Interview with Chris Chulos (chicken farmer in Oregon City)

IMG_2122In one of the first Portlandia skits, titled “Farm,” Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen are sitting in a nice Portland restaurant contemplating ordering chicken. They ask many absurd and detailed questions before deciding to drive thirty miles to go see the farm where the chicken was raised in order to make sure they can eat the chicken without upsetting their moral compasses. Today, in our interview with Chris Chulos, a chicken farmer based out of Oregon City, we bring the farm to you, so you don’t have to drive all the way out there. Chris Chulos brings beautiful eggs to Portland Homestead Supply every Friday and sells pullets, young hens, during “Pullet Days” that occur frequently at the shop. The interview below is stocked with useful information about raising your own chickens in your backyard, as well as with Chris’s own practices and ideologies as a chicken farmer.

When did you start raising chickens and how did you become interested in this profession?

It was in 1955. I was with my great-grandmother and she raised chickens out of the Woodburn area. I’d go over there every chance I got to help her feed her chickens. She grew up on a homestead in California. She always had chickens and of all the great grandkids, I was the one that took an interest, and I still have the love for them. My dad’s dad was from Greece, and he was a farmer. I got the love of growing plants from him. I used to work at a paper mill for thirty plus years and then that shut down. So I went back to school. I got my Horticulture degree and just graduated from that!

How recently?

Last month.

Did you always raise chickens on the side?

Yes. I worked at the paper mill for thirty-nine and a half years. I started when I was nineteen. I always kept birds on the side. I want to see where my eggs come from. A lot of them that you buy in the store are up to two weeks old. They’re in cold storage. The way they are treated and washed with chemicals, I don’t want to eat that. They feed them a very inadequate diet. That’s why I’ve raised a lot of my own stuff.

Did you learn gardening and animal-raising skills from your family?

A lot of them. I also worked for a landscaper florist from seventh grade on in Oregon City, in his yard and his shop. He had birds too. He had a duck that I wanted and I asked him if I could buy it. He said no, but if you want to work for it, go right ahead! I worked for him for twelve years.

And you got that duck!

I did, I did. And many other things.

As consumers, we go to the store and are overwhelmed by choices differentiated by certifications and phrases. Are you certified organic or free range? What do these certifications mean for you as a farmer?

No, I am not because to me that’s all false. I know people that say they are certified and then as soon as the person who certifies them leaves, they are back to their old ways, treating the animals with antibiotics and everything. I do vaccinate my chickens because there are certain diseases that are impossible to get rid of if they get into your property. If you vaccinate, they don’t get those diseases. Other than that, my chickens are raised on mostly organic, natural feeds. They have two acres to run loose on; they aren’t cage-raised. A lot of them were raised under their own mothers. The ones that aren’t raised by their own mothers, I buy from hatcheries.

Is there a benefit to them being raised by their own mothers?

Yeah, it costs less because there are fewer light bulbs to worry about going out and their mother takes care of them. One disadvantage is that you can only raise so many chicks under a hen, where if you have a light, you can raise however many you want.

How many chickens do you have on your farm?IMG_2124

There were over 400 hundred birds there as of last week. One place bought over 200 of them. I have chicks hatching all the time. The same with ducks because I raise ducks also. I have two acres that are fenced, and they have free run of all that.

Is raising chickens and ducks together in the backyard good practice?

Yes! I’ve been doing it for years. I have ducks, geese, chickens, and pheasants, finches, parakeets. Everything is good together. The only thing I don’t let down below is my little dog. She likes chicken.

Do you sell duck eggs as well?

Yes, yes. But right now I’m trying to hatch most of them so I don’t have as many to sell. I’m raising for next year’s crop.

Which eggs do you choose to hatch and which do you choose to sell?

The only chicken eggs I hatch are very specific breeds that I have that you can’t buy. I have three different kinds, two in particular, you’re not going to find anywhere else.

What are those breeds?

One of them is called the Penedesenca. It is a Spanish chicken that they thought was extinct and they found some in a little village in the mountains of Spain. I happened to run into a gal that was in the club that brought them in to the United States, and she didn’t like them. They are very high-strung, but they’re good layers. I got them out of Reno. Then, I have some that I breed myself. One lays dark, dark green eggs, the color of holly. This green is just an Ameraucana mix, in which I used several breeds to cultivate the dark green. It took me years of crossing to get there. Another cross that I did resulted in a robin blue egg, which I named Applelousa. I like to try to figure out genetics. I can do those, and it’s short-term work. If you’re working with cattle or something like that, it might be twenty years down the road. The dark green egg only took me five years to develop. Nobody else has these two breeds. I haven’t named the dark green eggs yet, but I should.

You put on Pullet Day at the Portland Homestead Supply. What does a pullet mean?

It’s a young hen that hasn’t started laying yet.

Why should homesteaders want young hens?

If you get a young hen, you’re going to get approximately three years of egg laying. If you buy one that’s already laid, you don’t know how old that hen is. It might be a year; it might be several years or several months. You just don’t know. So you want to buy a hen that hasn’t started laying yet.

When people leave Pullet Day with a hen, what is your best advice to them about raising that hen?

Make sure the pen they are going into is secure because of predators. Give them good, different kinds of feed. They like variety, like us. Some people only feed them pellets. No, give them a variety! If you have scraps for the house, give it to them. A lot of people say, “Don’t.” In reality, there’s only one food you don’t give them, which is avocado. It’s poisonous to all birds.

What do you think are the biggest challenges of raising chickens for people in their backyards?

Predators. Raccoons, neighborhood dogs. Once in a while cats. I’ve only had cats get in to a kill a chicken a few times in all the years I’ve had them. But dogs, coyotes, raccoons. Raccoons are the worst because they can just reach in, pull the head out, eat the head and leave the rest.

Do you have any advice for raccoon problems?

Just make sure your pen is very secure at night. Instead of using chicken wire, use hardware cloth or small-gauged wire because they can’t reach through it.

I’ve heard you teach classes. What sort of classes do you teach?

