Earth Day usually directs one’s attention to sustainability on the macro scale, but in Central Oregon, an independent group of restaurateurs, businesses and artisans are tilting that gaze toward the local.

A dozen Central Oregon businesses, ranging from upstarts to the internationally known, are kicking 15 percent of Earth Day proceeds toward Central Oregon Locavore, the area’s only year-round, indoor farmers market that has stood as an example of local sustainability since it first paired farmers and ranchers with consumers in 2009 and under the same roof since 2013.

“Love Your Locals,” the fundraising event, which is in its third year and was previously held on Valentine’s Day, is now better synced with a day where national attention is paid toward conservation, recycling and forward mindedness, said Central Oregon Locavore director Megan French.

“We wanted to work with the theme of supporting local businesses not just once a year but every day,” said French, who added that Central Oregon purchases cut down on the use and cost of fossil fuels burned in transportation. “Buying locally ties into lots of aspects of conscientious living. If you’re supporting your neighbors’ businesses, you’re improving their quality of life by allowing their businesses to thrive.”

Businesses participating in the fundraiser include Humm Kombucha, Angelina’s Organic Skincare, Bethlyn’s Global Fusion and 123 Ramen.

Central Oregon Locavore hopes to raise $3,000 this year, as it did in 2016. The proceeds will go mostly toward financing its “Farm Kids!” program, which involves eight 1-hour educational sessions dedicated to seven schools in the Bend-La Pine School District, ultimately benefiting 800 kids, French said. Students take field trips to farms, where they learn about animals and agriculture. It’s a sound investment in the future of Central Oregon, a region that is home to seven farmers markets — four are in Bend — and whose population growth shows no sign of slowing down. Central Oregon Locavore has seen a 20-percent increase in transactions from 2015 to 2016, according to the nonprofit.

“Bend is a really interesting town because there is so much crammed into a small area,” French said. “There is so much talent here and I think that increases awareness of that local flavor and uniqueness that you find here in Bend.”

Central Oregon Locavore is partnering with Make Local Habit and Localize Bend, two organizations that champion buying local.

Alyson Jones founded Localize Bend in August 2016. The website now connects around 200 to 300 local businesses, artists and service providers with online browsers, 1,400 of whom follow the site on Instagram. Jones spoke of the importance of stoking a communally supportive vibe.

“Bend and Central Oregon are so interesting. We’re slowly growing, but have so much talent in a small area,” said Jones, whose website will feature a virtual marketplace in a month and has pledged 5 percent of its proceeds to a local business to be selected at the end of the year.

“It’s been important to help these businesses reach out to the masses and beyond Central Oregon,” she said. “It’s really awesome to see everyone’s businesses grow. These people are supporting their families off their incomes.”

Anna Witham, the restaurateur who founded Lone Pine Coffee and The Root Cellar restaurant, said her latest venture, 123 Ramen, is taking part in the Central Oregon Locavore fundraiser because a sense of community informs her business ethos, which involves buying as many ingredients locally as possible.

“Nurturing our community … and feeding our people — that’s (our) purpose. We source all of our meat from Central Oregon and our veggies from Oregon organic farms,” said Witham, who buys in-bulk directly from farmers and ranchers but runs to Central Oregon Locavore as back-up and for her personal needs, since it hosts many of the same suppliers. “Something like Love Your Locals is exactly what we are all about.”

Witham said this reciprocal, community-centered process is deeply ingrained in her. Witham has volunteered at the Central Oregon Locavore by instructing a couple of classes, which cover topics like how to cook with offal — less frequently eaten parts of animals — and how to incorporate healthy fats into meals.

“Eating food at my restaurant instead of some big chain means a whole team of people get to work for this small business and be supported in that way. That’s really wonderful — they work in a nice environment and they get to do something they can put their own creativity and passion into,” she said. “It allows us to continue our mission of investing in the farmers and the ranchers and the other small businesses that we work with — it’s this fantastic network that gets to keep happening if you come and make an investment in having a meal here.”

Ultimately, Witham credits farmer’s markets like Central Oregon Locavore with leading the local food charge.

“(Central Oregon Locavore) is at the epicenter of local food here in town,” she said. “They make lots of local food accessible to regular consumers, which is amazing. Through my relationship with them, just as a person, I have learned so much about what different things are happening as far as agriculture and ranching is going on around here.”

French, the Central Oregon Locavore director, said that in a tourism-driven economy such as Bend’s, it’s exceedingly important to stoke local ranchers, farmers and businesses in the absence of tourist dollars during the off-seasons.

“The whole concept of making buying local a habit, taking the extra effort to go to your neighbor’s business and frequent those kinds of places instead of the big box stores — it just improves the quality of life for everyone,” said French. “If the tourists go away and we’re not helping each other out and shopping locally, then those small mom-and-pop businesses won’t exist anymore.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com

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