Behind the Farmers Market: Prairie Creek Farm and Carman Ranch of Oregon’s Wallowa Valley

Healthy Eating Monday, September 22, 2014 Written by

We’ve teamed up with the Washington State Farmers Market Association and the Portland Farmers Market to bring you our new Behind the Farmers Market series. Here you’ll meet farmers from around the Northwest who provide the fresh, local and seasonal products found at your local farmers market.

Cory Carman of Carman Ranch, Wallowa Valley, OregonName: Patrick Thiel and Cory Carman (pictured)

Farms: Prairie Creek Farm and Carman Ranch in Wallowa Valley, Oregon

Find Prairie Creek Farm and Carman Ranch at the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University on Saturdays.

There’s nothing more traditional or satisfying than a meat-and-potatoes dinner — especially as we head into cooler temperatures. Did you know that a meal like that can be not only hearty but healthy? In fact, a meal of grass-finished beef (read on to learn what that means!), organic potatoes and fresh vegetables will fulfill both your appetite and nutritional needs.

In Oregon, there’s no better place to find the makings for this feast than the Prairie Creek/Carman Ranch stand at the Portland Farmers Market at PSU, your one-stop shop for local meat and potatoes.

Both Prairie Creek and Carman Ranch have long, storied family histories of farming the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon. Yet one thing has remained constant through the generations: a profound appreciation, respect and devotion to the land, their product, and the communities they serve. Today, both Cory Carman and Patrick Thiel have taken charge of their respective family businesses and, through their stewardship, have helped advance Oregon’s growing local food movement with a focus on sustainable, community-focused food production.

Actively Northwest had the pleasure to speak with Cory and Patrick, and through our conversations it became apparent that both producers share more than just a farm stand at the PSU market.

The Prairie Creek Story

Prairie Creek Farm, Wallowa Valley, OregonPatrick grew up in a farming community in eastern Oregon. He spent some time away pursuing other interests before his family’s farm hit hard times and he returned to help out.

“As an artisan farmer, my Dad couldn’t manage it all, but together the two of us made it work. I stayed farming with him because it was his lifeblood, and while it’s difficult at times, I’m much happier in this lifestyle,” said Patrick.

Not only was Patrick’s father, Gene Thiel, a dedicated farmer, he was an early champion of the organic food movement in Oregon. Under Gene and Patrick’s careful nurturing of the soil and crops, Prairie Creek’s potatoes gained wide acclaim, and their vegetables frequently appear on the menus of Portland’s top restaurants.

So what makes Prairie Creek’s produce so special?

“It’s the land,” Patrick explains. “Our climate and soil is very healthy, and as a result, there is a unique flavor that is noticeable in our product. The cooler climate brings out the sugars, and the glacial silt is high in minerals, imparting a special taste and a nutritional value that you can’t get out of the clay soils elsewhere.”

The Carman Ranch Story

Carman Ranch, Wallowa Valley, OregonCory Carman was also raised in the Wallowa Valley, spending her childhood riding horses and helping her family raise cattle. Like Patrick, she departed to pursue her own interests and career. Yet one summer when she returned to help out with the family operation, Cory rediscovered her attachment to the land and passion for ranching. Cory and her husband, Dave Flynn, have raised their own family on the ranch, carrying forward the traditions of generations before her.

Like the Thiels, the Carman family maintains a deep appreciation for the natural environment, which is reflected in the quality, taste and nutritional value of their beef.

Cory explains, “Like fine wine, there is an actual terroir — or flavor profile — in the beef based on where the animal is grown, how it’s raised, and the types of grasses it eats. Oregon has phenomenal grassland, and our cattle’s taste and nutritional content reflects the quality of the grass they consume.”

Not only does Carman Ranch’s beef taste delicious, it’s also generally healthier for you than commercially raised and processed meat.

“What we’re doing is different from the majority of other ranches that claim to be producing grass-fed beef. Most of those cattle are finished — meaning they are fattened up — on grain in a feedlot. Our cattle is grass-finished, meaning they eat grass their entire life, and they never go on a feedlot. Overall, the beef is much higher in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, lower in saturated fat and higher in essential vitamins and minerals.”

Two Families Working Together

Prairie Creek Farm and Carman Ranch, Wallowa Valley, OregonWhile health benefits and taste are reason enough to seek out their market stand, the most inspiring aspect of the story of these two farms is the collaboration between them. Realizing that staffing a market stand was unmanageable on their own — it’s a 300-mile drive to Portland — they decided to trade off market days.

In fact, this kind of collaboration is not unique to these farms. It’s only one example of the greater movement toward community-supported, sustainable and healthy farming practices across the Northwest.

“It’s a collaborative community with a swelling effect that is being mimicked across the country,” Patrick explains.

“People are working hard to express their talents, and they aren’t doing it competitively — they’re doing it with courage to do what is best for the land and for the community as a whole.”

For Cory, this same community motivates her through long days on the ranch. She explains:

“I love the connection with people who are committed to this more natural, healthy way of raising and growing food. We are struggling to keep up with demand, and that’s a good sign not only for our business, but for the local food movement overall.”

For those who want to support this community, or simply want to try the delicious vegetables and beef grown by these two producers, visit them at the Portland Farmers Market through the end of fall. And once you’ve stocked up, check out these hearty, healthful recipe ideas for your next meat-and-potatoes dinner.

Recipes to Try

Prairie Creek Farm and Carman Ranch, Wallowa Valley, OregonArgentine Style Steak Salad with Sweetcorn, Tomatoes and Chimichurri
Instead of serving a large steak to each person, make a giant salad and top with sliced, grilled flank steak for a filling meal. Chimichurri sauce, a classic accompaniment for grilled steak in Argentina, is loaded with fresh herbs making a bright, flavorful addition to this fall harvest salad.

Roasted New Potatoes with Mustard and Herbs
This simple, classic potato preparation is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.  Perfect served with a juicy steak, but also a great accompaniment for grilled fish or chicken.

________________
Portland Farmers Market-logoFounded in 1992, Portland Farmers Market operates world-class farmers markets that contribute to the success of local food growers and producers, and create vibrant community gatherings. The independently-run non-profit manages eight year round farmers markets in the Portland-area attracting more than 720,000 shoppers to purchase farm-fresh produce, meats, cheeses, seafood, baked goods and other specialty foods from more than 190 vendors. In addition to operating markets, Portland Farmers Market also serves as an incubator for emerging businesses, a leader of the local food movement, a source of education, a culinary focal point in the community and a cultural destination.