Brand Story - Experience Morrow County’s innovative food industries and energy initiatives up close
I drive by here every day, and I wish I would’ve stopped 10 years ago.” It’s a phrase often heard at the SAGE Center—an interactive museum that celebrates Morrow County’s sustainable agriculture and energy by educating and engaging the community.
Developed by the Port of Morrow, the SAGE Center opened its doors in 2013 to acquaint both locals and visitors with Morrow County’s world-wide contributions to agriculture and energy.
Morrow County sources many of the world’s staples: corn oil, grass seed, hay, cheese, beef, wheat and beyond. To see the global impact, look no further than the Center’s Port of Morrow to the World exhibit. Visitors can select a commodity and see where it ultimately lands: Its fried potatoes make their way across North and South America, Asia and Australia. Its frozen vegetables and mint oil—produced by local JSH Farms,—head to six different continents.
A nearby exhibit demystifies a food that, at first glance, seems straightforward: potatoes. But the journey from ground to plate involves a long process and advanced technology.
“We want people to leave here with a better understanding of where their food comes from,” explains Torrie Griggs, Operations Manager, SAGE Center. “There’s a lot to learn here. Helping people gain a better understanding of agricultural, ag issues, energy usage, transportation and how it affects everyone—that’s the goal.”
Since the SAGE Center’s launch, the county’s economy has continued diversifying across multiple sectors: agriculture, livestock, food processing, warehousing, freight distribution, transportation, energy, waste management and recreation, for example. The Port of Morrow and its related businesses generate an annual economic output of over $2.5 billion and annual GDP of $900 million.
Beyond agriculture, the SAGE Center spotlights the Port’s significant sustainable energy initiatives. Its cutting-edge heat and wastewater recovery systems allow industrial, energy and food production activities to decrease water and energy usage. In the area of renewable energy, the Port has agreed to lease roughly 900 acres of land for the development of solar energy.
Additionally, in early 2020, construction started on a combined 350-megawatt wind and solar energy farm in Morrow County. A partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and PGE, it’s the first of its kind major renewable energy facility in North America.
SAGE Center Operations Manager Torrie Griggs
“There’s this impression that eastern Oregon is the Wild West,” explains Breena Beck, Assistant Manager, SAGE Center. “People don’t realize how much technology and innovation is involved in processing, manufacturing and every aspect of farming.”
There’s an exhibit for that too: Visitors can attempt to plant corn in a straight line using the same GPS technology employed by farmers today.
Central to its mission, the SAGE Center focuses on educating and engaging the region’s youth, hosting an ongoing STEAM camp and tailored tours for schools, colleges, youth groups, scouts and after-school programs.
During these free visits, children watch a short film on agriculture in the onsite theater, enjoy the outdoor play structure, take the iSpy challenge or savor the fruits of the region’s labor: a scoop of Tillamook ice cream.
As they play and discover, students learn about irrigation technology, processing, safety, electricity, goods distribution, modern farming and the region’s history through an accessible, experiential approach.
Steam Camps for Kids - From April to August, first- to sixth-grade children can learn about space, weather, germination, plate tectonics, and insects through the lens of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM). After a popular first year, the camp, called Science Fridays, is back for a second season. The initiative takes place at the SAGE Center’s AWS Think Big Space—the West Coast’s first STEAM learning lab resulting from a partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The SAGE Center also offers internship programs for high school students, graduating seniors and college students, such as the Columbia Works internship, which is a collaboration between Morrow County businesses, chambers of commerce, and the Port of Morrow. They hope to inspire youth to return completing their education to seize one of the exciting career opportunities awaiting them in Morrow County. And jobs will be waiting: The Port of Morrow alone contributes 8,500 positions to a county of roughly 12,000 people.
“Many of the companies that utilize these internships end up extending their intern into a full-time employee,” Griggs adds. “They continue their education, and when they come back home they have a full-time job. It’s our way of ‘growing our own.’”
The SAGE Center is also a longtime Travel Oregon Welcome Center, where visitors can kick off Travel Oregon’s official 24 hours in Boardman itinerary, with stops like Burnt Field Brewing located in the old train depot, a river walk and an evening at River Lodge.
“You can be at the river in no time. You can go to the mountains. You can have sunshine every day. It’s really diverse,” Beck says.
While the County’s geography, waterfront camping and lodging, festivals, weather and outdoor access draw visitors from across the state, the SAGE Center adds another item to the list: an interactive agriculture and energy experience for explorers of all age.
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