The center of the universe in rural Knappa is a quirky store called Granny Patti's Trading Post. It's tucked off the highway in a long, red building that's visible from the main road, if you know where to look as you head through the junction.

Inside, it looks like a farmer's barn spun out of control - a fascinating jumble of seemingly disconnected items.

But don't be fooled. It's your first clue that the person you're about to meet is no ordinary entrepreneur.

Granny Patti's store also has a special aroma - the heady, homey scent of rich grain, feed, and earth. Breathe deeply, and you'll start to get a feel for the character of the eccentric and welcoming visionary who created this small, rich world - owner Patti Van Osdol.

The store is so much a part of her life now that it's hard to describe her without it.

Van Osdol opened Granny Patti's in 1997. In many ways, the store is the product of her unusual upbringing and varied experience. From business to social work to raising her own food - it's as if everything that has ever happened to her in her life has brought her to this moment, here, in this rural community where agriculture and animal husbandry are part and parcel of everyday living.

She's as much a part of this community now as the earth itself. But she didn't start out that way.

Van Osdol was born and raised in Eugene, the daughter of a scientist - a paleontology professor whose love of marine research eventually took his family to Bay Center, Wash., on Willapa Bay - one of just a few pristine riparian areas left in the Western Hemisphere. His goal - to study oysters.

Van Osdol grew up in an atmosphere of learning, research and discovery and her father's example has set the tone for her own life. While her educational background is in estuary biology, her passion is growing healthful food and fostering community.

She began that experiment in community on the North Coast 15 years ago, when she married a local Finn and moved to Knappa.

"When I got married I started a farm, and I loved pulling the farm together," she said. "Then I got done, and it was 'now what?'

The tilling and growing were rewarding, but she missed people.

She started doing research about what kind of business might work in the area, and got the idea for a feed store that would be filled with things local people wanted to buy. That credo and her own experimental approach to life are what give her store its unusual appearance.

And while there are a lot of items that will make you smile when you see them, its no accident that they're on the shelf.

"It's in here somewhere," Van Osdol said of her old-fashioned general store. "But it's not because [items are] cute, it's because they're necessary."

One of Van Osdol's passions is organics, a path she embarked on years ago when she was raising a daughter with food allergies. Her interest in healthful agriculture also springs from painful and ongoing family experience - her younger sister has endured years of debilitating kidney illness that Van Osdol suspects was linked to diet.

These days she grows a lot of her own food, and looks to other local farmers to get the rest. She's committed to living off the land in the healthiest way possible.

"I'm very adamant about taking care of yourself. I'm to the point where I can't eat out, I can't eat grocery store food," she said. "People wonder why I never get sick. It's because I eat well and I'm in a warm, loving environment every day."

That environment is the store, where most customers are old friends, people who come by as much to visit and shoot the breeze as to buy needed items for their own agricultural and livestock pursuits.

Van Osdol said she wants to spread the word about innovative agriculture, by using her store as a laboratory for growing experiments.

When she got onto the idea of hydroponics a few years ago, she built an elaborate system of pipes and trays that stands in the center of the store - to learn how to do it, and to show the community it could be done. Now she sells hydroponic gardening units to customers who learned about it from her.

Van Osdol believes in the old adage "waste not" when it comes to food - especially preserving food by canning it.

"I can everything that's slow enough and walks through the yard," she jokes.

Her hearty endorsement of organics is infectious.

"I will not stock medicated feed; there's a better way to do this" she said of the many bags of different kinds of animal feed stacked to the rafters all around. "You start with a few directions [in organics]. Once you start you're never going back."