Value-added products bolster small farm

SAGINAW, Ore. — In the age of corporate farming, Scott Byler said Delight Valley Farms is one example of how a small family farm can still be profitable.

The farm has a total of 36.5 acres, and from U-pick berries and raising lambs to establishing a winery, Byler has his hands in almost everything.

“The trick of the whole thing, with the angle of making it as a small family farm, is retail,” he said. “I never thought of us that way, but we are. We take everything from the ground to retail, and we don’t have to give a cut to anyone else. (It) gives me the chance to have a smaller farm and make a living.”

When Byler first bought the land in 1991 he only wanted to sell wine grapes wholesale to wineries. But with only 23 acres dedicated to grapes, he found it wasn’t enough land to do just that. Instead he added retailing grapes to around 35 home winemakers and making his own wine.

Byler said that he always had a garden and would can foods, and from there it wasn’t a big stretch to fermenting. Before the commercial winery, Saginaw Vineyards, Byler’s first wines were made from figs and peach; he continues to experiment with fruits, creating blackberry, blueberry and Marionberry wine along with the traditional grape.

Although the fruits aren’t just used in wines. Delight Valley Farms sells U-pick/We-pick berries, as well as retails jam made from the fruit.

“That’s where you’re going to get your money,” Byler said. “If you’re going to sell carrots, you’re gong to have to sell a lot and have a big farm. That’s hard to do unless you’re born into it. If I can take those same carrots and turn them into soup, now I have a product that’s worth ten times more what it was.”

He said the important thing to keep in mind with pursuing value-added products is making sure the process doesn’t lose money.

Byler also sells lamb meat on the side. He has around 40 ewes, all descended from the sheep his children had when they were in 4-H. Until the past five years he only sold wholesale, but then started to add selling halves and whole lambs to customers.

Then, in the past three years, Byler began to sell USDA inspected cuts of lamb. He said at this rate, it won’t be long before he stops sellng wholesale entirely.

Delight Valley Farms’ whole operation works as a value-added experience.

Right off the Interstate 5 in Southern Lane County, Byler planned his position to help his marketing appeal. A sign advertising complimentary tastings is in his field next to the highway, and every Friday Saginaw Vineyard has its Friday Night Live, as well as events for wine club members.

“It’s been rewarding to see it succeed,” Byler said. “It’s kind of a weird answer, but after 30 years, it’s there and it works. The next generation can take it on, and the next generation will take it on. It’s cool to create something that is a working business.”

Outside of making a living, he said his focus is on the actual farming. He has less interest in the people and finds the wine making to be straightforward, but it’s: “being out there with the grapes and growing stuff.”