Published November 10, 2012
Soundings: Be a 'Washivore,' Olympia group urges residentsJOHN DODGE
Armed with convincing facts, Heather Hansen has launched a fanciful social media campaign to tout the breadth and depth of Washington-grown food. The executive director of Olympia-based Washington Friends of Farms and Forests typically spends much of her time lobbying on behalf of the agriculture industry, working on her fair share of contentious issues such as pesticide use and genetically engineered food. This latest endeavor to boost consumer knowledge about the state’s sizeable bread basket really is less about politics and agriculture policy and more about the simple fact that Washington is home to crops so diverse, you could survive quite nicely on just those grown in this state. And if you did so, you would be a full-fledged “Washivore,” the name for Hansen’s new public-education and outreach campaign. It has a website, www.washivore.com, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to boot. “Our goal is to help people learn about how important agriculture is to Washington state, along with how to select vegetables and learn a bit about nutrition,” Hansen said. “We keep it light and fun and encourage readers to share recipes and photos.” The project grew out of a Seattle luncheon Hansen attended with other professional women a year ago. As one woman was munching on French fries, Hansen pointed out that Washington produces more potatoes per acre than any other state. “Everybody looked at me with blank stares, and one woman said, ‘French fries come from Washington?’” Hansen recalls. Hansen quizzed other folks about their knowledge of Washington agriculture and came away with the impression that few know it is a $38 billion industry that employs some 160,000 people, making it the largest employer in the state. Even more noticeable was the lack of knowledge of what actually grows in Washington: more than 300 crops, ranking it second only to California in commercial crop diversity. “That was the motivation behind ‘Washivore,’” Hansen said. Each month, a different Washington crop is highlighted. This month, the spotlight is on cranberries. With its 120 cranberry growers centered on 1,700 acres primarily around Grayland and Long Beach on the coast, the state is the nation’s fifth-largest producer of cranberries. Cranberries tend to find a place on our Thanksgiving Day dinner tables, then disappear the rest of the year. But they shouldn’t. They are high in antioxidants and might help protect against heart disease, cancers and ulcers. They mix well with other fruits, including apples, pears and oranges, and can be eaten raw as a relish. Don’t forget to use some honey or sugar to counteract their tartness. In addition, dried cranberries are great in salads or squeezed into juice. It takes more than 3,000 cranberries to make a gallon of juice. While I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about Washington-grown food, Hansen had no trouble coming up with facts and figures that were new to me. For instance: • Farmers in this state produce 25 percent of the fresh frozen peas, corn and carrots consumed in the United States. We might not have a year-round growing season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat Washington-grown vegetables 12 months a year. • Washington grows 91 percent of the country’s supply of red raspberries, mostly in Whatcom County. Raspberries are high in fiber, vitamin C and folate, but contain only 70 calories per cup. • Washington wine has grown into a $3-billion-a-year industry with more than 740 wineries and 350 wine-grape growers. All this activity makes the state the second-largest producer of premium wines in the United States. • At the end of the day, when it’s time to quit eating and brush your teeth, another Washington crop comes into play: mint oil. It’s used to flavor toothpaste, as well as mints and gum. No other state produces as much mint oil as Washington, thanks to the mint farmers in the Yakima Valley. Hansen’s enthusiasm for Washington-grown food dates to her days growing up on her family’s Lewis County farm. Her mom was a county home economist, and Hansen holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Washington State University in agriculture-related fields. “I’ve been cooking since I had to stand on a stool to reach the kitchen counter,” she said. More than 40 years later, Hansen is reaching out to young and old alike, reminding them that this state’s great soils, ample supply of water and hard-working family farmers grow an amazing diversity of food that makes being a Washivore easier than you might think.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444