I recently visited my dad in Wallowa County, where I was born and lived until around 11 years old. Wallowa County is the very northeastern county of Oregon. It’s remote, high in elevation, and beautiful. The first time I took my husband to visit the county he called it Little Scandinavia, because of the picturesque alpine peaks and pastoral farmlands.
Photo courtesy Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce
Wallowa county has always been somewhat self-reliant. Because of its distance from any metropolitan center or robust supply chain, coupled with a recalcitrant attitude towards big box stores and chains (Subway is the only chain restaurant in the entire county), Wallowa locals have always grown a lot of their own food. This trip back to my birthplace was especially interesting because the slow food and locavore trends are making a big impact in the county. I ate at the newly revamped Lostine Tavern, a local tavern that was recently crowd-funded to turn it into a farm-to-table eatery headed by Chef Lynn Curry.
Across the street from the LT I visited the Lostine Community Marketplace, a shop selling local handcrafts, from quilts and homespun yarn, to slingshots, pickles, and pottery. The Community Marketplace is staffed in volunteer shifts by those who sell their wares through it. I especially admired a collection of vintage hats on display and the tiny wood-burning stove.
The store was started by my “Auntie” June, an ideas-woman whose current project is using native plants to dye handspun yarns and fleece from her specially bred flock of Targee-Wensleydale sheep. The wool from this breed has a long staple, with no “prickle factor,” and a wavy crimp. I visited her home studio and got to bring an undyed skein still smelling of lanolin home with me.
Kitty-corner from the Community Marketplace is M. Crow & Co. General Store. I grew up buying penny candies here. The General Store has also recently changed owners and received a facelift. Now along with the same popsicles and Jiffy Pop popcorn from my childhood, you can buy Filson workwear and handcrafted wooden furniture. Three nice attractions, with a focus on local goods, in a town of 275 people. Lostine is hopping!
I also attended the Wallowa Harvest Fest on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds where my sister, dad, and I pressed five gallons of apple cider from apples we had gathered the previous day. We also picked out pumpkins for Jack-O-Lanterns and a few dozen duck eggs to bring back to Portland with us. It was a good visit to a place where “shop local” isn’t just a buzzword, but a way of life.