The Food Roots’ Beginning Farmer Hoop House dedication ceremony was held on May 29 at the Port of Tillamook Bay. The hoop house growing spaces and beginning farmer incubator project was dedicated to Food Roots founder Shelly Bowe.

Bowe worked tirelessly to pursue her vision of a healthy, sustainable food system in Tillamook from the birth of Food Roots in 2006 until 2015. She built a wide-ranging network of people, projects and resources for community food system before her passing in 2017.

Bowe and Food Roots, along with partners at the Port of Tillamook Bay, Oregon Food Bank, local farmers, the Larson Family Foundation, Samuel Johnson Foundation, Nehalem Bay Garden Club, the USDA Specialty Crop Block grant and local businesses and community members all helped fund the development of the two high tunnel season extension hoop houses that are now located at the Port of Tillamook Bay, just south of the Officer’s Mess Hall.

Michele Bradley, Port of Tillamook Bay general manager, spoke at the dedication ceremony. She highlighted the changes locally and globally since she started at the Port in 1997, particularly changes to how food systems are viewed.

“The realization of changes are redirecting our discussions, especially about food systems, like specialty crops, new farmer training, farm to table, resilience, food desert – words that weren’t in my vocabulary fifteen years ago,” Bradley said.

The Port of Tillamook Bay is located on former Naval Air Station Tillamook. The Navy vacated the station after WWII. Many years later it became the Port of Tillamook Bay – an airport, industrial park and railroad. The manufacturing and industrial zoning for the property facilitates a manure digester and the Tillamook Air Museum among other opportunities.

“Enter Shelly Bowe, a tiny but mighty spitfire and relentless advocate for ground roots solutions to food security,” Bradley said. “She had a vision; she worked tirelessly for years to create what became Food Roots. I can’t imagine the hours of unpaid work she put in. It was truly a labor of love.

Bradley, who worked in accounting at the time, created a file that was labeled “Green Houses 1998.” The project was discussed often, but lacked a budget to get it started. Flash to December of 2007 when a storm wiped out the Port’s freight rail line. Ultimately deciding not to rebuild the rail line, the Port focused on future growth infrastructure such as water, sewer, fiber optic lines, and rehabilitated buildings.

Bowe brought her vision to the Port in 2009 as funding became available. Setting out to find matching funds, the project attracted the support of the Oregon Food Bank, Larson Family Foundation, Samuel Johnson Foundation, Tillamook PUD, Nehalem Bay Garden Club, USDA, plus so many local farmers, business people and Food Roots supporters.

Bradley said the plan was to work with the Port’s existing opportunities, which meant to co-locate adjacent to the Hooley digester. The manure fiber output and possible “green tea” type fertilizer was a value-added product from the digester operation. There were to be three 100-foot-by-30-foot hoop houses. By now the project was called Port of Tillamook Bay Greenhouses, one of the Port’s dozen or so FEMA Projects, but was referred to by the working group as the Hoop House Project.

The site preference changed to its current location, and the budget was fine-tuned, resulting in the two 72-foot-by-30-foot hoop houses you can see today – and there is room to grow.

“The Port of Tillamook Bay is proud to be part of this project; happy to work with Food Roots on a regular basis, and hopeful for Tillamook County’s food future with this dedication of the Hoop Houses,” Bradley said. “Shelly Bowe continues to be an inspiration to so many, and to have her legacy be memorialized here at the Port makes me so happy.”

In the Spring of 2019 – a year after beginning their new farming venture, Circe’s Garden – Patrick and Courtney Mortensen took up space at the two hoop houses to scale up their salad green and other vegetable production.

The Mortensens had a season under their belt, growing mostly salad mixes at their tenth of an acre plot at home. Without space to expand production, they were looking for access to growing space that Food Roots was able to fill.

These growing spaces, along with Food Roots’ new FarmTable retail storefront in downtown Tillamook, are enabling Circe’s Garden to grow exponentially over the next year, both selling to the public and contracting to supply produce to local restaurants like The Schooner, Antoinette’s Kitchen and Pacific Restaurant.

For more about Food Roots programs and to donate, go to www.foodrootsnw.org.

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