Raising the barn

Joe Zavala Ashland Daily Tidings @Joe_Zavala99

Call it a barn-raising, millennial style.

Students from Southern Oregon University professor Pavlina McGrady’s Culinary Tourism in the Rogue Valley class are trading their iPads and notebooks for aprons and carving knives today, Oct. 28, to host a dinner and silent auction at a local winery to benefit the school’s organic agricultural and learning center known as “The Farm.”

According to SOU’s director of business, communication and the environment, Greg Jones, The Farm’s 25-foot by 28-foot barn, which is “falling down and in the wrong place,” must be relocated to make room for a pavilion/learning space scheduled to go up next month. A groundbreaking for the pavilion, which will have a footprint close to 4,000 square feet, will probably be held in early November, but the new barn won’t be built until next spring.

The plan is for the barn — which is more of a shed — to be built by students, so it’s only fitting that students are handling most of the fundraising. Today’s dinner, dubbed “Feast for the Farm,” will serve as a benefit for the barn relocation. The Farm is off Walker Avenue, across the street from Ashland Middle School.

“For me, it’s really kind of a win-win in multiple ways,” Jones said. “Students design The Farm and run The Farm, and now another group of students are helping to raise money for The Farm. And then the money that will be raised will help other students build something that will be lasting on The Farm.”

The dinner will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at EdenVale Winery in Medford, where attendees are paying $60 per person or $100 per couple. The meal itself may be worth the cost. An award-winning chef from Finland, Jukka Moilanen, will team up with the students to prepare a three-course meal using mostly locally sourced ingredients, and a local folk band, “Savannah,” will be performing. The silent auction will include items donated from local businesses.

“I think we’ll have probably 60 people there,” Jones said. “We also have a very robust silent auction, and we’re hoping between the two that we can raise maybe $4,000 to $6,000, and have that be at least a fairly substantial piece of the cost of moving the (barn) and rebuilding it.”

McGrady, SOU’s Tourism and Hospitality program coordinator, said her class introduces students to the Rogue Valley’s healthy culinary tourism industry with field trips to local businesses and meetings with their owners.

“So, there’s a two-fold objective to the class,” she said. “To introduce the students to different outlets, different business, and then also event management.”

The students — it’s a class of about 20 students, McGrady said — have immersed themselves into the event management aspect, learning on the fly since their first meeting only five weeks ago. The “Feast for the Farm” will serve as a sort of open book final exam, during which the students will be doing everything from seating customers to serving drinks and preparing the food.

With a background in hospitality, McGrady knows all about event management and, following a brainstorming session with the class, she decided to break the students up into groups of three or four and assign each team a task.

One of those students, senior marketing major Michael Bell, was tasked with coming up with a centerpiece for each of the 16 dinner tables. Leaning on six years of work experience at Plant World Inc., Bell decided to use pumpkins to house a pumpkin floral arrangement which can be composted after the pumpkins begin to rot in two weeks.

“I thought, you can hollow out and carve out the inside of it, you can put a few holes in the bottom and then you can plant your plant arrangements inside of it — kind of a container of various plants,” Bell said.

Bell has been busy putting the arrangements together since Tuesday and was planning on heading to EdenVale early today with the rest of the class to set up. The first few he completed looked worthy of a Better Homes & Gardens cover, but getting there was a challenge. He visited local nurseries and stores and was able to secure donations from Valley View Nursery, Shooting Star Nursery, Ashland Greenhouse and Shop’n Kart, which chipped in 10 pumpkins.

“All of them were very much cooperative right from the get-go,” Bell said. “I told them what it was for and the owners of those nurseries just agreed instantly. I have 16 pumpkins and so many flowers and plants that they donated. I’m hoping not to have any leftovers but I might have leftovers. … They look amazing.”

Besides event planning, the students also had to secure donations for the silent auction. That was mostly handled face-to-face, said Paula Weldon, a senior in SOU’s new Innovation and Leadership program. Weldon, who said she also took a food-handler’s test along with several of her classmates so that she could serve tonight, was apprehensive about asking for donations. After having gone through it, however, she said she had nothing to worry about.

“Marketing’s a little outside of my comfort zone, but I actually enjoyed it,” she said.

Weldon isn’t planning on going into the culinary tourism business anytime soon, but says the class provided her with some valuable networking experience that she can apply to other career paths.

“Just the process,” she said. “You have to work with groups and you have to communicate. I work in the IT field, but our business — we’re bringing together health care professionals — and so those are the types of things that I think lends itself to the business world just by trying to put all this together and work together as a team.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

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