Organic farm has its own restaurant

PHILOMATH, Ore. — Although he grew up on an Iowa soybean and seed farm, John Eveland never thought he’d be a farmer. It wasn’t until he started to work at a vegetarian restaurant in Corvallis, Ore., and his disappointment with the quality of its vegetables that he turned back to farm life.

“I started growing tomatoes and it segued into growing other vegetables,” he said. “I met Sally and she was a farmer, so we started farming together and it became a passion.”

Together Eveland and his wife, Sally Brewer, started Gathering Together Farm in 1987. It is  an organic farm, one of the few in the nation with its own restaurant.

They were granted a conditional use permit from Benton County for commercial activity in support of a farming operation but still have “substantial hoops to go through,” he said.

“One thing I understand is if we were good enough they’d find a way to keep us alive, and that’s why we’re still here,” he said, adding that the definition of an activity to support a farming operation has expanded over the years. “I made the point of saying in my presentation that we’re a produce-tasting room.”

Originally, the farm started with a small market stand that sold directly to consumers through farmers’ markets. Brewer then had the idea to start a CSA — Community-Supported Agriculture — which Eveland said was one of the first in the Willamette Valley. For that reason, they wanted to provide a wide variety of products to consumers, who paid upfront for weekly boxes of produce from the farm.

Showcasing their products in a restaurant also seemed like a natural fit.

The first year they offered soup and sandwiches, but when Eveland started holding a farm lunch for workers in the back of the farmstand, they curated a larger menu that includes pizza, salads and pasta.

“For me, there’s no other way,” chef Scott Willcokson said. “Once you work with ingredients like this, if you go back to working with other ingredients it would be impossible, at least for me. I couldn’t do it.

“That’s the goal with customers, too,” he said. “Once you eat food like this it’s hard to go back and buy a tomato from Safeway.”

Along with the farming operation, Eveland is  involved in hemp production with his partner, Josh Gulliver, and is one of the first in the country to produce and process organic hemp. That operation is  J and J Organics and SunGold Botanicals.

“It’s exciting. John and I have both dabbled with cannabis for a long time,” Gulliver said. “To be able to walk through 30 acres is really rewarding for me.”

Gathering Together Farm prides itself on its collaborative nature, and Eveland said that the mission has always been to “grow good food and have a good time.”

Although they struggled with personnel issues last year, Eveland said recently he was given a photograph of the work crew together and they all looked happy, even though it was taken near the end of the work day. It was a reminder to him how rewarding this operation is.

“Just to see that picture, how we have come full circle to where I want us to be,” he said.


Pumpkins add to farm’s bottom line

ROSEBURG, Ore. — The tradition of going to the pumpkin patch can be both an educational and a memory-making experience for kids and families. It also connects the public to farming and agriculture, and is a big boost to the farmer’s income.

For years, even decades, families have been visiting pumpkin fields on weekends and classes of young school children have been visiting on weekdays during October as Halloween nears. At many farms, a wagon with hay bales for seats carries both kids and adults into the field. Once off the wagon, the kids, with adults in pursuit, spread out in search of the perfect pumpkin for carving into a jack-o-lantern or for decoration for Halloween.

Some farms also have hay bale mazes or corn mazes to add to the family activities.

“It’s really the only sector of U-pick farming that has grown in the past 30 years,” said Evan Kruse, co-owner of Kruse Farms, a 500-acre family business near Roseburg, Ore. “There’s a lot more interest in this type of ag tourism than U-picking fruits and vegetables to feed your family. It just shows the progression of the easier availability of produce in farm markets and grocery stores.”

Kruse, who has three young children, said a visit to the pumpkin patch is play compared to what might be considered work when U-picking beans, strawberries or any other fruit or vegetable.

Kruse Farms offers visitors 10 acres of pumpkins to choose from, a 4-acre corn maze, a hay bale maze in a greenhouse and a 1-acre sunflower walk.

