A Locavoracious Appetite

Amelia Hard ’67 is a driving force behind Portland’s Public Market.

By Raymond Rendleman ’06 | December 1, 2012

Sometime in 2016, Portland will build something it has not had since the 1960s—a rainproof public market. And when the first eager customer pays three dollars for the first box of blueberries, no one will be happier than Amelia Hard ’67.

As a founding member of the Historic Portland Public Market Foundation and president of its board from 2006 through May 2012, Amelia has remained committed to hunger causes, a commitment that goes back at least to her ownership of legendary restaurant Genoa in 1981–92.

When Amelia and her husband, former Reed professor Fred Hard [English, 1962–70], purchased the restaurant from former co-owner Chris Rocca ’73 in 1981, nowhere in the U.S. were there stores that carried ingredients such as real balsamic vinegar, fresh chanterelles, or Parmigiano-Reggiano. And due to a ridiculous ban on all Italian meat products (because of an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Sicily), Amelia had to settle for so-called “American prosciutto” until the late ’80s.

This was not a tolerable situation for Amelia, or for any of Genoa’s so-called “first cook” kitchen compatriots, who included Patricia Hill ’90 and Rosemary Gerould Barrett ’70.

So, they started working with folks like “Roger the Mussel Man,” who gathered wild Oregon mussels off the coast, “Becky the Rabbit Lady,” who grew herbs and rabbits for the Genoa menu, and a colorful fungus guy by the name of Lars Norgren ’84.

After coming by Genoa with huge totes of chanterelles for years, Lars eventually developed the Peak Forest Fruit Company, which has remained successful to this day. (While you can pick up your smart phone now and get a sackful of local hazelnuts delivered to you by bicycle, back in the ’70s it was all word-of-mouth.)

“That was a responsibility we took very seriously—not only serving our customers the best quality food—but there is also the community solidarity and benefit to supporting local agriculture,” Amelia says.

One thing she would bear in mind while prepping, when there was time to reflect, was for whom she was doing all the work. Amelia liked to concentrate on a young couple who saved up money for months for their anniversary celebration, and she wanted everything to be perfect for them.

“That mindset to do the very best for people who richly deserved it spilled over into the hunger issue,” she says.

Newly homeless people who fell through the safety net during the Reagan era came by Genoa asking for food, and Amelia would always try to find leftovers, but it became a bigger issue. In 1989, she founded the first Taste of the Nation Portland benefit; since then, the event has earned well over $1 million for the Oregon Food Bank and other hunger-fighting organizations. Amelia also helped to establish an Oregon Food Bank nutrition education program so chefs could interact directly with the people they were helping. 

She’s gone from serving Luciano Pavarotti a private feast with duck-breast-filled tortellini to advocating for food stamps at a public market planned for downtown Portland. It’s therefore fitting that Amelia’s market will be named after James Beard ’24. Just as he made fine cooking techniques available to the average layman, Amelia has helped build the groundwork for the locavore movement.

In unanimous votes in May 2011 and June 2012, Multnomah County Commissioners agreed to sell the property at the west end of the Morrison Bridge to the Melvin Mark Development Company to build the James Beard Public Market and a 17-story commercial tower. The next steps include a capital campaign, for which Amelia will now work as staff manager. 

Amelia is excited about the market’s location close to the Portland Saturday Market, creating a potential “market district” and connecting the downtown core with the waterfront.

“Imagine walking through an arcade lined with flowers and preserves introducing you to what the market has to offer, over a pedestrian bridge, then into two large market halls filled with our finest local foods,” she says.

We’re hungry already.

Click here for more about the James Beard Public Market

Tags: Alumni, Cool Projects, Service