Lane County cooperative welcomes small poultry farms

WALTON, Ore. — When Steve Knox and Terah Van Dusen established Fog Hollow Farm to raise poultry in early 2017, they also made the decision to join Heart of the Valley Growers’ Cooperative.

Van Dusen and Knox run a small-scale chicken and duck operation on their 7-acre property west of Eugene, and found the Lane County cooperative an appealing opportunity to connect with the small farm community.

“We have been able to share knowledge, resources and farm food at potlucks with other poultry growers all across the Willamette Valley,” Van Dusen said in an email. “It is wonderful to work in collaboration with folks who would otherwise be competition. The idea of the co-op is to work together to provide the community with fresh, local poultry. We distribute the demand equally among the growers.”

Fog Hollow Farms is one of the six Lane County farms involved in Heart of the Valley.

Heart of the Valley specializes in pastured poultry and specialty meats, and supports local agriculture by buying feed and animals from within Oregon or Northern California. Membership is $100 yearly.

Through the cooperative, Van Dusen has said that Fog Hollow Farm’s business has increased. Along with selling at farmers’ markets and through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, the cooperative organized supplying larger stores and restaurants within the county with poultry — businesses such as Marche, Rye and Market of Choice in Eugene.

“These are locations with a higher volume of demand, a volume which is unfeasible for one farm to provide on its own,” Van Dusen said. “That is our goal, at least one of them, to have enough chicken in the cache between us that we can supply these high traffic locations with fresh, local chicken around the clock and calendar.”

She said the chickens are sold at wholesale price, but the amount of meat sold at one time makes it “well worth it.”

Heart of the Valley Growers’ Cooperative formed in 2015 with the help of Angela Andre of Phoenix Farm Enterprises in Springfield, Ore. Andre, who describes herself as “an old hippy,” founded the Newport Farmers’ Market in the 1970s.

As the cooperative’s marketer, Andre’s latest mission is organizing the Springfield farmers’ market, since the city decided against hosting one this year. The cooperative will sponsor the event along with Springfield’s Park and Recreation department. The market will start on May 29, and the cooperative is inviting all local farmers to join.

“The reason we have ‘growers’ in our name is that we thought we might expand into more than just meat,” she said. “Now is an opportunity to do that.”

Andre has been running her own operations for six years, although the first three the farm was a nonprofit before it became a for-profit business. She lives on 90 acres of Mackenzie River Trust, where she farms 30 acres and the remaining 60 are a conservation easement.

Phoenix Farm Enterprise raises meat chickens and ducks, rabbits, laying hens and goats for meat and milk. She also grows vegetables and hay for her animals.

Along with expanding Heart of the Valley to Corvallis and the Coast, the cooperative’s biggest goal is to open its own processing and storage facility.

“Processing is a big wall that all small farmers come up against,” Andre said. “When you’re bigger than mom and pop selling to friends and family, you need a way to process meat legally and store it. (Processing facilities) don’t happen for small ag (farms) in the middle. We’re not hobby farmers, but we’re not growing 100 acres of the same thing.”

The cooperative is taking steps toward achieving that goal by applying for a value-added producer grant from USDA.

At Fog Hollow Farm, Van Dusen said the cooperative is “a wonderful benefit for small farmers,” especially those who supplement their income with outside professions.

“It’s interesting, and validating, to be in a room full of Oregon’s poultry growers,” she said. “I think we have really enjoyed the community aspect that comes from being a member of the co-op. We feel less alone, even when our farms are located on opposite sides of the valley.”