“It’s the most important 15 acres on the farm out of the 500 because they provide the most connection to the public,” Kruse said. “There’s so little exposure to agriculture, but a pumpkin visit allows people to see what we have and to see a still working farm.”

Roseburg teacher Robin Huselton brought her class of 20 kindergartners to Kruse Farms on Oct. 22. After about 30 minutes of searching, each student had picked out a pumpkin.

Huselton said prior to the visit, the kids read books about the lifecycle of a pumpkin, watched science videos about pumpkins and made a book about pumpkins. She explained that in learning about the different seasons, it is easy for the students to make the connection between pumpkins and fall.

She added that once the pumpkins are back in the classroom, they’ll be weighed and measured by the kids as a numbers lesson.

“A pumpkin patch trip gets the kids out in nature,” Huselton said. “A lot of my students live in apartments. It’s good for the students to see and understand that they can get produce grown right here where they can see it.”

Amy Holmgren said her grandchildren make two or three trips to pumpkin fields each year, making those visits with grandparents, parents and classes. She said those family trips have been a tradition for many years. When she was a child, she visited pumpkin fields with her parents and grandparents.

“The kids love it every time they go,” Holmgren said. “As kids get older and the world changes, there are not a lot of wholesome traditions left. It’s good to have certain things like this that the kids can count on.”

Holmgren said she talks to her grandchildren about the process of growing pumpkins, that they need good soil and water, and that a farmer needs to do the work.

“They need to know pumpkins and food are not just a magical thing,” Holmgren said. “They need to know where food comes from, where and how vegetables grow, and that they’re just not from a store.”

For the farms, in addition to exposure to the visiting public, pumpkins provide one more income source.

“Pumpkins offer another good opportunity for an earning month for a farm after the summer months when most crops are harvested,” Kruse said.


Goat Discovery Day planned for Nov. 2

Oregon State University Extension Services and the Emerald Dairy Goat Association are sponsoring a day of workshops Nov. 2 for both experienced and novice goat producers.

The program will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Pleasant Hill High School, 36386 Highway 58, Pleasant Hill, Ore.

“Strengthen your goat confidence and know-how,” according to the event website. ” If you are an experienced “goat person” or you hope to be, this event is for you! A full day of workshops, demos with live goats, vendors, and networking.”

The cost of the event is $30, and a catered lunch is available for $11.

For a complete schedule and to register, go to the event website.

 

 


Farming organic: Tough but rewarding

JOSEPH, Ore. – The life of a farmer isn’t easy and when you add organics into the mix, it becomes even more difficult.

“Farming is tough,” said Patrick Thiel, who operates Prairie Creek Farms on about 25 acres of leased land near Joseph and and another few acres outside of Lostine. “There’s times the weather will wipe you out. There are times other things will wipe you out. There are times when it’ll turn out OK, but those are getting fewer and further in between.”

Unlike many in the Wallowa Valley, who rely chiefly on cattle, hay or small grains, Thiel has a wide variety of crops, including several varieties of potatoes, beets and carrots – all grown to organic specifications.

Not all chemicals are banned in organic farming, he said. Often, common, everyday, and non-toxic (to humans) substances can be used instead. For example, ordinary vinegar that can be used as an herbicide. For fertilizer, he uses kelp and molasses diluted in water.

“The overall goal is to avoid sterilizing the soil or introducing substances that destroy the function of the soil,” Thiel said.

It’s true, that running an organic operation allows for more pests and weeds, Thiel said. However, if a weedkiller such as Roundup is used, “It makes it more profitable in the short term,” he said. “But in 10 to 50 years, you’ll have more difficulty controlling pests and weeds” because they become resistant to the chemical.

Organic farming is “more labor intensive, but it’s more productive in the long run,” he said.

“One thing that happens when you introduce high levels of nitrogen is it reduces lot of the green foliage, but the product is more watery,” Thiel said. “Because of the high nitrates, you don’t get as good a flavor.”

While organically grown produce remains more expensive than its commercial counterparts, the gap is narrowing.

