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The restaurant at Gathering Together Farm is now legit — it wasn't always

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Gathering Together Farm near Philomath opened up a seasonal farm stand and restaurant March 15. 

Yes, it has offered these before. Now it is blessed by the government powers that be.

The road to the legitimate endeavor was arduous. The process to get what is called in planning-speak as a conditional use permit on land that is zoned exclusively for farming took about five years to complete.

There are very few restaurants in the United States located on an operating farm, as the zoning and floodplain regulations are strict and difficult to meet, Gathering Together Farm owner John Eveland said.

To obtain a permit to run his restaurant legally, Eveland had to bring everything up to compliance with current building codes and standards. Among several other renovations, he had to raise his outdoor deck an entire foot so it could be above the base flood elevation level, a process that cost more than $100,000.

“I’m 73 years old — this has become sort of a vanity project for me,” Eveland laughed. “I will never make that money back.”

How it all began

He started the farm 35 years ago and built a farm stand, which is allowed on land zoned exclusively for farm use, in 2003. It went from a self-service stand to a big packing shed, and shortly afterward, Eveland put in a commercial kitchen to provide brunch for his workers every day, and lunch three days a week.

This eventually morphed into a much sought-after lunch and dinner spot for the community, with farm-fresh produce for soups and sandwiches in the seasonal restaurant.

By the time Eveland realized this was technically an illegal operation, it had gotten so popular he didn’t want to close it down. And because no one was checking up on the restaurant due to a lack of complaints, it stayed open for several years without a problem.

“The county knew we were out of compliance, but they all ate out here and nobody wanted to see us go away,” Eveland said. “We got along with our neighbors, and everybody in the community saw the value of what we were doing.”

The crackdown

But soon enough, other farms and nurseries wanted to start operating restaurants on land zoned as "exclusive farm use" after seeing Eveland get away with it. So when Benton County cracked down on Eveland in 2017 to obtain a conditional use permit, he began researching how much work it would take to bring the business into compliance.

A new septic system was installed. The deck renovation took it from a rustic board floor to a heated tile floor. Glass wraps all the way around the seating area with greenery and vegetation that brightens up the place.

On one end is the iconic wood-fired oven where head chef Scott Wilcockson finishes his delicious pizzas and appetizers.

“We have the best produce in the valley,” Eveland boasted. “We try to really promote the valley and what it has to offer along with what we have.”

The restaurant’s weekly rotating menu features meals with the farm’s very own chickens and produce, along with fresh seafood from Newport, apples from local farms in the mid-valley and wine from local vineyards.

The offerings

“We also have a baker that people line up for at the farmers market,” Eveland said. “They drive out here just for the bread.”

Wilcockson is heading into his fifth year as the head chef for the farm, and he said the menu will be based on what’s seasonally available.

Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Dinner will be served 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations are required for dinner.

The farm stand is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

“We’re gonna be full-out dining and full-out legal for the first time ever,” Eveland said. “That puts us in a pretty lofty league.”

Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_. 

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