Canby, Oregon’s garden spot with an urban flair
July 1 2012By Megan Oliver
Every road to Canby is a pleasant one, especially for connoisseurs of fresh, locally grown produce.
A scenic Highway 99 follows the Willamette River through Canby, where it meets the Molalla and Pudding rivers. On a different route, just north of Canby’s Mollalla River State Park, the Canby Ferry crosses the Willamette River to Wilsonville. Farms and nurseries green the country roads in all directions. Asparagus, lamb, chicken, dairy, nuts, grapes, strawberries and herbs—ah, the meals you could put together in these few miles. Aptly nicknamed The Garden Spot, this fertile Willamette Valley town is nestled equidistant between Portland and Salem.
Through economic downturns in the 1980s—when the timber industry went under—and current financial woes, Canby has faired slightly better than some small Oregon towns because of its geographic advantage. In many ways a bedroom community for the two proximal larger cities of Portland and Salem, Canby’s stabillity is also due to diligent city planning. While the local government works to bring industry to centrally located Canby, the town’s agricultural roots are jointly respected and developed—maintaining a high quality of life for residents, no matter what their occupation.
General Edward Canby is the town’s namesake. Sent to the region after the Civil War to negotiate with the Modoc tribe, General Canby was assassinated in 1873 during peace talks near the Oregon-California border. General Canby Day commemorates this occasion in town every Fourth of July. Though the town was named in his honor, the general’s only stopover in the town itself was in his casket, en route back east via train.
Though recently designated “urban” by federal government standards, the pastoral community comes with small town charm. Dan Wilson of SuDan Farm, one of the stops on the Canby Farm Loop (canbyfarmloop.com), pulls trays of lamb out of the freezer for an SUV full of restaurateurs from Portland, who have driven out on a drizzly weekday afternoon to find Clackamas County’s best farms. “Restaurant folk stop by to see firsthand what these farms offer,” Wilson says. “I often sell to the ethnic community in the region because they know they can get whole-cut, quality meats from my farm that aren’t available at slaughterhouses.”
Called Yoder, Wilson’s country neighborhood is just outside Canby— named after the Yoder family who started the local mill in 1889. Still open for custom work, it is one of those rare Oregon mills in operation today. “At the time we arrived, there were all Yoders or people married to Yoders,” Wilson recalls. “My wife and I moved here, and volunteered to help them worm and lamb right away. Now we’ve been here more than sixteen years.”
SuDan Farm, like all Canby farms, has been affected by the economic downturn of the past few years. At one point, the husband and wife team, Susan and Dan, sold to more than twenty restaurants. Now, 60 percent of their slightly smaller business comes from the twice-weekly trek to the downtown Portland Farmers Market. The rest is made up from restaurant and on-sight farm sales, wool and poultry.
In downtown Canby, Ebner’s Custom Meats—the local butcher shop— hawks meat from surrounding farms. The Canby Pub & Grill, in turn, makes its burgers from Ebner’s. Economically and personally intertwined, agriculture is the heart of the burgeoning town—even in the increasing number of places with an urban flair, such as Puddin’ River Chocolates & Wine Bar. “Just last night, Ebner’s brought me ice and beer sausage when I was in a bind,” says Puddin’ River owner, Teresa Sasse.
Close to Portland, Canby’s manufacturing industrial park is growing on the east side of town, while “recreational agriculture” in the outskirts is putting Canby on the map in new ways. Recreational agriculture is one of the main components of agritourism, tying in farm life with increasing visitor traffic and bringing supplemental income to agricultural business. The Canby Farm Loop, fall pumpkin patches, the Flower Farmer and Phoenix & Holly Railroad, and local wineries are examples of the melding of farms, education and entertainment.
The local food movement flourishes here. When Fred and Carrie from TV farce series, “Portlandia,” preempted their meal at a Portland restaurant to seek out the organic farm thirty miles south of Portland where their chicken, Colin, was raised then slaughtered, it was likely Canby.
A graduate in farm management from OSU, Wilson constantly tests and monitors his soil—keeping 4 to 5 percent organic matter in the ground and “maintaining a great worm load.” He personally hoes noxious weeds and, like many fellow farmers in the region, uses no fertilizing chemicals. All Wilson’s lambs are grass-fed and hormone free. “Most farms around here are sustainable,” he says. “They know it’s their bread and butter and want to protect it. It’s what keeps people drawn to the area, season after season.”
Summer is bustling but laidback in Canby. The accompanying annual events are the mainstay of this kid-oriented community. Canby’s Big Weekend (the last weekend in August) is a grab bag of activities for car show fanatics, dog lovers and nature harvest celebrators. The 106th Clackamas County Fair & Rodeo in Canby has seen everything from ten cent admission around its 1907 founding, to pari-mutuel horse racing in the 1930s and a Hollywood production in the 1950s. Hundreds of exhibits, including butterflies, fill the state of the art fairgrounds alongside professional bronc and bull riders.
The world-class Swan Island Indoor Dahlia Show delights the shutters of many budding photographers with forty acres of blooms at the end of August and the beginning of September.
Another event that brings together the best qualities of Canby is Wilson’s annual Open Barn, where more than 200 locals and visitors come for a festive summer lamb and chicken tasting. Though food and good company are a sure bet, the date is not. “When is the barbecue? When it stops raining,” Wilson offers with a laugh.
Just a short commute from Portland or Salem, Canby is a fertile land of farms, flowers and ranches.
Population of Canby 15,830
Population growth 24% since 2010
Median household income $57,427
Median for single-family home $206,400
WHAT TO DO
Enjoy the bike or driving tour of farms and wineries along the Canby Farm Loop
Ride the Canby Ferry
Visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and the Canby Depot Museum