“The organic industry has been growing by an average of 20% a year for many years,” Thiel said. “The first farms were small – a scale that can’t compare to a 5,000-acre (commercial) farm. In recent years, more of the larger farms have been converting to organic.”

While his cost for production is higher, the market value of his produce is “roughly double,” he said, but that “depends on the market.” Their, and his customers, all consider that his Prairie farms produce has much better flavor that even many organic competitors.

Thiel’s market is primarily high-end restaurants in the Portland area. What he doesn’t sell in Portland will be available at local farmers markets.

He said he’s heard stories from his Portland customers of occasions when he’d run out of product and restaurants would have to look elsewhere.

“Diners would come back into the kitchen and say, ‘What happened to your potatoes? What happened to your carrots?’ ” Thiel said.

Potato harvest just got underway in a serious fashion Wednesday, Oct. 2, when the weather dropped to 24 degrees Fahrenheit and got a good start on killing the tops of the plants. The tubers still have to remain in the ground a couple of weeks to allow the skins to set, but Thiel is finding some he can harvest.

“I’ve got a dozen varieties of potatoes and some of them are good to go and some need to mature up,” he said. “That’s all part of the reason for having a variety. It hedges your bets against all your weather patterns, your timing, your disease and pest issues and your climate getting too wet or too dry.”

The mainstays of his crop are German butterballs – much like russets – and huckleberry golds that have a purple skin but are yellow inside. Other varieties include large yellow Kennebecs, Yukon nuggets, purple majesties and Valery long yellows that have a red skin.

The potatoes grow near Joseph. Just west of Lostine he has a field protected by a deer fence where he grows about a tenth of an acre of quinoa, just under 5 acres of carrots and about 2.5 acres of various colored beets, all organic.

In Oregon, organic crops are certified by Oregon Tilth, a Corvallis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and advocating organic food and farming, that certifies organic farms.

Thiel has a personal connection with the group. Back when his father, Eugene Thiel, first grew organic in the early 1970s, organic certification was just beginning. The elder Thiel worked with state officials to establish organic standards.

Eugene Thiel continued to pursue organic farming until his death in 2013.

The Thiels grew seed potatoes in the Wallowa Valley for more than 30 years here and found it was not that hard to transition to organics.

After following in his father’s footsteps, he doesn’t yet know if his farm will continue on to another generation. Of his four daughters, ranging in age from 14 to 24, “That remains to be seen over the next few years. My youngest daughter, perhaps.”

“Farming is a great privilege; I was trained in that,” Thiel said. “It’s a miracle every year we put a crop in.”


Small farm, food expo offers tips on profitability

SPOKANE, Wash. — The keynote speakers at the upcoming Farm and Food Expo know how to make the most of their land.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser, owners of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, Calif., operate a 3-acre farm that grosses more than $100,000 per acre each year, said Hilary Sepulveda, outreach coordinator for the Spokane Conservation District.

The expo is Oct. 25-26 at Spokane Community College and will offer more than 35 classes.

The Kaisers will discuss managing an intensive, no-till, hand-labor vegetable production system that is profitable while restoring soil health on their farm.

They have increased their soil organic matter by more than 400% while drastically reducing water use. Their farm has demonstrated that ecological sustainability can mean economic sustainability, with up to 10 times the sales per acre compared to similar farms, according to the conservation district.

The expo provides two days of education and resources to small-acreage farmers, those who have less than 5 acres, as well as gardeners and “foodies,” Sepulveda said.

Sepulveda expects 400 to 500 people to attend the conference.

Classes will also be of interest to large-scale farmers.

The event includes a tour of the new South Spokane Farm Corridor, which includes Casa Cano Farm, Snapdragon Flower Farm and Vets on the Farm. Space is limited for the $50 tour. The tour ends at the Moran Prairie Grange for the annual Vets on the Farm dinner and auction.

Cost of the expo is $100 for adults, $75 for seniors and students and $25 for youths.

Roughly 38 vendors will also be at the event. To just attend the vendor fair costs $10.

