After ranching for 40 years, Randy Garnett has embarked on a new career. For the past several years, he’s been the cook for students at Enterprise school, making dishes that tickle the taste buds of not only students, but their guests, as well.
“We’d been doing a lot of catering for friends and family and for years we did it for nothing,” Garnett said. “Then everybody kept telling us, you need to go out and do this professionally. I’d made this barbecue sauce for years and sold it. We branched out into Idaho and Washington a little bit.”
His popular sauces, Randy’s Barbecue Sauce and Randy’s Mustard Sauce, are sold in local and regional stores. He’s now working with a larger operation to expand the offerings.
For many years, Garnett ranched in northern California. Then, he and his wife moved here where they raised 100 head of shorthorn-Hereford cross beef cattle at a ranch along the Imnaha River.
But ranching wasn’t his first love.
“The kids started getting older and we decided to move to town,” he said.
He worked a couple of different jobs, including managing the Wallowa County Fairgrounds for 10 years and becoming chef at the Enterprise senior citizen center.
“My son had, for a senior project, put together a food truck and he ran it until he went to college. Then I kind of took that over,” Garnett said. “For every weekend over the past few summers when I wasn’t catering, I ran the food wagon.”
When the job at the school came open, he applied and got hired, despite no formal training as a cook or chef.
“I’ve just always liked to cook,” he said.
Putting together a lunch of lasagna made with an Italian sausage-based sauce, Garnett said it was one of the more popular menu items he serves. It was to be served with garlic bread and a salad bar. He said the same recipe would be used for spaghetti sauce served another day.
“Probably the one they like the most is I do a barbecue pulled pork,” he said. “We get a lot of folks from town, parents and grandparents, who come to eat when we have those kinds of things. Another one that surprisingly has grown (in popularity) is sausage and sauerkraut.”
He said the first time he served it, there were only about 150 kids who ate, but the numbers have increased every time it’s been on the menu since.
“It’s a kielbasa-type rope sausage that’s really good,” he said.
Garnett said he does his best to avoid processed foods on the school menu.
“We make all of our own meals in house,” he said. “We try to use very little prepared food to serve the kids.”
School officials said about 800 students eat lunch there each week.
Unfortunately, Garnett said, the Enterprise School is not in a position to be very involved in the farm-to-school programs that are operated throughout the nation and state. Farm-to-school programs feature locally grown meat, dairy and produce in an effort to provide students with nutritional meals from local farms.
“I think it’s a good program, but here, it’s probably not as effective as in some areas where farmers have more of a variety of crops,” Garnett said. In addition to beef cattle, “Most everything here is either small grains or hay,” adding that the Wallowa Valley just doesn’t have a long enough growing season for the variety other areas have.
“I think dairy and hogs were the greatest agricultural commodities in the county for years,” he said. “But government restrictions on dairy made it so they couldn’t afford to stay in business, you know, the small mom and pop outfits.”
Here it’s mostly when a local donor buys a market steer at the fair and donates it to the schools.
“I think it’s a good program, but they’ve got some restrictions on it … for example, when a local entity buys a market steer, it has to be USDA inspected and graded and cut and wrapped before it comes here,” he said.
Erika Pinkerton, superintendent of Enterprise School District No. 21, said the donated steer is “about as far as we go” in farm-to-school. She said the district only started doing that about a year ago. Teachers donate toward the purchase of the steer and the district makes up any shortfall.
There also is a school garden, “but that’s more for education. They don’t bring it to the kitchen, but they do get to eat it in class.”
Garnett said that when he farmed and ranched, it was before the farm-to-school programs had developed greatly and he had little such opportunity from a farmer’s perspective. However, if the program had been going then, he had plenty of the livestock and commodities that would have fit into today’s programs.
“They didn’t have the farm-to-school program when I was farming, so I never really got involved with farm-to-school then,” he said. “It’s only gotten big within the past five years.”
Given the lack of opportunity for the farm-to-school connection in the valley, Garnett said he has little opportunity to help kids understand their food doesn’t come just from the store.
“We don’t really do any hands-on stuff with the kids,” he said. “I would like to, but there isn’t a whole lot of hands-on activity.”