I teach poultry-keeping, grafting classes for fruit trees, and gardening classes because I love to grow stuff. There’s a place that wants me to help them with their creamery. I work wherever helping others out. I’m old, and I’ve raised almost every type of critter there is…

Except for raccoons.

Oh, I had a couple baby raccoons once too. I shot the Mom because she was in the hen house. I came home the next day, and there were two babies. We put them in a cage. You’d walk by and they’d stick their little hands out at you. We started giving them fruit. They would climb right up on you and purr. A friend took them and named them Pepsi and Coke. They had them for years. They lived down here in Milwaukie.

Were the raccoons friendly because they were raised by humans?

They’d come up and sit on your lap and take food out of your hands and snuggle with you. They were awesome.

Where do you sell your products other than here?

All over Portland metro area. I send birds to Minnesota just a couple weeks ago and to Texas. I’ve sent birds to just about every state.

How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?

I feel like I’m helping a lot of people get into something they’ve always thought about but haven’t done. I give advice all the time. I get sometimes a dozen calls a day. People with different problems with their birds or looking to get birds, and I give them free advice. That’s how I learned, and I took it for granted because I grew up around it. If I can help people get into things, I do it. I also help out at an orchard at the college in Oregon City (Chris is talking about the Home Orchard Society, which we profiled last month – see here for the interview). I do the harvesting there. Just yesterday, I picked apples, blueberries, currants and pears.

Do you plan on continuing to raise birds in the future?

I’ll continue doing this because I love it, and it’s helping a lot of other people that don’t have the facilities or the know-how on how to raise chicks from the beginning. I have the facilities and I love it. My grandkids help me; they live just down the road. All three of them are into it because they raise their own rabbits, chickens, and guinea pigs. It runs in the family.

Do you have any other pro-tips for people raising chickens in their backyards?

Look for birds that are vaccinated, that are healthy and bright-eyed with a good color to their face. Those are the main things because if they are sick, you can see it in their eyes. It’s all the little things.


Greetings from the Urban Farmwife

A new series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.

HHarrietowdy all and welcome to what I hope becomes a healthy conversation between friends.   I’m so excited to be a part of this movement which, since the publication of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe, has not only grown by leaps and bounds but taken on many names. For some the term urban homesteading fits, for others it is radical homemaking. My own term “householding” has expanded to include urban farmwifery; a phrase as apt to my life as it might be controversial.

I’m not sure exactly when the term came to mind but at some point in my evolution I considered the phrase “farmwife” as distinct to the larger notion of farming itself.   You see, for a number of reasons I had stopped “farming” much of my own food. I credit age (and a weakening back) as part of the reason but I also felt ever more inclined to support a young farming movement. With so many of the next generation looking to farming in response to socio-economic and environmental concerns and, too, as a way to make a living, I felt obliged to support them. Which does not mean I have given up growing food all together (I’m definitely a lifer) but just those things I need in quantities my backyard space could not supply.

As some of you might know, I’m a serious preserver. Yep, if it grows I want to can, dry, freeze or store it for winter use. Which is why the householding or preserving CSA model worked so well for me. Instead of the normal weekly or bi-monthly CSA shares, I receive large one-time installments in quantities that work for my preserving needs. You know — ten pounds of green beans or cucumbers for pickling, 100 pounds of tomatoes for canning. The model works well for me and likely would for others with limited space (preserving shares are getting more popular so speak to your farmer) but while I was not quite as busy in the garden growing food I was just as busy in the canning kitchen, even busier.

You see, the closer I worked with farmers the more I realized how little time they had to put up their own stores or, for that matter, cook meals during the busy growing season. I realized what was missing in their lives was the farmwife; that here-to-fore unheralded partner in a farm system. Now don’t get upset at me. I’m not speaking gender here but skill sets. We cannot really speak of farm “husbandry” without recognizing the role and value of farm “wifery” at least I doubt any farmer would deny it. In fact over the years I have had more than one farmer “propose” marriage to me and not because of love.  Of course I’m being cheeky here but men and women (together and separately) have begged me to marry them if only in recognition of what my role in their lives meant.

To come home after a full day in the field to a hot meal or, in the morning, to a breakfast of eggs and biscuits is no small thing. To be able to reach for (after spending countless hours growing food for others), your own canned tomatoes or pickles in winter is a joy but this is not always what farmers can do. No, more likely they are so busy out in the field that they miss the opportunity to do this. Which is why, how and when I realized that I was a freak’n farmwife. Sure I lived in the city and was divorced (another story) but I was wifering myself all over the place and loving it.

I was the one in the farmhouse cooking up meals and calling farmhands to lunch (and darn if I did not ring that triangle thingy). I was the one cleaning out the fridge (you know the one that looks like a poltergeist came to call?) from the endless “we’ll get to this later” food stuff in waiting.   I was the one making meals and freezing them for later or canning up whatever else those poor besotted lovers of the soil wanted me to do. I was, in essence, an angel, a farmwife angel.

If I have taken on this role it is not simply because I like to cook or preserve or, maybe, just like being a friend, but because they, the farmers, need us. Not just to cook meals or can up stores but to support them in the type of direct purchasing they need. Which is another part of this farmwifery thing. We are the bookends to an economic system. Just as they grow the food we must use it, cook with it, put it up in quantities that get us through the year. We must give them an ever greater share of our incomes because they need us to. We cannot compare the food they grow to the stuff we can buy at the store. Economies of scale (small scale) will mean big prices and we need to be at peace with this. But we can mitigate the costs by staying outside the box. That’s another fine and fabulous thing farmwives can do.

Every year we haul out the old jars (or buy new ones to start our supply) to do what we have been doing for generations before, that is, rural wisdoms got turned into big supply chains. Every year we step outside the packaging and distribution chains most foods must rely on. Every year we learn more about the seasons and what it really takes to grow good food — the victories and the gains and we share that with our farmers. They need us and we, by golly, need them. Which is why I say we farmwives are bedfellows and bookends to the farming movement. Both of us are trying to create a new model, a new economy, the home economy (which I mention only as a tease for future letters.) We are the new dynamic duos – farmer (urban or rural) to farmwife (urban or rural). Oh heck yes. Yep, I am a radical urban farmwife and darn proud of it.

