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Center opens doors to public

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Director: 'The public doesn't usually see what we do here'


By KELSEY THALHOFER


Capital Press


Members of the public will taste berries, drive tractors and view new plant varieties at the fourth annual North Willamette Research and Extension Center Community Open House.


This year's free event, which will run 4-7 p.m. July 18, is the first to be publicly advertised, and organizers hope to draw a broad crowd from both rural and urban backgrounds.


"The public doesn't usually see what we do here," center director Mike Bondi said. North Willamette is the main research center for the area's nursery and Christmas tree industry, and develops new varieties of berries and vegetables.


"I think a lot of what we do at the North Willamette Research Center impacts everyone's life," Bondi said. He hopes this event will give the public "a broader understanding of the issues we face as farmers."


Last year's event was held on a rainy night in mid-June, and drew professionals in the agriculture industry. This year the event is tailored to the entire community.


"We welcome folks to come with the whole family," Bondi said.


Visitors will meet research staff and taste local, in-season produce. Hay wagon tours of the facility will run hourly, and visitors can learn how to operate a tractor.


A new "blueberry tree," which is being developed at the facility, will be on display. The tree could allow blueberry picking to be more mechanized, eliminating the need for hand-pickers and easing the stress of farmers dealing with worker shortages.


Visitors will also be able to see how wasabi -- a common Spicy condiment served with sushi and Japanese cuisine that normally grows in hot, humid climates -- is grown in the Northwest by only a handful of farmers.


Volunteer experts in food preservation and gardening will share techniques and answer questions.


Students from the center's high school Emerging Scholars program, who work in the center's nursery pathology program, will talk about their summer projects and experience at the center at a booth during the event.


"It's our gift to the community," Bondi said.



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