After running the Barr Mansion Artisan Ballroom for more than 20 years, Melanie McAfee had catered a lot of meals and staged a lot of weddings.
“And they were wonderful events,” she remembers. “But after all those years serving conventional food, I couldn’t help learning about where that food was coming from, and the more educated I got, the less I liked what I saw. I reached a point where I was finding out way too much.” And that’s how the inexorable shift toward organic began.
McAfee and her husband, Mark, opened their 1889 mansion as an event center in 1981, later adding a 1700s-era ballroom moved piece by piece from New York’s Catskill Mountains. In recent years, the McAfees have been able to accommodate crowds from 80 to 800. So why mess with success?
Because Melanie had made up her mind to become the only (as far as she is aware) certified organic conference center and reception hall in the country. This meant everything from using post-consumer recycled paper products to organically grown flower arrangements to organic wedding cakes with organic icing.
The process of becoming USDA-approved, through Oregon Tilth, a private company that does on-site certification (Melinda decided they could do it faster and more efficiently than any government office) took nearly two years and was anything but cheap. Now, however, the transformation is complete.
“Back when we first started incorporating organic food into our menus, I’d have to say the reaction was negative,” Melanie remembers. “It wasn’t quite in yet, nobody was using the word local yet, and brides saw it as a potential price increase.”
But even Melanie was surprised to discover that prices actually remained stable. “Once I went up to such high-quality ingredients, I didn’t need to do as many sauces to cover up the food,” she explains. Bulk-buying power and much more efficient ordering also helped out.
“I got serious,” Melanie says. “I just jumped in.”
It turns out to have been a smart move. “You can just feel it out there,” she says. “Organic has become a big draw for us. People are hungry for it.”
More about Barr Mansion facilities at barrmansion.com .