In Oregon: The Adult “School Lunch”

In Oregon: The Adult “School Lunch”

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When I was a kid my mother packed a lunch for me to take to school.

And that was a good thing because “The School Lunch” served up in the cafeteria often consisted of “mystery meat” and spinach that was so overcooked it looked as though it had been excreted from an orifice of some alien being from another planet.


Today school lunch programs across the U.S. have improved since I turned my face away from them in disgust way back in the mid-20th century.

For example in Berkeley, California, Alice Waters, owner of the legendary restaurant, Chez Panisse, has campaigned for healthier and more palatable school cafeteria food and created a foundation that “envisions a curriculum integrated with the school lunch service, in which growing, cooking, and sharing food at the table give students the knowledge and values to build a humane and sustainable future.”

And here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, adults can enjoy a terrific “school lunch,” too.

A restored one-room schoolhouse sits amid farmland just west off U.S. Highway 101, near Junction City, not quite midway between Eugene and Corvallis.


As you turn off the highway onto a side road just north of the airport, the building looks more like a New England steepled church beckoning you to come worship than a place of public education.

Lower Fern Ridge School began life in the late 19th century near the community of Alvadore, about 4 miles southwest of its current location. The last students who were taught here went on summer vacation back in 1936, after some left their names scratched into both the inside and outside walls of the schoolhouse.

For the past two years, the building has been the “lunch room” for the Camas Country Bakery and Store, one piece of a five-part business that includes the Camas Country Mill down the road “a piece.”


Tom Hunton, and his wife, Sue, are the owners. They farm 2,700 acres nearby, raising crops that find their way to the mill and ultimately into products sold at the store, online, and a retail outlets, as well as bread and lunches served at another Willamette Valley favorite lunch spot, the Cresswell Bakery, about 15 miles south of Eugene, restaurants in Portland two hours to the north, and as far away as New York City.

One day Tom told Sue that he had discovered an intriguing item on Craig’s List: A one-room schoolhouse available for free if you hauled it away before the existing owner tore it down and sold off the wood as scrap.

Sue, a retired teacher, couldn’t’ resist the opportunity to own and operate her own “school,” so they hired one guy to pick the schoolhouse up from where it had sat for over a hundred years, and move it across fields and a creek to where the bakery and store are located.

The couple built a new foundation for the schoolhouse, but brought along the big rocks on which it had been perched and placed them near the building.

They did some renovations, including replacing the large windows in the school’s sidewalls, installing some electric lights inside, rebuilding the platform on which the teacher’s desk sat, and replacing the building’s siding.


The school’s bell had found its way to Colorado over the years, but has now “come home” and hangs in the tower over the main entrance.

This YouTube video explains how the project to relocate and save the schoolhouse began.

There is seating for about 40 or so inside the schoolhouse, and more in and outside of the bakery and store. Groups can reserve tables. When I was there around mid-day on a Thursday in late July, the parking lot and tables were full.


Camas Country Bakery and Store offers a different choice of lunch entrees each week. I had an excellent Panzanella Salad, its variation on a classic Tuscan dish, made of pieces of torn bread, greens, salami, and Parmesan cheese. My wife praised the Ham & Cheese on Baguette sandwich she ordered. Soups are offered, too.

It’s about a 20-minute drive northwest from Eugene, and 40 minutes southwest of Corvallis. If you’re planning to visit either city and will be arriving by air, Camas Country Bakery and Store is only about 10 minutes north of the airport.

The place is open Tuesday through Saturday 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Flour, other milled grains, bread, cookies and pastries are available for “take-out” purchase. Bread making classes are offered periodically.


And if you don’t want to have lunch, you can always pose for a photo pretending to be a “schoolmarm.”

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