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Portland au Natural

October 29, 2009 By:
Lauren Kramer, JE Feature
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Portland is one of America's greenest cities, a place where half the power comes from renewable sources and a quarter of the Oregon city's workforce commutes by bike, carpool or public transit.

You wouldn't necessarily expect Portland's eco-friendliness to manifest in a toilet stall, but that was the unlikely site of my first introduction.

I'd just landed in the city and was locked in an airport toilet cubicle when I noticed that unlike any other washroom in the 50-something airports I've visited in my lifetime, this one had dual-flush toilets.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Portlanders take their environmental friendliness seriously, with an overwhelming number of developers who have led the way in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-certified buildings, and a plethora of chefs committed to using organic, local ingredients.

If you're looking for an eco-conscious journey, Portland is the answer. And if you're looking to walk to services on Shabbat, it's possible to go green, too: There are some 15 congregations located throughout this region, serving some 46,000 Jews.

When in Portland, do as the Portlanders ... which is why we chose a car-less weekend, a decision for which the downtown Hotel Monaco rewarded us with free use of their bicycles for a day of exploring. Taking to the streets on a sunny morning, it didn't take us long to find the scene of culinary action at the Portland Farmers' Market.

This cacophony of color and aroma was enough to lift the spirits even before the morning coffee has kicked in. Women in flowing summer dresses walked through the grass with straw baskets as they accumulated the farm-fresh ingredients for the weeks' meals. Vendors sold fat slices of pizza bursting with pesto, while others offered hot oatmeal with organic berries and creamy Indian dal.

Raspberries, blueberries and blackberries lay side by side in perfect shades of ripeness, while freshly picked flowers sprayed the scene with cheer. It was a farmers' market exactly as such markets are supposed to be: devoid of the kitsch, and offering a purity of product that makes it a simple pleasure to part with your money.

One for the Books

At dusk, we strolled around the Pearl District, an old industrial warehousing area that has been reincarnated into an urban zone filled with hip stores, cozy restaurants, yoga studios and art galleries. The famous, independent Powell's City of Books -- which offers an impressive stock of books dedicated to Judaism and Judaica -- offered hours of browsing heaven irresistible to any lover of the printed word.

We window-shopped through kitchen boutiques, played ping-pong in a clothing store, and dined on organic seaweed salad and pineapple celery beverages at the Blossoming Lotus restaurant.

The next day, we hitched a ride with EcoShuttle -- a Portland-based touring service that uses biodiesel for its vehicles, powering them with a mixture of chicken-fat and vegetable-oil waste.

Our destination was Beaverton, home to Cooper Mountain Vineyard, which sits on the peak of a now-extinct volcano, farming organically and biodynamically. According to French winemaker Gilles De Domingo, that means avoiding man-made chemicals and using natural preparations like beneficial cover crops and insects to provide ideal grape growing conditions.

"The end result in the bottle is wine that truly represents its roots," he assured.

I'm green when it comes to growing grapes, but a taste of Cooper Mountain's pinot blanc is enough to convince me that this team is on to something.

Before I left for the city, De Domingo looked imploringly into my eyes.

"Don't call it sustainable," he begged. "The word has entirely lost its meaning."

Later, we stopped in to visit Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukie, a suburb of Portland, presided over by its 80-year-old namesake, who owns one of the largest whole grain companies in North America. Moore started his stone mill after reading a book on the subject.

"The author didn't know anything when he began, and I thought to myself, if he can do it, so can I," he said.

No stranger to personal dares, Moore was 60 back then, and had newly retired in Oregon to learn to read the Bible -- in Greek. When that was done, he was ripe for another challenge; a stone mill to grind the whole-grain flours his wife had long cooked for the family seemed an appropriate next step.

Today, his products are available in grocery and organic specialty stores throughout Canada and the United States.

Whatever name you choose -- be it eco-consciousness, environmental friendliness or purely green -- this is a movement with a very clear impetus in Portland and the towns that surround it. Visit this verdant spot in the Pacific Northwest and you can't help but agree, it feels good to go green.

For more information, log on to: www.travelportland.com.

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