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No bull — theres buffalo at the market at ranchers booth

Tom and Lori Epler bring bison meat to Wednesday event in Forest Grove

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Tommy Epler and his father, Tom Sr., stand outside the pen at the L-Bar-T Bison Ranch on Highway 47. The Epler family raises buffalo and brings products to the Forest Grove Farmers Market each Wednesday.What could be more all-American than buffalo?

As folks gear up to celebrate this year’s Independence Day, a stop by the Forest Grove Farmers Market might be in order on Wednesday.

The market, a program of the nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, features the L-Bar-T Bison Ranch as a longtime vendor, and the booth’s proprietors, Tom Sr. and Tommy Epler, will have plenty of buffalo meat for your holiday barbecue.

Tom Epler, owner of the L-Bar-T in Forest Grove, grew up on a third-generation dairy farm. He remembers reading stories about buffalo in the wild west but never imagined raising a herd of his own. Besides, he didn’t want to continue the early morning milking lifestyle of a dairy farmer.

When he and his wife Lori needed to feed their five sons, however, they decided to raise a few steers. Then, for their fifth wedding anniversary, Tom celebrated by buying two buffalo heifers.

“Never being a person to just get a ‘little’ into something, we expanded from there — a cow and bull next and then more cows,” Epler recounted.

Today, the family business handles about 50 head of buffalo each year, most of which are raised in eastern Oregon. The herd can be seen just south of Forest Grove along Highway 47. Now grown, the Eplers’ sons also help with the business operations, including feeding the buffalo, hauling them, sales — and holding down the fort when Tom and Lori are away.

These days you might also notice a few baby strollers around. “The next generation of Eplers are coming to market!” Tom observed.

Forest Grove is the only farmers market where L-Bar-T bison meat can be found, and it has become an important opportunity for the Eplers to clear some common misconceptions about buffalo.

“[Buffalo] are not extinct or even close,” said Tom. “Yes, they are wild. They may look docile in the pasture, but they are not. And yes, the meat is fantastic.

“With less fat and cholesterol than beef, salmon, and even skinless chicken, it has been recommended by many health organizations.” The Eplers’ booth is located adjacent to Gonzo’s IncrEdible Foods, which uses L-Bar-T meat in many of its dishes. “It’s a great feeling to hear them talking to people and mentioning that they are cooking up our meat,” said Epler.

Community members can celebrate National Bison Month on July 3 at the Forest Grove Farmers Market — it runs from 4 to 8 p.m. — or swing by L-Bar-T’s gift shop on Southwest Hiatt Road in Forest Grove. For more information, visit lbartbison.com.

— Kaely Summers is manager of the Forest Grove Farmers Market.

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