Contact Sepulveda at 509-535-7274, ext. 214 or hilary-sepulveda@sccd.org


Hemp attracts younger generation of farmers

Artist, sound engineer and adventure traveler Blu Fortner is adding “farmer” to his resume with his first commercial crop of hemp seed.

The Idaho native moved across the state line to Oregon five years ago in his pursuit of growing medicinal hemp.

His attraction was the plant’s potential to provide relief to people suffering from various ailments.

“I moved to Oregon because the laws here were more cannabis-friendly,” he said.

He started with a small, organic, medicinal grow but soon found there wasn’t a market for his production.

With his limited agricultural experience, he was fortunate to meet Clint Shock, a plant physiologist and agronomist. Shock, who was the director of Oregon State University’s Malheur Experiment Station, was interested in medicinal plants.

“I wanted to learn about non-cannabis medicinal plants, and he wanted to learn about hemp,” Fortner said.

It made for a good partnership, he said.

The two teamed up in a teacher-student relationship and did a four-plant, hemp test in Shock’s back yard last year. Three of the plants were successful females that produced high-level CBD oil.

CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in hemp thought by many to offer numerous health benefits.

This year, Fortner and Shock planted hemp in two fields and a total of 5 acres to produce feminized hemp seed for growers. They also partnered in a new business — Medicinal Botanical Seed.

If the crop is successful, they plan to expand production next year.

At 38, Fortner is one of a growing number of “brand new farmers” drawn to agriculture by the allure of hemp, a newly legal crop that produces CBD and a variety of other products ranging from the edible seeds to clothing material. Hemp production was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Both THC — the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, which is also thought to have health benefits — and CBD found in hemp have a lot of value, he said.

“But THC is limited by state and federal regulations, and CBD is legal nationally and internationally,” he said.

He thinks younger people’s attraction to hemp farming is connected to their belief that it should be legal. But it also provides a niche for farmers who don’t have a lot of resources when it comes to land, equipment and capital.

“For farming in general, there isn’t easy access. There are almost insurmountable hurdles for young farmers,” he said.

But with demand for hemp currently higher than the supply, a small-scale farmer can grow 1 acre and make a living, he said.

Legal boom
Michael Bowman — widely known as “Mr. Hemp” — has been a driving force in the legalization of hemp production in the U.S.

He’s farmed his entire life on the eastern plains of Colorado above the declining Ogallala Aquifer. Twenty years ago, he was researching crops that would use less water than corn and alfalfa.

“The hemp plant captured my attention and imagination,” he said, listing the plant’s other environmental benefits.

That started him on a path of advocacy, and he became the founding board chairman of the National Hemp Association.

The association had a state-by-state strategy to get hemp legalized and build support for federal legalization. It resulted in progress in the 2014 Farm Bill and victory in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp research in states where its production was allowed, and the 2018 Farm Bill took hemp off the controlled substance list and redefined it as an agricultural crop.

According to Vote Hemp, a nonprofit advocacy group, 46 states have now legalized hemp.

The 2018 Farm Bill also lifted restrictions on interstate commerce and lending by financial institutions and authorized crop insurance.

But the new rules guiding those issues won’t be in place until 2020, making 2019 the industry’s “teenage years,” Bowman said.

“It’s been a little awkward, but there’s been significant growth under that awkwardness, he said.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cultivation in the U.S. has grown rapidly, according to Vote Hemp. The organization estimates 230,000 acres of hemp were planted in 2019 compared to 78,176 acres in 2018.

Moving the needle
The U.S. hemp industry is driven by CBD oil, both because of the potential profits and the current lack of infrastructure to produce other hemp products, Bowman said.

Economic models show a net return for growing hemp for CBD oil from $20,000 all the way up to $80,000 an acre for someone “who really knows what he’s doing,” he said.

“It gets a lot of farmers’ attention,” he said.

But contrary to what most people believe, it’s not an easy crop to grow for high production, he said.

“There’s certainly a community of first-timers that didn’t make any money,” he said.

