farmer who is introducing her dairy to 8th grade students at Coburg Community Charter School through AgLink’s Adopt a Farmer Program.
You can find more educational videos for your virtual classroom on the Oregon Dairy Women’s Facebook page, where Oregon’s Dairy Princess Ambassador, Jaime, and First Alternate Dairy Princess Ambassador, Taysha, will teach you about all dairy cow breeds and cow nutrition, milk from farm to table, MyPlate nutrition, and so much more in this four part series.
Oregon’s dairy community loves what they do. They work hard every day caring for their land and animals, and providing your family with essential nutrition.
During this pandemic, food heroes including farmers, processors and grocers are working hard to get products to you, from farm to fridge. But don’t just take our word for it, here they are in a short video to tell you themselves.
While things have not been perfect, and this world looks extremely different than it did a few months ago, Oregon’s dairy community has rallied together to make sure everyone gets the food that they need, through your grocery stores, to your schools, and through Oregon’s food banks.
So whether you need essential nutrients found in dairy products, or just come good ol’ comfort food, dairy farm families across the state, like the Lancaster family, Heimerl kids, Wismer triplets, Krahn girls, processors Darigold and Tillamook Creamery, Darleen from Guernsey Dairy Mama and Derrick from TDF Honest Farming want you to know “we’ve got you covered.”
Searching for free school meals in your area? Run out of recipe ideas? Looking for ways to exercise at home? Anthony Newman has got your back.
Anthony Newman, former NFL player and Oregon Duck, tackles health issues for kids and teens in our short video series, “Staying Healthy with Anthony Newman.”
Where to Find Free School Meals
Anthony Newman shares information on where to find free school meals in your area. Free school meals are available to ALL kids and teens age 1-18. Not just those in school. No ID or registration is needed at pick up. And they’re delicious and healthy!
Self-care is an important part of staying on track while staying at home. Anthony shares information on the importance of sleeping, eating well, and how kids can establish a healthy routine during this time.
Feeling lonely or disconnected? Anthony provides tips on how to cultivate a positive attitude while staying safe and socially distancing.
Food Hero Smoothie Recipe
Who likes smoothies? You will after watching this video! Anthony shows you how easy it is to eat healthy at home with a recipe from Food Hero, a website chock-full of easy and nutritious recipes kids can make at home.