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ISLAND PRODUCE

Fresh veggies and fruits available just south of county line
by: John Brewington FRESH TOMATOES—Kari Egger shows off some of the fresh produce available at the Pumpkin Patch, the largest of a number of produce stores on Sauvie Island. Signs indicate numerous other places to look for produce on the island.

Many home gardeners have just been shaking their heads at this year's late start to the growing season, and don't foresee a bumper crop this year.

Those that don't have a Master Gardener friend willing to share can satiate their desire for fresh produce just a few miles south of the county line on Sauvie Island. It's also a good place to shop for veggies and fruit for those that, perhaps wisely, haven't even attempted a garden this year.

The many growers on Sauvie Island haven't been immune to the poor growing year, but have been doing it long enough to be able to cope and still bring the crops in.

'We've been having a debate this year on which was worse, this year or last year. This year has been worse,' said Kari Egger, co-owner of the Pumpkin Patch with her husband Bob. They pair have owned the produce store for 19 years, this year raising most of their produce on 700 acres on the island.

'We couldn't plant for half of May and even into June,' she noted. 'This is the first time we have had to try and greenhouse tomatoes. Some things we've had to transplant and others are direct seed.'

Early on Friday afternoon, the covered open-air store was a hubbub of activity. Egger said the place is even busier on weekends.

The Pumpkin Patch is a produce store that operates on high-volume. Prices typically beat those in supermarkets and it's all very fresh. Even most of the fruits not grown in the area are bought from fairly local growers, such as in Hood River, for example.

The well-known establishment is much more than a big vegetable stand.

'It's definitely a destination, especially on weekends. People come out to the island for something to do-family fun.'

Visitors can cut flowers, see how a farm works, visit the petting zoo, stop at the concession stand for a treat, or later in the season, wander around the corn 'maize'-a play on words for maze.

What does one find at the store? The list of produce available is very lengthy-all types of potatoes like Yukon Gold, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, varieties of corn, green beans, lettuce, onion, fennel, cippolini, mushrooms, peaches, apples, pears, cherries, garlic, bananas, avocados, lemons, and on and on.

'Obviously, we don't grow some things like lemons or bananas, but we try to grow most everything we can or have arrangements with other growers. We get all our apples and pears from Hood River. Right now we're just starting to pick 'Peaches and Cream' corn. It's really nice for a barbecue and people really like it. Our annual Harvest Festival starts on Labor Day weekend,' Egger said.

Sauvie Island is mostly farm country. The Pumpkin Patch is one of the larger venues on the island, but there are a number of others. A little exploring can reveal many varieties of fruit, vegetables, and plants for sale. Some are very unique.

Egger is quite right, visiting Sauvie Island is a family destination.