There’s huge demand for hemp and CBD products, and the new legislation that legalized hemp farming has really opened up the market, Jessica Manly, communications director for National Young Farmers Coalition, said.

“I do think it’s something that’s attracting younger farmers,” she said.

From what she’s hearing, a lot of beginning farmers are becoming interested in growing hemp and some young farmers are experimenting with it on some of their land.

In addition, a lot of commodity farmers are transitioning their operations to hemp because prices are much higher than the crops they’ve been growing, she said. Many commodity crop prices have remained low in recent years.

There are some concerns, however, about regulation, permitting and interstate trade, she said.

“That’s still getting sorted out because it’s such a new industry,” she said.

There is also concern about whether this is a bubble that’s going to burst — whether demand will hold up over time or whether the market will be over-supplied, she said.

On the flip side, vegetable growers are worried about competition for land. Hemp growers might be able to pay more for land and crowd them out, which also raises a food security issue, she said.

“It’s definitely a concern,” she said.

Youthful appeal
The legalization of hemp farming has created a “hemp Wild West” that’s bringing new farmers and younger farmers into the industry, Bonny Jo Peterson, executive director of the Industrial Hemp Association of Washington, said.

She’s talked to several conventional farmers who say hemp is getting their children and grandchildren interested in farming.

Some who were looking to sell their operation because they had no interested successor now find they do have a succession plan, she said.

“Hemp is more exciting than corn or hay. A lot of millennials are jumping in full bore,” she said.

It’s something they find interesting. They see the potential hemp brings to the table when it comes to climate and the environment. On the CBD side, the attraction is its potential as an alternative medicine, she said.

The interest in hemp extends beyond the farming end of things. It’s also in processing, consulting, soils, pesticides and machinery, she said.

“Just about every aspect of agriculture is being tapped into for this new experience,” she said.

Peterson helped write the bill that fully authorized hemp production in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law last April.

The legislation spurred growth in the state’s industry from one grower with about 140 acres to more than 100 licensed businesses and about 7,000 licensed acres, she said.

The majority of those businesses are growers, and at least one-third are new farmers, she said.

Rural resurgence
Hemp is attractive for a lot of reasons, including its role in the country’s history and U.S. agriculture, Bowman, the Colorado advocate, said.

Hemp is used in more than 25,000 products, giving anyone with an imagination and an entrepreneurial spirit a “lane to swim in,” he said.

Growing crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rice is robotic, he said.

“There’s nothing to tickle the right side of the brain, everything is prescribed,” he said.

Millennials and Generations X, Y and Z have little interest in systems like that, he said.

“The point of it is … the plant has come out of prohibition, and they want to show you what can be done,” he said.

Hemp is absolutely bringing young people into agriculture, he said. Colorado, for example, is seeing a tremendous number of young people entering the field, he said.

That includes people who don’t have an agricultural background and an influx of young people coming back to the farm and rural communities, he said.

“I’m really excited about that. We are seeing a resurgence, and it’s all due to the plant,” he said.

But it’s going to take leadership to keep that momentum going, he said. People who see the opportunity, embrace it and develop policy to support it are going to do well and “create an ecosystem of bringing kids back” to agriculture, he said.

At 60, he’s about the average age of U.S. farmers today. The industry needs a younger generation to take up the reins, he said.

“This is our one chance, generational chance, to reset the clock,” he said.


Class will explore small-scale farming

Oregon State University Extension will offer a three-session class called “Exploring the Small Farm Dream.”
The class starts at 6 p.m. Nov. 4 and continues at the same time on Nov. 11 and 18.
Taught by OSU Extension faculty members Sara Runkel and Maud Powell, the class will help attendees get their feet on the ground as small-scale farmers. The instructors will answer their questions about farming in addition to helping them find resources in the area and network with other farmers.
The cost is $60 for one person or $75 for a couple.
Register online at http://bit.ly/ jocosmallfarms
For more information: email sharon.evans@ oregonstate.edu or call 541-476-6613