Joyce, Roxanne and I were recently fortunate enough to tour Hummingbird Wholesale in Eugene and meet with the amazing people there. Much of the organic and transitional food in our bulk department comes from Hummingbird.
Hummingbird is not just a wholesale distributor. They have taken an active role in encouraging local farmers to start growing certified organic crops. More and more farmers are making the transition from conventional, petrochemical based farming practices to organic. Conventional farming is what most farmers these days are accustomed to. It allows chemical fertilizers made from fossil fuel derivatives to be added to the soil. Organic farming practices are actually the more traditional way of farming. It means that there is no use of synthetic fertilizers, weed and pest controls.
In order for a farmer to move from conventional farming methods to USDA certified organic, they must go through a transitional period. According to the USDA, the land must be free of synthetic and other prohibited inputs for 3 years prior to organic certification. During this time, crops are grown under organic conditions, but are not yet allowed to use the “certified organic” label. Three years allows the soil to be cleansed of most of the prohibited inputs applied in the past. Using the “transitional” label tells consumers that these farmers are on their way to organic certification. Buying transitional organic foods is a way for us to support soon to be organic farmers while they are going through the rigorous certification process.
Hummingbird Wholesale has gone to great lengths to support transitional farmers. The work that Hummingbird is doing with Camas Country Mill, located just southwest of Junction City, is a great example. Hummingbird helped the mill get its start, with both funding and expertise. Much of the grain milled there is grown by the Huntons, a 3rd generation farm family. Their crops used to be primarily turf and forage grasses, as well as clover seed and meadowfoam. More recently, they have started growing grains for milling along with beans and lentils. Many of these crops are in the process of becoming certified organic. Each year more farmers bring their crops to Camas Country Mill, helping to grow another worthy local business and allow local farmers an opportunity to sell to the local markets.
Another fun story that we picked up from our Hummingbird visit was that of a lost and forgotten variety of barley. It is a beautiful hulless barley now called Purple Karma. It was “discovered” by an American visiting Tibet in 1924. As the story goes, it was stored and forgotten at the USDA Seed Conservatory in Colorado, until one day in 2007 when a serendipitous discovery was made by Oregon State University barley researcher Pat Hayes. Returning home to Oregon, Hayes turned a mere 5 grams of seed into a thriving crop, grown organically in Chiloquin.
Another fabulous locally grown food we buy from Hummingbird is organic pumpkin seeds. This Styrian variety is of Austrian origin and is adapted well to Oregon growing conditions. Taste these and compare them to the more common seeds, generally from China, and you’ll be hooked! These seeds taste like fresh, nutritious and delicious Oregon. You can add your own salt and lightly toast them if you prefer.
Hummingbird Wholesale was purchased by Charlie and Julie Tilt in 2003 and has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since then. They have stayed true to their goal of low resource consumption, small carbon footprint and strong sustainability. Local deliveries are made on bicycles with a trailer capable of hauling a thousand pounds! Their invoices are on half sheets, they recycle EVERYTHING, so that this wholesale distribution company has one family sized trash can of true garbage PER MONTH!!!
Hummingbird’s innovative and forward thinking attitude is a tremendous asset to our Willamette Valley community. James Henderson, their Farm Liason, does a remarkable job of working with local farmers to help them learn methods of growing that support the health of the soil, water and air upon which we all depend. We’re grateful to each and every one of these farmers and the staff at Hummingbird. Look for more information about them on their website hummingbirdwholesale.com or visit them next time you’re down in Eugene. They sell directly to the public on Thursdays.