ENTERPRISE, Ore. – Last spring the world was shaken by a global pandemic that made people come home from work or make them unemployed. Shutdown closed the restaurant and made local producers have no place to distribute their food.
Here, in the far northeastern corner of Oregon, a unique online market is expanded to allow producers to sell their crops and products and deliver them to the customer’s doorstep.
About a year ago, Kristy Athens started an online gift shop called Genuine Wallowa County that featured locally made products. The five-year plan is to add locally grown food to online store offerings, but the pandemic puts the plan on the fast track.
“Some local producers asked me if I would sell food on my website,” Athena said. “They are interested in not having to do the tiring shipping themselves.”
Mary Hawkins from Hawkins Sisters Ranch, Theresa Stangel from Stangel Bison Ranch and Beth Gibans from Backyard Gardens began meeting Athens in January. COVID-19 pushed the idea into the front burner in a hurry.
“It became clear that it was a good time to offer food delivery to people’s homes so they did not have to endanger themselves by going to the grocery store,” Athena said. “Meanwhile, restaurants are closed and local producers have no place to sell their food. If there is time to become resilient as an area, it’s a pandemic. “
In 2015 Athens, a writer interested in the food justice movement, graduated with a master’s degree in food systems from Marylhurst University in Portland.
“I work in economic development and am looking for ways to bring these things together,” Athena said. “What I really want to do and hopefully will continue to be is to create larger-scale incubator farms. Wallowa Regency has a very strong brand in the tourism sector and I think we can use that brand as far as local food production is concerned. “
As an outreach specialist for the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, Athens found a 2006 economic study. One recommendation was to create the Wallowa County brand.
The online souvenir shop developed Wallowa County brand recognition, and the GWC Provisions brought food delivery into the mix.
The results of the poll on the Facebook community page were extraordinary. He realized he had a market.
Athena said that she started with pre-sales membership and fundraising for supplies. He received a small grant from the Eastern Oregon Labor Council and Wallowa’s Slow Foods as well as investments from community members to buy refrigerators and freezers, design websites, and cover other initial costs.
Meat and GWC Provision products are delivered to the customer’s door or shipped in an isolated bag at Main Street Motors in Enterprise, a central location for most people in the county.
Athena sells items such as chicken, bison, goats, vegetables and fruits, Jor energy bars and Sei Mee Tea and Joseph Creek Coffee. He even started selling some gifts from his garden – items that did not compete with his vendors.
The vendor receives 80% of the retail price, and $ 1 from each sale goes to one of the two food banks in the district. Finally, Athena said that she wanted to be able to receive the Oregon Trail card.
Athena says her new online venture is implementing her entrepreneurship and striving for food justice.
“I feel like after talking about food justice for two consecutive years in graduate school, it feels good to do something on the ground that has results and affects people,” Athena said.
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