As you know, I’m gone for nine days on a road trip in my new car to deliver my grandson to stay with his dad in Coos Bay for the summer. We had a wonderful trip!
Steffi gave me coupons to stay in the “Fertile Ground Guest House” in Olympia so I wouldn’t have to drive all in one shot. That was the perfect overnight for me—she knew! Gail the innkeeper told me all about the Olympia Co-op which Steffi and Daniel used to belong to, so Ellery and I went on over to check it out and have supper out of the salad bar. The place has been in operation for thirty-five years or so, and now has grown to two stores and is about to open a third. It is still a funky and folksy place, not uptown at all. There are now about forty employees and untold hundreds of working members and volunteers. It’s a business model we should study very carefully I think—the shoppers look just like us!
The highlight of the second day of our trip was our stop at Nancy’s Creamery in Eugene. It was very funny and very wonderful. As any Nancy’s eater would know, the creamery is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. It was started by Chuck and Sue Kesey and Nancy joined as bookkeeper in 1969, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Ellery and I didn’t see the entrance to the building because of the bushes, so we went around to the side to ask directions of some men in hairnets attending to a double milk tanker. “Here,” they said, “You can just go in this back door and go down the hall.” So there we were, bedraggled and stiff, walking through the door at the far end l and finding ourselves in a room full of women at desks with their mouths agape wondering how the heck we got in there. Embarrassed, I blurted out “I’ve been eating Nancy’s yogurt for forty years and I just was wondering where it came from!” A nicely dressed woman stood up and offered her hand saying, “I’m Nancy. We don’t give tours, but c’mon, I’ll show you around.” It was a blast.
We walked back down the hall and looked through the many windows into the processing room where the raw milk is pasteurized and separated for the low-fat products. I was excited to learn that the organic line is made with milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows from two local dairies. Nancy was proud to tell me that they sweeten such products as kefir or fruited yogurts with Glory Bee organic honey, local to central Oregon. We saw two people in a special room filling little yogurt cups with the fruits obtained from very select sources, local except for the peaches which come from a wonderful orchard in California.
Of course Nancy had a lot to say about the careful selection and handling of the probiotic cultures, and she showed how the milk is injected and incubated in the dedicated rooms for that purpose for the requisite number of hours at the perfect temperatures.
We saw a warehouse, the first huge rank of which contained more lids than anyone would think possible.
Outdoors, proceeding to the messy area that any plant has out back where spare parts, surplus equipment, and so on are neatly arranged among palettes and machinery. I investigated a huge stainless steel trough, about four feet wide, three feet deep, and 25 feet long, which is a retired cottage cheese vat. Nancy explained that when Ken Kesey died ten years ago, they put milk cans and buckets full of colorful paints in the vat and dipped the coffin in the colors for a tie-dye effect. Some of the paint buckets, Nancy said, are still in the warehouse. It was a remarkable funeral.
I asked where the bus is, and was told that the original one is wallowing in some nearby swamp. The second bus, which Ken Kesey outfitted identically for the last part of his life, is at his farm five miles away where his daughter lives.
Farther back there’s a 100 year old greenhouse. The purple glass has been replaced with hurricane proof plastic, and inside we found ourselves standing under a huge spreading fig tree laden with ripening figs and exuding a remarkable fragrance. The tree overlapped branches with another huge tree, an avocado with large, lovely, shiny green avocados. We passed many other luxuriously healthy plants, including cacti, to the other end which held a spreading grape trellis with huge clusters of different kinds of ripening fruit which we were invited to taste. “Whose greenhouse is this?” I asked, and Nancy explained that Chuck started it but it’s everybody’s hobby.
As we walked back through the building we saw all the products we have in our co-op. Nancy gave us each a quart of kefir to take with us, blueberry for Ellery and peach for me. Back in the office she gifted us each with a shopping bag with a picture of yogurt on the front.
It’s really true that I’ve been eating the stuff for forty years. When we got to my son’s house in Coos Bay I saw a kefir carton in my 38 year old son’s recycling bin and a stack of half gallon yogurt tubs awaiting reuse. My family must be made of untold thousands of gallons of Nancy’s yogurt!
And today I went to the Coos Bay Farmers’ Market and got y’all twelve little squeezy bears of local honey from an old fellow named Robert Burgdorff—four wild flower, four clover, and four very thick buckwheat honey, these last not from his twenty colonies but from a farm up to the north of here. First come, first served!
I miss you, every single one. See you at the meeting next week!