Less than three months ago, I was fresh from college and spending my days pouring lattes at a fast-paced coffee shop in downtown Portland. Next door to a nice hotel, fielding tourists at work was second nature to me.

People visit from all over the world to see Portland, the city I grew up in and around. On the surface, it’s a place known for its craft beverages and cuisine, spacious bookstores and live music. Most of my friends in Portland have moved there within the last five years from across the country.

Surrounded by people who triumphantly left their homes for life in Rose City, I myself couldn’t wait to get out and see something new.

And let me tell you, Hermiston is news to me.

The nearest neighbor from my apartment building has a cow. My two-bedroom unit costs less than most Portland studios. I’ve seen Trump 2020 stickers — which I didn’t even realize were in production— and petitions to recall Kate Brown. I’ve eaten two Hermiston watermelons in the last 10 days (with help), which adds up to approximately 100 times more watermelon than I’ve ever eaten in my life. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

I also just attended my first county fair: the Umatilla County Fair, which opened a whole new vault of fresh experiences for me.

And despite the fact that on Friday night, a lightning storm rained on my first-ever funnel cake, I’ve had a pretty good time. Mostly, I’ve been impressed with the amount of knowledge that’s packed into the acres of the EOTEC fairgrounds.

Not only were there people who had the process of making elephant ears and manning large roller coasters down to an art, there were folks less than half my age leading cows and goats around the barns in a casual manner that felt unreal to me. People who knew how to care for animals with such precision and finesse, they were getting blue ribbons for it.

There were children and adults alike who knew more about food and agricultural systems than my bachelor’s degree in geography could ever have taught me, because they live it everyday.

In Portland, there’s a running Saturday farmer’s market, and often it was my only chance at getting local food at a reasonable price. I always want to feel connected to my food, and have many talking points about what I feel is sustainable eating. I can talk the talk about organics and free range beef, but I don’t walk the walk. And I think the same goes for many of my peers in cities around the country.

I can hardly imagine what it takes to care for a cow or tend to a field of corn. I’m also not likely to learn anytime soon. But it feels important to me to finally be in a place where so much of what we consume without a second thought in urban areas is produced.

The next time I head to Portland, and someone I’m with orders bacon on their burger, I’ll be thinking of you, Hermiston.

Jessica Pollard is the Hermiston Herald’s newest reporter, covering education and public safety.

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