Four small farms on West Coast receive grants

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Four West Coast farms in California, Oregon and Washington were selected Wednesday among 15 recipients nationwide for a 2020 grant supporting small, independent farms.

The FruitGuys Community Fund awarded more than $51,000 to small farms and agricultural nonprofits in 14 states to support environmental and sustainability projects.

This year’s grantees include Rancho Charanda in Redlands, Calif., a farm that grows citrus, chile peppers and native foods; Shao Shan Farm in Bolinas, Calif., which grows Asian heritage vegetables; Thompson Creek Farm in Newman Lake, Wash., which produces organic vegetables, berries and fruit; and Hollyaire Farm in Junction City, Ore., which produces holly, sour cherries, hazelnuts and other crops.

“We’re really excited about getting this grant,” said Ladonna Avakian, 32, co-owner of 80-acre Hollyaire Farm. “Taking care of the land is a passion for me.”

It was raining. Avakian let hazelnut leaves slip through her fingers as she threaded through the muddy orchard.

Avakian co-owns and runs the farm with her twin sister, Heather Paterson. Avakian brings her environmental science background to the farm, and Paterson brings business knowledge.

Together, they run a no-spray operation with vegetables, herbs, eggs, apples, hazelnuts, sour cherries, pumpkins, holly and more.

“It’s so important to us to grow things naturally,” said Paterson, “not just for the communities we feed, but also for our own kids.”

Hollyaire Farm sells produce at its farmstand in Harrisburg, Ore., and wholesales to other local farms and businesses like Junction City-based Hentze Farms.

With $3,650 in funding from The FruitGuys, Hollyaire Farm is investing in bat and owl boxes to encourage natural pest control, building beehives and constructing high tunnels, similar to greenhouses, to extend the growing season.

The farm is also planting 50 fruit trees, and the sisters have committed to donate a portion of the fruit to low-income families.

As disabled veterans — Paterson was exposed to chemical warfare and Avakian suffered a traumatic head injury — the women say they also bring a commitment to service.

“What better way to serve people than to grow food for them and…,” Paterson started, “…to make sure they have enough to eat,” Avakian added.

The sisters often finished each other’s sentences.

Founded in 2012, the FruitGuys Community Fund provides micro-grants of up to $5,000 to small farms with fewer than 300 acres that already have a big positive impact on local food systems, the environment and farm diversity and that plan to use the grant to further those goals.

To date, the fund has awarded $326,000 to 84 small farms in 30 states.

“The grant is all about preserving and enhancing farmland with sustainable management practices,” said Sheila Cassani, the project’s director. “We’ve funded pest management projects, alternative energy sources, water catchment systems, pollination, soil health, so many things.”

The FruitGuys is a fruit delivery company that works with local farms across the U.S., and this grant program, Cassani said, is the company’s way of giving back.

Of the 2020 grantees, 80% are owned or managed by women or people of color.

Cassani said many farms were selected based on their community engagement.

For example, Rebecca Woollett, who co-owns Thompson Creek Farm with her partner, Marcus Intinarelli, said they will use a portion of the grant to teach community workshops at a local Grange hall about how to save and package seeds.

Woollett said the remainder of the grant will go toward advancing seed production, building owl and bat boxes and installing “caterpillar tunnels” to protect crops from rain and hail.

Out of the 15 grantees, 14 are focused on increasing food access for low-income communities.

Hollyaire Farm, in addition to its seasonal farmstand, sells fruits and nuts at a gas station and truck stop, works with local food banks including FOOD for Lane County and is working to fill the salad bar for students in Junction City School District when schools reopen this fall.

“These projects are all things we would’ve done either way, with or without the grant funds,” said Paterson. “But having the support makes such a difference and lets us do even more to be sustainable and feed our community.”