So that’s how it happened. That’s how this householder became a farmwife and why I encourage you to try the name on yourself. Remember, this is not specific to gender. And just like farming itself, farmwifery has been dumbed down and co-opted by industry. Frankly to be so excited about the young farming movement and say nothing of farmwifery is it’s own sort of gender bias and I’ll not have it. Nope, let’s just say I’m old enough, ornry enough and, well, smart enough to know better.

So tell me your name, send me your letters — what you do, what you think about and how you are moving this movement forward. I promise to read them all and respond as time and space permits on our blog. Let’s start coming together to teach each other, support each other and keep this movement going and growing. Rural and urban, farmer and farmwives and everyone and anyone in-between and by any other name. Oh yeah!

Harriet Fasenfest

Urban Farmwife

Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Interview with Pat Wojciechowski and Whitney Mount (Oaks Bottom Forge)

Walking through Sellwood on a lazy summer day, agenda-less wanderers could indulge in the many facets of the local neighborhood economy: tasting the subtleties of a Portland microbrew at Laurelwood or Oaks Bottom Public House, getting their bikes fixed at Sellwood Cycle Repair, and finding treasures scrounging through the bins at the Bins. If at any point in their exploration of Sellwood they hear the faint, distinct sound of a hammer hitting an anvil, they would think themselves mistaken, submerged in a medieval daydream. IMG_3041However, that ancient sound is alive in SE Portland: local Pat Wojciechowski has breathed new life into blacksmithing, creating an urban oasis for the unexposed art form. Pat founded Oaks Bottom Forge, a business that sells hand-forged knives and also provides blacksmithing classes to share the old world skills with a wider community. While I was interviewing Pat and Whitney Mount, who is the manager, a woman walked in off the street, curious about the boisterous forge in the middle of the otherwise quiet, service-driven neighborhood. Pat said to her, “We make knives by day, and we teach by night. There’s knives up there, you’re welcome to walk around.” If you can’t make it down to their location at 8236 SE 17th St. to explore their handicraft, you can at least journey into the world of blade smithing and knife building by listening to Pat and Whitney in the interview below.

How did your interest in forging knives begin, and who helped you learn skills along the way?

Pat: I started taking an adult blacksmithing class at the Portland Waldorf School. Tom Meyers teaches that class, and he’s been there 21 years. He teaches all the woodworking and blacksmithing. Blacksmithing is a required class for every junior and senior there. When I would pick up my children, I kept hearing the blacksmith. And I’m going, “What are they doing? What am I hearing?” That’s how I got involved.

Are the blacksmithing techniques used by Oaks Bottom Forge fairly old in origin?

Pat: We definitely do an old world style; we call it a free hand style. People have been playing with fire for a long time. It’s a lot of work, that’s why most people don’t do it. Nobody here’s afraid of working hard.

Why do you have that commitment?

Pat: I just love doing it. I like the design and I like seeing results and I like working with people. It’s a great collaborative group here. We all live in the neighborhood, and this is what we do.

IMG_3046How are the knives Oaks Bottom Forge produces unique?

Pat: All of our knives are hand made. We hand forge knives one heirloom at a time.

Whitney: Most knives today are made using steel removal, so you end up grinding off the steel. You remove the metal to make the knife. We actually hand forge it so we are blacksmithing and hammering the metal to create knife instead of using the machine.

Pat: There is an art to steel removal too; we just don’t do it. They start out with a blank that is the size of that knife at the end and they very methodically remove that metal until it tapers out. They use a machine, while we hammer and hand forge ours. We hand trace each handle out of wood. There are no automatic machines here that make our handles.

Why hand forged instead of steel removal?

Pat: I don’t like shiny knifes (laughs). There is something about hand crafted that I like. Some people use big drop hammers. We use a hand held hammer and a forge and an anvil. There are plenty of other blacksmiths, but not many that make knives the way that we do.

Are there any other businesses like this in the US or in Oregon?

Whitney: Not many that are making actual hand forged without a drop hammer. Every single knife is unique because they are free hand hammered. Because we’re not using a drop hammer, not doing steel removal, every single one is slightly different.

What is the most challenging aspect of creating the knives?

Whitney: Trying to explain to people what we do. People will ask, “Oh, are these blades made in the USA?” And we always answer “Yep, they’re made right here in Portland at our shop by hand.”

Pat: Most people don’t know how knives are made. Period. They just don’t know. What they’re used to at any store is a flat, shiny knife. They see ours; they’re hammered. The material starts out an eighth of an inch thick and we hammer it. We compress all the crystals of that metal together, as opposed to just taking it and removing it. People who buy knives or know something think our knives are made out of Damascus. Damascus is layers of different metals that are pressed together, and then folded, pressed and folded, pressed and folded. It is beautifully done. Japan’s been doing it for thousands of years. So people look at our knives and say, “How many layers are in your Damascus?” We say, “It’s not Damascus.” There are drawbacks to Damascus. In the big picture, Damascus has multiple layers of metal touching each other. When you go to sharpen that, each of those metals has a different property. Some are softer, some are harder. So when you do it, you’ll still get a sharp edge, but some layers will stay sharper longer than others. It’s better for us to get brand new metal and hammer it down. Then, there is only one metal on the edge that we have to sharpen, and that is it.

Even when we tell people that we make our knives with a fire-burning forge, an anvil, and a hand-held hammer, they will always be like, “What’s that texture on there?” What is it, it’s a hammer! Some people think that you just hammer it to get a texture.

Whitney: A year after my boyfriend and I started dating, he finally asked me, “Besides just putting texture on the knife, what does hand-forged really mean?”


Pat: See? People really just don’t know. We use a charcoal forge instead of a coal forge. Charcoal is a renewable resource. Most of it is made out of trees that have been removed anyways, palates that have been discarded. Wood is a renewable resource; coal, once you take the coal out of that hill, it’s no longer a hill. Much of the country is being destroyed by coal. We are anti-coal. We do what we do with wood. There is something about the sound of a hammer smacking an anvil that is good. It’s just good, hard work. There’s nothing easy about sanding a handle. But there’s something that is very satisfying and very zen about this thing. You can’t buy this knife at Gerber. They’ll never make this knife at Gerber.

