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There will most likely be multiple blackberry pies entered into the dessert competition at the Institute for Applied Ecology’s Invasive Species Cook-Off today.

“That’s kind of entry level,” said Carolyn Menke, the institute’s assistant executive director.

A more adventurous person will be serving pulled nutria in the savory meat dish category and there will likely be items like a thistle quiche and a dandelion green salad in the savory vegetarian dish category.

But it’s the newest category at the fifth annual event that could provide some of the most unique competition:

In the beverage category there will be items like a blackberry soda and a scotch broom and chicory beer.

“The beverage category could be the most interesting,” said Menke.

Menke said the purpose of the event, which has around 20 dishes registered for their four competition categories, is meant to bring information about invasive species to a wider audience. The event is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Benton County Fairgrounds, at 110 S.W. 53rd St. The institute is asking for a $10 to $50 donation at the door.

“It’s a nice community event for raising awareness of invasive species and it has a fun element in eating,” said Menke.

She said the event will have informational displays and live bullfrogs so people can come “face to face” with invasive species.

Although the organizers have experimented with different formats for the event, this year’s cook-off will be structured as a community potluck with a competitive element, similar to the structure used last year.

An Oregon Department of Agriculture study from 2014 estimated that 25 species of invasive plants combined to have a negative impact of nearly $84 million on Oregon’s economy by reducing the productivity of commercial land and in the state’s waters.

Menke said climate change could make the problem of invasive species worse, because in some cases invasive species may be better able to adapt to environmental changes than native species.

“By bringing people to the table at the cook-off, we hope to take a bite out of the problem by serving up invasives as a meal and food for thought. It’s a serious issue, but we are having fun with it,” said the institute's director, Tom Kaye.

Visit http://appliedeco.org/cook-off for more information about the event.

Anthony Rimel can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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