I’m about as far east in Oregon as one can get without tumbling into Hells Canyon. After a stunning drive up the Columbia River and through the Blue Mountains, I landed in Baker City. The food elite of the Willamette Valley would have you believe that I passed the last culinary oasis about 220 miles ago. In their mind, I think the food world ends right around Hood River and picks up again in New York, with a brief stopover in Chicago. Actually, I feel like I’ve traveled closer to the root of what makes food wonderful, rather than farther away from it.

Out here, things like eating local and knowing who makes your food isn’t some chic 15-year old mantra. It’s just what they do here, and have for generations. Your neighbor might be a couple hundred acres away, but there’s a good chance he raised that steak you grilled last night. And in Baker County, there’s a good chance that neighbor is Sexton Ranches.

After my long drive east, I headed out to Haines, a whistle stop northwest of Baker City. That’s where I met Dick and Andi Sexton, a sixth generation ranching family, and learned about their natural and sustainable lamb and beef. For Dick and Andi, tapping into the market of consumers who are willing to pay a premium for knowing where their food came from is the future.

It’s a philosophy they’re also impressing early into their two young children. While other kids more urban might be worrying about the next Play Station release, Jake and Samantha Sexton showed me their real-life version of a video game: two three-month old calves weaned early from their mothers. Jake and Samantha are responsible for remembering when they need to be fed, where they are in the field, and what they’ll do with the money once the cows go to market. That’s a life lesson that endless soccer games will never teach.

After a tour of the Sexton’s 1,200-acre spread, we came back to the house, sat in front of the wood stove, and enjoyed a taste of their bounty: spicy beef chili, ground lamb balls, and roast lamb shoulder. It was just simple, flavorful, natural food, made and served without a lot of pretense by the people who raised it. You can’t get any closer to the source than that.

During Oregon Bounty, a visit to the Sexton’s ranch is just one of many packages available. Check out the Eastern Oregon section of traveloregon.com/bounty and click on Experience Packages. To see a video diary of my experiences today, just click on the video window here.

Read about my reflections of some of my early travels to Eastern Oregon.

Now, it’s time to get back on the road. Next stop? Central Oregon. See you there.

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  1. Marlene Collins says…

    Hi ~
    I am interested in learning more about Sexton Ranch. Does one have to be on one of these special tours to see the ranch, or do they offer tours to passersby?
    The reason I ask is we are planning a trip to Eastern Oregon on October 26-28; we have very limited time, but are very interested in the area.
    Thanks for whatever help you might give us,
    Marlene Collins
    Reno NV

    Written on October 11th, 2006 / Flag this Comment
  2. GregRobeson says…

    Marlene,

    The Sextons don’t have public tours per se, but you could contact them at sextonranches.com. The owners are Dick and Andi.

    Good luck!

    Written on October 11th, 2006 / Flag this Comment
  3. Amy Dunkak says…

    Good afternoon Marlene,

    I spoke with Andi about the possibility of a ranch tour. This is a pretty busy time for Dick and Andi (and with two little ones, most times are!). They have their annual Appreciation Day and would love to invite you next fall. In the meantime, they are unable to accomodate visitors, and send their regrets. Please feel free to email Andi, and when you are in the area, take a drive to Haines and follow the Elkhorn Scenic Byway… it is absolutely gorgoeous at Ski Antony Lakes right now with the Tamaracks changing color…

    Amy

    Written on October 11th, 2006 / Flag this Comment
  4. Tom Hutchison says…

    One of my favorite activities when traveling is to visit food and/or kitchen stores. When I happened upon Bella’s in Baker City, I was completely blown away by the variety and quality on display. You just don’t find such a store outside of a large metropolitan area. But there it was in charming little Baker City.

    Written on October 18th, 2006 / Flag this Comment
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