Do you get all the wood and all your other materials from close by?

Whitney: Yes, other than the stuff that we are making for Big Game Hunters. We’re definitely not getting water buffalo horn from Portland. But otherwise, most of the wood that we use is reclaimed and local. We used some of the wood that came from the building of the light rail that’s coming through SE Portland. A guy got some of that wood, kiln dried it, and donated it to us. There was a lady who got a steak knife set made out of it actually.

IMG_3049Pat: We get zebra wood from folks. People come buy and are like, “Do you need wood? We’ve got a lot of wood.” We’ve gotten pink rosewood from Japan, tiger wood, all kinds of different woods. The guy at Saturday Market who makes the wooden puzzles, he has wood pieces from thirty years of making those same puzzles. We trade.

Where do you get the metal?

Pat: We buy it brand new from Pacific Machinery. When we first opened, we tried to repurpose some metals. It just doesn’t pay off though because you don’t know how it’s been stressed. Brand new metal is the way to go.

You all do custom knives too?

Pat: We do! We’ve made things for people’s sixtieth birthdays. We put silver quarters on each side, hammered them flat, and then engraved on them.

How many different kinds of knives do you all make?

Pat: We started at about twenty-two different styles, but we’ve narrowed it down to right about twelve styles. We are designing a folding knife, which we’ve never done. It’s a very old design. Very simple, there are no springs, nothing to break on it. It’s low technology. I am old, so I like old things. Most people are always trying to recreate designs with tactical knives, etc. You can make knives now with colorized, anodized metal now and people are always trying to get some crazy electronic machine that will etch orange tiger strips on the side of that knife. It’s weird. This is a much older art. We are not reliant on much high technology at all. It’s a hot fire and a hand-held hammer and that’s all.

What sort of workshops does Oaks Bottom Forge offer, and how can people get involved in the educational aspect of Oaks Bottom Forge?

Whitney: When Pat started the shop, he said, “I want to make knives and I want to make our living making knives, but I want to offer classes because I want to give back to the community and I think that’s really important.” So we don’t really make money off of our classes, but we try to keep the prices low. We really want everybody to have access to it. That is something that is special that is here that is offered at a more affordable price than other places.

Pat: Some people can’t afford the knives that we make, but we’d just as soon teach them how to do it. It is all utilitarian. We have blade smithing classes, so people who come out and really have an interest in making knives, they can do that. We have knife-building classes where Mom or Dad can bring a son or a daughter and together with their hands, build a knife to make Father’s Day gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, things for grandpas, uncles. They get to spend three hours without Ipods, texting, DS games, or email, and it’s one great opportunity to do that. Those are really successful; we have three of those classes per week.

Their classes include various levels of blacksmithing, knife building, and woodworking. Check out the full list and schedule here.

How does Oaks Bottom Forge support, and receive support from, other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is Oaks Bottom Forge a part of any collaborative projects?

Whitney: We shop local, we get all of our charcoal from the True Valley Store down the road. We used to make our own charcoal, but we lost our chimney. In the big picture, we support our local groups. We’re part of the Sellwood-Moreland Business Alliance, the Northwest Blacksmith Association, the Artisan Blacksmithing Association of America, the Oregon Knife Collector’s Association. We have donated a lot of knives to schools and organizations. We have done a lot of school auctions. The Portland Homestead Supply Store is really great about advertising our classes.

Pat: They were actually the first store ever to sell our knives. Back then, it was just me hammering and sanding handles and doing the work. It was before Christmas. My baby’s mama said, “You should go down there, and I did.” Kristl, owner of the Portland Homestead Supply, bought a dozen knives right there; she has always been our biggest supporter. So cool.

When did you start expanding then? IMG_3044

Pat: We opened the shop last spring. Our first fire was last March, at the spring equinox at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. Everybody came and wrote things on pieces of paper and put them in the forge. We started our fire that morning.

It’s amazing that you all are this close in in Sellwood.

Pat: The landlord actually wanted us here. We went looking for a lot of buildings. This landlord, who owns a lot of buildings, didn’t have to rent us this building. He called me and said, “You sure you don’t want this building? I really like what you’re doing, making hand-forged knives. I like that you’ll be teaching; our community really needs that.” He said, “I just don’t think we need another nail salon in Sellwood.”

We hoped that the difference between having the forge in the window instead of tucked away in a warehouse would be to sell a few more retail knives a month. We can make a fair living for all of us. My big goal was for blacksmiths and artisans to make a living, which is something that no one else is doing. Anyways, we got a window front kind of like a fishbowl. It’s nice to be able to share it. When children walk by, they love watching the fire. It’s not a lost art, it’s just not a very exposed art.

What is Oaks Bottom Forge’s next step? What is your vision for Oaks Bottom Forge ten years down the road?

Pat: We’re into more stores now. My big goal is I’d like us to be Portland’s destination for hand-forged cutlery. If you’re looking for a unique, hand-forged gift, I’d like to be Portland’s choice. We would like to be more well known.

Go Africa, which is an African safari group, likes our knives. They’ve been field tested from Oregon to Africa. Our knives passed with flying colors. If it works in Africa on the biggest game out there, it certainly works in your kitchen.

How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?

Pat: People my age come in and say, “My grandfather was a blacksmith.” Well, yeah, back then, everybody’s grandfather was a blacksmith. That’s what they had to be. Back then, there wasn’t IKEAS, they wasn’t box stores, everything was custom. If you needed a dining room table for your house and you didn’t have the woodworking skills, you went to the family that built tables. That’s what they did. It is a primitive skill. It’s a good thing to know. I think some people just want to get back to their roots, to what their grandfather did. They remember seeing their forge at their grandfathers or they got to hang out with grandpa while he was hammering. I think it’s a really good skill. I think people are interested.

