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When you eat something, you want to know something about it. Many of us cook or order familiar foods and tend not to branch out often, especially with picky eaters in the family. The Institute for Applied Ecology’s Invasive Species Cook-off and annual fundraiser dinner works to raise awareness: when people try a new food, they connect with it, and want to know more about where it came from.
Invasive species are not exactly a fun topic. The Oregon Invasive Species Council estimates that each year, invasive plants alone cost the U. S. economy $120 billion dollars in lost crop and livestock production, control costs, and reduced property values and export potential. The worst invasive plant species typically come from other areas of the world, are devoid of their natural enemies, and have successfully taken over large areas of native habitats. The idea of our Invasive Species Cook-off Contest is a unique one: to educate about invasive species by eating them, or “eradication by mastication.”
Here in the Pacific Northwest, one of our most invasive plants is also a very delicious one: the Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus or bifrons). While easy to incorporate into breakfast and dessert, this berry is has a sour side; it has been called the most economically disruptive weed in Western Oregon. Posters at the Cook-off detail the history of its invasion: introduced for berry production in the 1920s, those spiky branches now cost our state millions of dollars to control.
This year, over 220 people joined in the festivities, with 34 Cook-off contest entries (which included an invasive species). Sixteen IAE supporters and dignitaries judged the dishes, which ranged from purslane salad to Collared Dove Pot Pie to Himalayan blackberry cheesecake. A few questions that were overheard at the Invasive Species Cook-off: "So, why are the hatchery fish considered invasive?" "Do you use the whole fennel bulb, or just the leaves?" "I didn't know bullfrogs were invasive!" Learning happens naturally while sampling delicious and innovative entries and listening to the irresistible bluegrass of the Red Oak Ramblers.
While one dinner may not make a dent in the enormous environmental problem of invasive species, the Invasive Species Cook-off connects people intimately with the invaders, and hopefully raises understanding that invasives are overabundant in many disturbed natural areas all around us. This annual fundraiser makes people think about the importance of native habitat, the need for reducing infestations of nonnative species, and the value of native species restoration. And what a delicious way to make that connection.
We are grateful to our Cook-off Contest judges for all of their time and discriminating effort in determining this year’s winners: Cynthia McCain, retired USFS Ecologist; Bill Pearcy, OSU Retired Oceanographer; Anne Schuster, Benton County Commissioner; Michael Blouin, OSU Zoology professor; David Maxfield, Heart of the Valley Homebrewers; Scott Shaff, USGS ecologist; Armand Rebischke, BLM, USFS; Rebecca Landis, Corvallis-Albany Farmers Markets; Liza Holtz, former IAE Intern; Erin Martin, OSU College of Ag Sciences; Melissa Hubert, HP, Inc.; Sara Gelser, State Senator, District 8; Hamid Serdani, Chef & former Cook-off competitor; Kendall Staggs, Heart of the Valley Homebrewers; Jon Campbell, Heart of the Valley Homebrewers; Steve Smith, IAE Board and retired USFWA and ODFW Biologist. Please help us thank our generous business/in-kind sponsors: River Design Group, Stuewe and Sons, Seven Oaks Native Plant Nursery, Heritage Seedlings, Barker Uerlings, HP Inc., OSU Credit Union, Del Alma, First Alternative Food Co-op, Shirt Circuit, Shonnard’s Nursery, Schmidt’s Nursery, Garlands Nursery, Big River, Francesco’s Café, Benny’s Donuts, New Morning Bakery, Sky High Brewing, Inc., Nectar Creek Mead, Mazama Brewing, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, Block 15, Flattail Brewing, Corvallis Brewing Supply, and Deluxe Brewing.
And now, for the winners!
Cook-off Contest Winners 2017
Beverage (All-Ages): First Place: INTEA Kombucha, Rodrigo Valle; Second Place: Blackberry Soda, Joel Rea, Corvallis Brewing Supply
Beverage (21+): First Place: Caitlin Lawrence, Wild Oregon Blackberry Wine; Second Place: Matt Bahm, Purple Varnish Clam Stout
Meat: First Place: Al Goldner, Eurasian Collared Dove Pot Pie; Second Place: Tom Kaye: Cajun Fried Bullfrog Legs
Savory Vegetarian: First Place: Jenny Hawkins, Blackberry Salsa; Second Place: Michel Wiman, Wild Honey & Blackberry Salad
Dessert: First Place: Bob Hansen, Blackberry Cheesecake with Chocolate Glaze; Second Place: Courtney Shaff: Blackberry Cinnamon Rolls