Press

The Capital Press | 2005

The Capital Press January 26, 2005

By JAN JACKSON Freelance Writer

Fresh fruit inspired sweet specialties

HOOD RIVER, Ore. David Gee, co-founder of Oregon Growers & Shippers, is a biology and anthropology major from New Haven, Conn., who, after spending several summers wind-surfing in Hood River, couldn't get the Northwest out of his mind.

He first visited in 1991 as a college student on summer break. He came to stay in 1999.

In 2003 he founded Oregon Growers & Shippers and started making, marketing and distributing high-end preserves and fruit spreads. Helping to connect the urban marketplace to agriculture, Gee capitalizes on the fact that he buys fresh fruit directly from local growers.

"It's all about quality, and I need the best possible fruit to start with," Gee said of his Oregon Growers & Shippers venture. "I worked my way through college cooking in restaurants that believed that the best food is found growing fresh in our own back yards, and that's my philosophy for Oregon Growers & Shippers."

When Gee moved to Hood River permanently, he had to look to Portland for work because, at the time, jobs in Hood River were scarce.

"I was employed with Provvista Specialty Foods selling and marketing specialty foods to area restaurants and retailers," Gee said. "My love for quality food and my background as a restaurant chef helped me sell the products that Provvista carried.

"I developed my recipes in the 6th Street Bistro's kitchen in Hood River in the morning hours before the restaurant opened for the day. I started with apples, pears and cranberries because it was the season to get them fresh, and by spring and summer I added cherries and berries."

Looking ahead to national distribution, Gee started right off using a co-packer to process his jams.

"Because my ambition is to take these products nationwide, I knew there was no need to try to start cooking it in any back room," Gee said. "Aside from actually making the products, I do as much of the work myself as I can to keep production costs low.

"I give many tastings at farmers' markets and specialty stores in the Portland and Seattle areas because if I can get people to taste it, they tend to buy."

Craig McCurdy, one of the major Hood River orchardists from whom Gee buys fruit, thinks that though Gee is starting small, he likes the job he is doing in promoting Hood River specifically and agriculture in general.

"Dave has the ability, the backing and the cumulative experience to make it work," McCurdy said. "My wife and I took over our family's orchards 11 years ago, and we've seen others think about doing what Oregon Growers & Shippers is doing, but Dave is actually doing it. If I didn't think supporting him had a future, I wouldn't be working with him."

Choosing to work with growers who practice sustainable agriculture, Gee has a clear plan of action for his company.

"I am satisfied with six of my jam recipes, but I'm still fine-tuning the other three," Gee said. "We are also working on adding a line of dried fruit, mushrooms and savory products, but I will probably cap the preserve line at 12 varieties.

"I can't make the fruit taste better, but I can arrive at the perfect balance of ingredients to keep the subtle flavors alive. I just use the best ingredients available and try not to screw them up."

For more information about Oregon Growers and Shippers, contact David Gee at P.O. Box 207, Hood River, OR 97031, phone at (541) 386-5600, or visit www.growersandshippers.com.



Oregon Shipper & Growers