Whitney: Beyond that, if you can’t take the classes, having something that you know is handmade is important. Our products appeal to the DIY community, knowing where your food comes from. You know nothing is imported from overseas, not only in the US, it’s made in your city here, and you can come and see it. You know how it was produced and who made it. You know it’s going to last for a long time, which is totally against the culture and buying something cheap and having to buy it twenty times in your lifetime.

Pat: Our knives last for generations. That’s what it’s about. It’s nice to know that you’re making something functional that someone will inherit. Every kid wants their grandfather’s knife!

Oaks Bottom Forge makes knife boxes as well. Pat told me that you can fill the boxes with brown rice and bamboo skewers, which both absorb any wetness on the knives and helps to preserve their longevity.

Oaks Bottom Forge makes knife boxes as well. Pat told me that you can fill the boxes with brown rice and bamboo skewers, which both absorb any wetness on the knives and helps to preserve their longevity.

Success with Low Sugar Jams

More than ever before, customers have been in the shop asking about low and no sugar jams. I’m glad they’re doing their research, because jumping into low-sugar jams involves a little more than simply cutting out sweetener. Sugar isn’t just in jam for the flavor, it serves a very real role as a preserving and thickening agent. When heated, the sugar actually binds with water and pectin, thickening the texture. If you’ve ever tried converting your favorite old-timey recipe by skipping the sugar, you know that the result is anything but gelled.

IMG_2036The classic product that we carry for low and no sugar jams is Pomona’s Universal Pectin. This company has been around for over 30 years, and creates a great product with no preservatives that is certified GMO free.

Though I’ve made classic jams, I hadn’t dabbled in low-sugar recipes before. I needed to give this stuff a try. I had heard there was an extra step of mixing up “calcium water” (provided with the pectin) to provide gelling assistance. Would be complicated to work with two ingredients? I whipped up a quick batch of strawberry jam at the shop to find out, and I’m glad to say that I’m completely happy with the results.

Each pack of Pomona’s comes with directions inside. These directions are also available to download for free on their website. The recipes aren’t fancy, but they allow you to make jam with the bare minimum ingredients. I chose strawberries, as we’re nearing the end of the first flush here in the Portland area. The directions give clear ingredient lists for whichever type of fruit you choose. I followed the following recipe, but skipped the water bath at the end. This test batch will be gone soon!


Ingredients (for a 4 cup yield):

4 cups of strawberries, hulled and mashed

1/2 to 1 cup of honey OR 3/4 to 2 cups sugar

2 tsp pectin

2 tsp calcium water*

*From the Pomona’s packet, put 1/2 tsp. white calcium powder and 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with lid. Shake well. Lasts many months in refrigerator. Freeze for long-term storage. Do not discard unless settled white powder discolors or you see mold. Shake well before using.


1) Wash and rinse jars (4 oz up to 16 oz); let stand in hot water. Bring lids to boil; turn off heat; let stand in hot water. Wash screw bands; set aside.
2) Prepare fruit or juice. Measure fruit or juice into pan with lemon or lime juice (if called for in recipe).
3) Add proper amount of calcium water from jar into pan; stir well.
4) Measure sugar or room temperature honey into separate bowl. Thoroughly mix proper amount of pectin powder into honey or sugar.
5) Bring fruit or juice to a full boil. Add pectin-sweetener. Stir vigorously 1-2 min. to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to full boil. Remove from heat. For Jello: pour into bowl(s); cool; refrigerate until jelled. [Note: I wasn't making jello, but I did refrigerate my jam to cool it quickly to a spreadable consistency].
6) Fill jars to 1/4” of top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 min. (add 1 min. more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level). Remove from water. Let jars cool. Check seals; lids should be sucked down. Eat within 1 year. Lasts 3 weeks once opened.


If you’ve got the basics down and want to try a more involved recipe, Pomona’s has many delicious versions on their website (Sweet Cherry-Rhubarb Jam is next on my list). If you’re more interested in a book on the subject, we carry Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin, filled with additional recipes and tips for working with low sugar recipes, or using honey, fruit juice, or other alternatives to sugar.

Interview with Tonia Lordy (Home Orchard Society)

We’re happy to introduce our guest writer Anna Daggett to the blog. Anna will be interviewing local businesses and individuals connected to urban homesteading, posting them here for you to learn a bit more about us and the community that surrounds our shop. Enjoy!


Tonya with truckPortland’s spastic early summer weather shepherds in desires of hotter days when the first fruit harvests are rushed into grocery stores and farmer’s markets and our own palms. Have you imagined the first peach or plum of the summer, juice dripping down your chin with no abandon? Have you ever imagined a fruit CSA, fresh, scrumptious fruit of intriguing varieties being delivered straight from an orchard to you every week?

Oregon City’s Home Orchard Society delivers that and more to the Portland community. The Portland Homestead Supply is one of three pick-up spots for the Home Orchard Society’s fruit CSA. Below is an interview with Tonia Lordy, the manager of the Home Orchard Society, which is a non-profit nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to “assist both novice and expert fruit growers, preserve heirloom fruit varieties, and promote the science, culture, and pleasure of growing fruit at home.”

When did your interest in growing fruit begin and where did you acquire the skills that you have now?

I’ve been working with plants for the last fourteen years. I moved from Detroit, Michigan out here five years ago. I was already in horticulture school in Michigan, and I came out here to finish up my schooling at Clackamas Community College. As part of the curriculum, you have to do an internship. I had taken a fruit tree course with the old manager of this orchard and fell in love with fruit about three years ago. I fell in love with the trees, how they grow, how amazing they are, and how they responded to my care. And then I started tasting the fruit. And it’s like, “Wow, you trees really are special!” Ever since then, I’ve interned here, and then I was hired as a gardener under Monica Maggio, who was the second manager that Home Orchard Society has had. Now I’m the third manager!

How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?

Not a lot of people know how to grow fruit. Many more people are familiar with how to grow vegetables, but growing fruit remains a mystery to the majority of people. If one tomato fails, people can rely on the other tomatoes that they have planted or look forward to the next season. However, growing fruit is a long-term investment in time. It takes three to five years for most trees to bear fruits. If fruit is not grown properly, people don’t know what to do when they run into problems. It is scary! We train and teach people who are interested in growing fruit in their backyards how to do so successfully.

