Some 15,000 years ago, a glacial dam burst on Lake Missoula in modern-day Montana, flooding parts of eastern Washington, the Columbia River Gorge, and the Willamette Valley. The cycle repeated numerous times over the course of a few thousand years: A glacial dam would form, causing a buildup of water behind it, before melting—and sending several tons of water and dirt flooding westward.
These floods imbued the soils of the Willamette Valley with the nutrients that make it possible to grow, well, almost anything in the region today: Polk County (in which Independence is located), along with nearby Marion and Yamhill counties, collectively grow more than 170 crops every single year in the heart of the Willamette Valley—including hazelnuts, berries, hops, and more. Polk County alone is home to more than 1,200 farms.
That close relationship with fresh fare has landed Independence at the heart of the Great Oaks Food Trail, a self-guided tour comprising nearly 50 culinary stops throughout the mid-Willamette Valley. Along the tour, hungry (and thirsty) visitors can taste local wines and beers at scenic taprooms; nosh on fresh fare at restaurants, bakeries, and cafés; and stock up at farmers markets, farms, ranches, and orchards.
With so many farms and so many crops to choose from, it’s no wonder creative chefs, brewers, and bakers along the Great Oaks Food Trail have adopted a “think local” mentality. Brewers imbue their ales and lagers with hops grown in Polk County—some plucked on farms just outside of town—while several restaurants use local greens in the salads, fresh-caught fish in their seafood, and Polk County berries in their desserts.
So here’s a guide to restaurants around Independence—and how they incorporate the farm-to-table mindset into their dishes and drinks.