By Rosalinda Mariotti

“Where is Oregon?” the ticket counter clerk at the airport in Florence asked me. It was 1996.

I can comfortably answer that question now, because I believe I was meant to be an Oregonian all along. I consider the fact that I was born in Italy just a twist of fate.

Oregon is a big, fat, green place on the western coast of the continental United States.

The transition was not as hard as people might think, and 20 years later I cannot imagine my life anywhere else.

Did you know that Portland, Oregon, technically sits at the same latitude as Italy?

For the nerdy ones: Portland is 45°52’N.

It was like I hopped on a plane and I just headed west––straight as an arrow.

Oregon and Italy have many similarities when it comes to food. Oregon truffles are second only to the ones in Alba, Piedmont. Not to mention the hazelnuts, or as they are also known.

In fact, European filberts thrived in coastal Washington and Oregon for nearly a century, as the climate here is perfect. Unfortunately, this changed dramatically with the discovery of Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) in southwest Washington in the 1960s. Now, young farmers like Chris Ropp in Albany are racing against both time and the inevitable, diversifying production and planting Jefferson and Yamhill varieties. “Both are resistant to EFB, which is slowly killing all the old varieties of hazelnut trees,” Ropp says. “The Jefferson is a bigger nut that will replace the old varieties once they’re gone.”

Other farmers are resigned to losing the oldest varieties to the virus. Dwayne Bush, from Bush’s Fern View Farms, knows that his 85-year-old varieties, such as Barcelona and the sweeter Ennis, are living on borrowed time, even though he’s been able to contain the virus to only a few trees (so far).

While Oregon produces less than 5 percent of the world’s hazelnuts, the smaller picture is definitely more inspiring: Oregon produces 95 percent of the hazelnuts grown in the United States. It’s a blooming industry, with thousands of new acres being planted every year. And, on the brighter side, Oregon State University is developing new varieties of higher quality trees that produce higher quality nuts in greater amounts in order to help the industry.