Budding fruitHow many fruit varieties does the Home Orchard Society grow?

There’s over 500 trees. There is over 200 kinds of apples, 80 different kinds of European pear, 30 different kinds of Asian pears, 60 or 70 different kinds of grape, 3 different kinds of kiwi, 5 kinds of figs, probably 15 different kinds of cherries, 15 kinds of blueberries, 12 different kinds of quince, and then there’s medlar, goumi berries, honey berries, which are actually haskaps, a honey suckle that has edible fruit. They look like an oblong blueberry and they taste like a cross between a strawberry and blueberry. They’re amazing! We harvested them three weeks ago.

So they’ve already gone..

Way gone! Sorry. And then there’s pawpaw, which is a native fruit to North America, which people liken to a banana custard. We also have pineapple guava, which are very tiny and usually ripe by early December. The flesh is very tart; they taste like a Sweet Tart! They’re pretty amazing. Then there’s the currants. We put in 30 strawberry currants this year. We are planting raspberries and caneberries back into this orchard because we used to have them and then they got diseased. We are trying to put in different varieties that are more suited to this site.

Tell me about the CSA that Home Orchard Society will be delivering to Portland Homestead Supply this summer.

This will be our second year doing the CSA. I started it last year because it was very hard to market the apples we have been growing. People at farmer’s markets get confused and overwhelmed by the varieties we grow. The CSA was a good way to force people to try new varieties. We plan on placing notes in each CSA box with information on the variety and the recommended use of each variety. Fruit CSAFor example, one of the varieties that we might include in a CSA box is Ashmead’s Kernal, which is an English style desert apple with russeted skin. It is not very pretty, but it is crisp, tender, and tart. I like to eat it right off the tree.

There will be three CSA pick-ups: one right here at the orchard on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:00 – 3:00, one in the Cully neighborhood on Wednesdays, and one at the Portland Homestead Supply on Fridays. The CSA will run for seventeen weeks from July 29th to November 18th. An individual share will cost a total of $225 and will be 3 -5 pounds of fruit a week. A family share will cost a total of $375 for 7 – 9 pounds of fruit a week. In the first week, the CSA box will have plums, figs, and early apples. Later on, the boxes will have European pears, Asian pears, more apples, grapes, kiwi berries, and unique fruits such as goumi berries, medlar, and quinces.

What fruit would you recommend for Portland homesteaders or people who are just starting to grow fruit?

Tonia pruningFigs. Definitely. Desert King or Lattarula figs because they are disease and pest resistant. The apples that are out there; they have some good ones that have some really good resistance to pest and disease. They’re not people’s favorites, but there are some good varieties that are disease and pest resistant. Being open and aware of those varieties is key. Asian pears are pretty well suited for our area and they have a lot less disease and pest issues than most pears and apples.

What kind of apple varieties would you recommend?

Akane is a good one. There is Mcshay, and Duchess of Oldenburg is also great. As far as European pears, I would recommend Orcas, Rescue, and Suji, which is a winter pear.

Where can you buy these varieties?

The Akane is pretty popular. The places that I would recommend to buy fruit trees are One Green World and Rain Tree Nursery. One of the most important things is to make sure that whomever you are buying a fruit tree from can tell you what rootstock its on.

Why is that important?

People will put that it’s a semi-dwarf or dwarf tree, but then I always get calls saying “I bought this dwarf tree and now it’s twenty feet tall. Now what do I do?” So the rootstock imparts dwarfishness. You have to find out what the rootstock is. The rootstock will also impart disease and pest resistance and ability to live in different soils. So if the grower or retailer is not reputable and does not know what rootstock the tree is on, I would never buy it from them because you’re going to end up with problems with the tree. And it is an investment! It is a tree that is going to be twenty feet tall when you are expecting one that is going to be six feet tall. I get a lot of people who call me and say, “Oh, I got this great deal on fruit trees from Home Depot and they’re twelve dollars.” And it’s like oh my gosh, don’t buy the cheapest tree you can find just because it’s a cheap tree. You’re going to pay the same price at One Green World, but they’re going to have more knowledge of what the tree’s characteristics are going to be.

Do you have any resources to share with a wider community of how people can get involved?

We do a lot of classes; I’m slowly adding more classes to our roster. A lot of the stuff that we do with the board members is workshops, but I’m trying to do more hands-on classes. We also take volunteers without registering, just show up with gloves! There’s always something to learn here. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the Arboretum is open to volunteers. Everything that we do and learn is seasonal. So the volunteers that came out last week learned about fruit thinning and why we thin fruit, the volunteers that come out in January and February learned about winter pruning, the ones that come out in August will learn about summer pruning. There’s a lot of weeding that goes on. When you’re in a group of people doing menial tasks and everyone’s asking questions of each other, everyone has had a different experience. So the person next to you could be an expert apple grower. Especially in this place because our volunteers are generally pretty skilled so they have a lot of knowledge that you can glean from them. That’s how I learned everything. Just ask a lot of questions!

Tonia with treeDo you have any “pro-tips” for people who are starting out?

Take hands-on classes because people who just read the books tend to be really shy about pruning and caring for their trees. Then it gets to be five years old and the tree is already overgrown. Start pruning and training from the moment you put it in the ground. You let them get too old and crazy, they’re not going to behave like you want them to.

Are there any good challenges or anecdotes that you have about growing food that you would want to share with people?

It’s not something to take lightly because a lot of issues are going to come up. There are going to be pests, no matter what. You can manage an orchard organically, but do your research, do your homework, hang out with other people that grow fruit or have experience. Don’t be scared of the trees. Trees are pretty forgiving. Right plant, right place. That is the first thing they tell you in any horticulture program. You know, if you’re putting a sun plant in the shade, you’re going to have ten times more problems. You think you’re going to grow an olive in Oregon successfully, you not. Think you’re going to grow a mission fig in Oregon successfully, you’re not. So, right plant, right place. We’ve got some weird varieties of figs that can grow in Oregon, so grow those ones instead of the favorites! Right plant, right place.

