Eugene, Ore. — When Daniel Walters was young and pursuing music, his grandmother told him that he needed to be a farmer. Although the concept didn’t stick then, when he was asked in his 30s by a friend what he wanted to be when he grew up, the first thing out of Walters’ mouth was “farmer.”
“I don’t know if it was Grandma’s words in my head or God’s providence,” he said.
In 2012, he finally established his own farm called Laughing Salad Farm, which specializes in salad greens, tomatoes and ginger. The farm is also organic, which Walter said at their size is, “The only way to get your foot in the door.” They don’t use manure, but instead utilize cover crops or bagged organic matter.
Although it was originally located near Veneta, Ore., Walter said he wanted to expand and there wasn’t much arable land for lease in that area. In February of this year, Laughing Salad moved to Eugene, Ore., onto his in-laws’ property. Along with “superior” soils, Walter also said it gives him an opportunity to focus on his family as well; he has two daughters, the youngest is three months.
“One of the really important aspects for me is having a traditional family,” he said. “Having a traditional job we would miss out on a lot.”
His wife, Heather, said that it was never her dream to have a farm, but she has welcomed the farm life after finding a passion for tomatoes.
Laughing Salad Farm has a total of three acres. Eventually as they expand, they’re going to look for another acre to rent. Although he prefers the soil, there are different challenges with pests that he faces, such as gophers, moles, deer and insect pressure.
Instead of selling directly to consumers, Laughing Salad Farm sells to restaurants and grocery outlets in the Eugene area, such as Novo and Red Barn. Walters said in the past when they have done farmers’ markets in the area, the general consumer couldn’t tell the difference between the tomato varietals, and didn’t understand the purpose of the special crops.
However, their higher-end produce was more appealing to chefs in the area.
Although there has been more turnover in clients as chefs move and price points shift, Walters said that they have an advantage over other farms because they’re open year-round and can fill in the need.
“We’re experimenting with crops,” he said. “Seeing what we can do good, what’s profitable and has a market for it. We’ll even go and ask places what they’re looking for that their not getting enough of.”
Walters plans on planting more citrus, to accompany the fruit trees and kiwi berries the farm also sells.
Although Walters enjoys producing salad mixes for his customers, he also said the business is selfishly motivated to fulfill his love of salad.
“I eat a lot of salad,” he said.