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TV special focuses on Tigard family

Department of Agriculture hopes new TV reality show will get more people to buy foods

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Dinner in Oregon host Michelle Ratcliffe films a segment at Kim Botners home in Oregon.On Monday morning, Michelle Ratcliffe was all smiles as she bounded up the steps of a large home near Tigard High School, carrying an invitation and a bouquet of flowers. 

“And, cut!” shouts the producer, as the camera gets ready for the next shot.

Camera crews spent much of Monday filming in Tigard for a new TV special aimed at promoting Oregon agriculture.

The 30-minute special called “Dinner in Oregon” airs next month across the state. Ratcliffe, who manages the state's Farm to School program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, is one of several people starring in the production, as well as Tigard’s Kim Botner.

The idea is to make people more aware of Oregon’s diverse culinary landscape and inspire them to grow, buy and cook local foods.

“Oregon is a foodtopia,” Ratcliffe said. “Whether you live in the country or the city or anywhere in between, you can enjoy an Oregon meal any day of the year.”

Part cooking show, part reality TV, the special follows three Portland-area families — a family living in Northeast Portland, a rural family from Hubbard and a suburban family in Tigard — and showcases ways the three communities can better use Oregon-grown foods in their meals.

Changing social norms

The Department of Agriculture for years has attempted to get kids to eat healthier, said Ratcliffe. Adding healthier options to school lunches is one step, but kids need to have positive relationships with healthy food before they can accept it. That relationship doesn’t come from the classroom — it comes from the dinner table.

“School lunches get a bad rap, but often it has more fruits and vegetables, is more nutritious and has a way wider variety than what kids eat at home,” Ratcliffe said.

'Dinner in Oregon' TV special will air on KATU at 4:30 p.m., Sept. 14 with an encore presentation Sept. 21.

Oregon schools spend more on locally sourced foods than most other states, Ratcliffe said. But too often, kids don’t want healthier options because they aren’t used to them.

“One district asked me if I could change the social norms and culture around food,” Ratcliffe said. “I thought that was crazy, until I realized it was the perfect mission.”

Ratcliffe started producing monthly segments on KATU ’s “AM Northwest” morning show about Oregon’s agriculture industry for parents and caregivers, and in May began brainstorming for a 30-minute TV special on the topic.

“The story is so complex, we don’t have enough time to emotionally connect with people in our three-minute segments,” Ratcliffe said.

‘A wake-up call’

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Michelle Ratcliffe of Dinner in Oregon, left, and Kit Botner talk about dinner plans during the filming of the TV segment at Botners home in Tigard.Botner, a single mother in Tigard and a hairstylist at Dosha Salon in Bridgeport Village, said she has been inspired to incorporate more locally grown foods into her family’s meals.

“I am much more self-aware of the foods I’m picking,” she said. “I’ve started looking at the labels and realizing how many options I have to pick from.”

It’s hard work raising three teenagers, and often Botner said she wasn’t picky about where her food came from. She said she sometimes misses the simpler way of life she had growing up on a dairy farm near the Idaho border.

“We had a big garden and raised our own beef cattle, so most of our meals were sourced from our own environment,” Botner said. “I miss it. There’s nothing better than a vine-ripened tomato.”

That’s very different than the life she leads today, she said, but she’s willing to make a change.

In the special, each family is given a recipe challenge and collects local ingredients for the show’s finale, a dinner party at Ratcliffe’s home.

In the special, Botner and her children learn to cook using local ingredients found at her nearby supermarket.

Botner’s recipe used frozen broccoli and canned corn, which many people don’t think of when they think about eating locally grown foods, said Ag Department spokeswoman Amy Brown.

“When people think about eating locally, often they think about farmer’s markets or expensive products,” Brown said, “but this takes a bit of the stigma out of a frozen bag of peas.”

Eating locally doesn’t have to be expensive, Botner said. The series focuses on middle and lower income families and what they do to ensure they are eating right.

“Just because it’s made in Oregon doesn’t mean it’s more expensive,” she said. “We bought locally canned corn for 68 cents, and the organic corn next to it was $3 a can. It’s not exotic or unique foods.”

Eating locally is important, Botner said, because it helps the community.

“Coming from a family of farmers, supporting local agriculture also means supporting the local economy, and I think over time maybe I haven’t been as sensitive to that,” Botner said. “This was a wake-up call, this is a part of my heritage, and it’s important for my kids to learn that, too.”

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