Tonya at gateA lot of the trees here are stone fruits. They don’t do well in heavy soils. They get extremely diseased, and we have a really hard time managing them. Stone fruits have a stone in the middle: cherries, plums, peaches, etc. We only have one peach tree because they are so disease ridden in this neck of the woods. They cannot handle so much rain. The peach orchards that you see in the area spray very heavily in order to get local peaches in the Willamette Valley. Most of them are not organic. If you are finding organic peaches, they are probably coming from California or the east side of Oregon. The east side of Oregon is about as local as you’re going to get an organic peach.

How would you recommend people get involved if they want to get involved?

They can go to our website. There’s a link on there to the Arboretum and it has all my contact information.

Converting the Asparagus Skeptic

Fresh asparagusI hear a lot about asparagus this time of year, and for all you asparagus lovers out there, I ask your forgiveness. This post isn’t an ode to your favorite spring-time vegetable, but rather a tale of an asparagus skeptic. Yes, I love spring. Fresh greens, radishes, spring raab…But asparagus? I can’t seem to muster the same excitement for this vegetable, despite it’s ancient credentials.

Asparagus packed into jarsAs manager at the Portland Homestead Supply, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and practice many skills over the past year and a half. Water bath canning is one of them. Two weeks ago at the Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market, I decided it was time to start brushing up on my canning skills. I (gasp) picked up several bunches of the most tender asparagus I’ve ever seen, took them home, and pondered their fate.

While I may be skeptical about asparagus, I wholeheartedly love spicy. After looking for a spicy pickled asparagus recipe, I adapted this recipe from Marisa who writes for Food in Jars. I found that the two pounds of asparagus I brought home fit into three jars rather than the two she recommended. I also increased the amount of pickling liquid (and spices) because the amount listed wasn’t enough to fill my jars.

Many of the recipes I found called for blanching the vegetables before canning, but these spears were so thin that I worried blanching would be too much for them. If you start with thicker asparagus, be sure to blanch them for 60 seconds in boiling water, then rinse with cool water before canning.

After waiting a week for the flavors to mingle, I dug into the first jar. And, I’ll admit it: (pickled) asparagus is delicious.


  • 2 lbs asparagus, trimmed to fit jars (Ball’s 24 oz Pint & Half jars are designed for asparagus)
  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 3 Tbs pickling salt
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper






  1. IMG_0191Prepare a boiling water bath canner. Add three 24-ounce jars to sterilize them before adding asparagus. Place lids in a small pan of water and bring to a bare simmer.
  2. Combine apple cider vinegar, water, salt, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Wash asparagus and trim to fit in your jars.
  4. Remove jars from the canning pot and drain. Pack asparagus spears into jars.
  5. Stir pickling liquid to evenly distribute spices, then pour over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Tap jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return headspace to 1/2 inch, if necessary.
  6. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
  7. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.
  8. Let them cure for at least a week before eating.




ChickenThe Urban Farm Hub blog posted a short interview with Kristl this month. Check out this link to read a bit more about the Portland Homestead Supply’s beginnings.


The New Urban Homestead Stores

Our shop was recently featured in the New England Cheesemaking article about Homestead Stores. Gayle Starbuck from Curds on the Whey teaches our cheesemaking classes and sells kits at the shop. While the article gave a nod to homestead stores in Ohio and California, they mentioned us and the Urban Farm Store as sources for Portland. The article also included some great photos of the shop. Check it out if you have the chance. And thanks New England Cheesemaking!

Sunset Magazine’s Blog – One Block Diet – Features Our Shop

Well, it’s not quite Sunset Magazine, but we’re thrilled to be mentioned in their online blog One Block Diet. Check it out here.

Here’s a little excerpt from the blog:

Posted by: By Sunset, December 17, 2011

By Elaine Johnson, Sunset associate food editor

If you’re interested in canning, fermenting, cheesemaking, sourdough baking, butchering, knife sharpening, animal rearing (chickens, goats, rabbits), beekeeping, gardening, not to mention making your own yogurt, kombucha, freshly ground grain, charcuterie, soap, natural cleaning products (even toothpaste!), dog food, wine, beer, cider, and candles (phew–did I forget anything?), then be sure to stop at Portland Homestead Supply next time you’re in the City of Roses.

I swung by recently and the friendly owners, Kristl and Doug Bridge, showed me around. I’m ready to take up about 12 new hobbies! And with all their classes, I really could.

Portland Homestead Supply

It Takes A Village To Make An Omelet

I know it’s fall in Portland because when I woke up yesterday, it was so dark and the clouds were hanging so low I had to look at the clock to be sure it was morning. It was morning, Sunday morning, the one day a week that I make an effort to cook a nice breakfast for the two of us. I made it to the kitchen with eyes partially shut and that stiff, Frankenstein-like walk that seems to get worse with each year I make it past 45. I had nothing planned, so it meant standing in the middle of the kitchen and looking around to see what I could come up with.

The first thing that caught my eye was the carton of duck eggs from Chris Chulos’ farm near Oregon City. He delivers chicken and duck eggs every Friday to the shop and I’d never tried duck eggs before. I snagged a box before going home Saturday night. There they were, the beige and green eggs staggered in a checkerboard pattern in the carton. Perfect. An omelet it would be. Now, what else…

Last Friday Doug had a day off from school and Martha, our manager, agreed to work the whole day so that Doug and I could go to Newberg and Dundee to do some wine tasting. It was a fabulous day, but the best part of our trip to wine country was the last stop of the day when we drove out to the Beroldingen Farm for fresh goat cheese. It’s a small family farm off NE Bell road in Newberg – not easy to find, but well worth the hunt. As you drive up the driveway, you see a little red and white shed next to the big house. There are chickens wandering everywhere and little pens of goats scattered all over the property. Inside the shed is a small refrigerator and a money box. It’s the honor system, so we make sure to bring enough cash for our goat-cheese habit. Now, I’ve been making goat cheese for a few years from the milk of our little Nigerian Dwarf goats, and we both love our homemade cheese, but the cheeses from Beroldingen are possibly the most delicious goat cheeses I’ve ever tasted. The Chehalem is a mild soft-rind cheese that I tend to favor, but we always get a container of the fresh chevre for cooking – you know, like omelets.

