Oregon Mint Pt. 1

December 19th, 2011

Edible Portland sent this lovely card out to folks for the holidays.

So even though I’m pretty stinking busy right now working on the Toro Bravo Cookbook as well as being an editor and publicist for Hawthorne Books I’m still freelance food writing. I love covering our local food culture.

I wrote a story about Oregon mint for Edible Portland a while back and due to space constraints it didn’t make it as planned into this winter’s issue of magazine that just published. Despite getting nixed something cool happened to my story. See that card above? Mary Kate McDevitt took my story — followed up on some of the facts and figures — and made it into a beautiful holiday card for Edible Portland that I and probably many of you recently received in the mail. Literary transubstantiation!

Since I interviewed a lot of great people for my mint story I thought it would be a shame to not get it out there so with Edible Portland’s permission I’m posting it for you here in several installments and with a fair few photos. Hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the first installment…

There’s an old poster of Reba McIntyre push-pinned to the bulletin board of Tim Butler’s small fluorescent-lit farm office in Stayton, Oregon. Just below sit two small, mustard-sized jars of oil–peppermint oil. Like most oil, it doesn’t look like much: It is pretty clear with a faint straw hue. But when Butler opens a jar, a minty aroma immediately fills the room. The smell is intoxicating.

Butler Farms in Stayton, Oregon — just south of Salem — is a little less than a decade shy of becoming a century farm. Tim Butler’s maternal grandparents purchased the farm and its then 160 acres in 1918. Butler’s mom grew up on the farm; Tim, now 61 years old, grew up on the farm with his siblings; and Tim’s children, who are all adults now, grew up here. These days Butler, two of his brothers and a nephew run 2,100-acre Butler Farms. Tim’s wife, Joanie, is the farm bookkeeper.

Peppermint is integral to Butler Farms. They cultivate 400-plus acres of it annually, in addition to various vegetable crops, and every last bit is distilled on premises into peppermint oil. They began growing peppermint in 1995 after learning of a neighbor’s success.

“That’s typical of farmers,” says Butler. “You watch what your neighbor’s doing. If he’s successful at it you think, ‘Well I can do that too.’”

The Butlers are not alone in Oregon mint cultivation. The state is second in the nation in terms of peppermint cultivation (a very close second to Washington) and has seven main cultivation regions: the Willamatte Valley, Klamath Basin (including Susanville, Northern California and Tulelake), Madras, Hermiston, Ontario, Klatskanie and La Grande. The Madras and Hermiston areas focus primarily on peppermint leaf production while the Willamette Valley specializes almost entirely on peppermint oil production…

Stay tuned for the next three installments of this story.
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint

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