This was a good start – eggs and cheese, but I needed more. Anyone who’s been to the shop and met Doug probably knows that he’s the conversationalist in the family. ‘Nuf said. So it’s probably no surprise that when Doug noticed a couple of guys walking past the store carrying a basket of mushrooms, he had to go chat with them and find out what the deal was with all those mushrooms. Twenty minutes later, we had some new friends and a bunch of chantrelle and bolete mushrooms. Yum – mushroom omelets!

Now we just needed a little extra flavor to help carry but not overpower the mushrooms. Voila – sitting in the onion basket, three beautiful grey shallots that Connor from Diggin’ Roots Farm brought the other night when he came for dinner. Of course, the blueberry wine and Asian pear juice Connor brought were long gone (and much appreciated), but I still had those lovely shallots with their shiny red skins and mild garlicy-onion flavor. Since Connor and his wife Sarah had just finished giving a class at the shop on growing garlic, I knew they were expert Allium growers and that these shallots would be delicious. Yes, the perfect accompaniment for the mushroom and chevre omelet.

Finally, a little of the fresh cow’s milk that we pick up each week from Colleen’s farm in Molalla and some fresh parsley from the neighbor’s garden and there it was, a perfect omelet – with the help of some friends.

The point is that we sometimes tend to equate homesteading with self-sufficiency – the idea that we have to do it all ourselves. But you know, I don’t raise duck eggs, or make amazing goat cheese, or know where to find beautiful chantrelles, or even grow shallots. But I don’t have to do all those things because I’m part of a community that shares such abundance. We each have different abilities and resources to bring to the table. The most important part of homesteading is to actually come to the table, be a part of the community and share what we have to offer. In the long run, it’s the help of friends and neighbors that gets us through the tough times. So get out there and start forging those relationships. And a huge thank you to all the friends that helped make our Sunday omelet. It was delicious!

Oregon Live Features Our Shop

Here’s a little excerpt from the article. Read the entire article here:

Portland Homestead Supply Co., located in Sellwood, opened June 14. Bridge hopes it will serve as a one-stop shop for Portlanders wishing to get back to the basics. The store carries supplies for canning and pickling food and for making soap, candles and laundry-soap. It also carries natural cleaning supplies, garden tools, bulk animal feed, and soil nutrients such as jersey greensand and blood meal.

The store also hosts a range of classes on canning, tool sharpening, butchering, cheese making, and “bath bombs,” orbs of bath salts that immediately start fizzing and disintegrating when they hit the water (they happen to be particularly popular with kids, Bridge reports).

Bridge, who co-owns the business with her husband Doug, estimates that about 100 people visit the shop each day. “We’ve had a wonderful response,” Kristl Bridge says. “More come through the door than we anticipated.”

The Start of a Seed Exchange

It’s reassuring to know that somewhere in the arctic tundra, tucked safely in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are thousands of seeds ready to share their genetic wealth when the world needs it. I shudder to think of the numbers of native varieties of plants that have become extinct over the years; our genetic diversification becoming that much more narrow. And as important as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the National Plant Germplasm System, and other seed saving systems are, what’s most important is that we, as individuals, start taking the initiative to fight the further loss of genetic diversification.

It sounds like a daunting task, and in a way it really is.   But, when everyone works together, it can be easy and fun. It can be a Seed Exchange!  So we’re calling on all gardeners and farmers to start saving your seeds to share with others.  Here’s how it works: we provide the materials and space, and you provide the genetic diversification.

Beginning in August, we will have a table set up in the garage with various jars, envelopes, bags, labels, spoons, and markers. For those who are new to the art of seed saving, there will be a couple of guides to explain proper seed collection, cleaning, and storage. If you have an abundance of rare, heirloom, or open pollinated seeds, bring some in to share with others.  If you are looking for some seeds to plant in your own garden, come in and take what you need. It’s all free and it’s a great way to expand your garden selection and meet your neighbors. In other words, it’s a win-win.

Answering the Question

On Tuesday morning, June 14, we opened the doors of Portland Homestead Supply Co. quietly, with no fanfare, to see how our shop would be received.  We were, as one customer put it, pretty stealthy about it. On that very first morning, a woman walked in, took a quick look around at the canning jars, cheese molds and grain mills and said, “Who on earth would ever want to do all this stuff. I’m a city girl and we pay people to do this stuff.”

As I frantically tried to fire up a few synapses and come up with a witty answer to her question, she wished me good luck (not a real good luck, but the kind that means ‘good luck you poor fool’), took a sip of her triple caramel macchiato and was gone. So, two and a half weeks later, I thought I would take this, my first blog, as an opportunity to answer the question posed on our first day. I’ve given up on any attempt to be witty, and decided to turn to the most practical and eloquent gentleman on earth and borrow a much overused quote from Wendell Berry and his essay “The Total Economy”:

“What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the ‘developed’ world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter.  Moreover, they are rapidly increasing their proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of ‘services’ that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities. Our major economic practice, in short, is to delegate the practice to others…The trouble with this is that a proper concern for nature and our use of nature must be practiced, not by our proxy-holders, but by ourselves.  A change of heart or of values without  a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.”

So that is it then. That is why people might want to do all this stuff – as a way to navigate out of our ‘passively consumptive way of life’. That, I guess, is what modern homesteading is all about, and that is why we’re here.

The self-doubt of that first morning evaporated quickly as more people stopped by and shared their enthusiasm for the store and for learning the practical skills of keeping a home. In fact, I’m not sure we could have landed in a more accepting and supportive community. We’re so glad to be here and look forward to meeting all those who are ready to start on this homesteading journey. Happy Homesteading!

Sheumack Brooms

Meet Our Broom Maker

Our Favorite Broom Maker!We are very excited to be carrying Scheumack Brooms at the shop. Thurman Scheumack hand crafts each of his brooms in his studio in Eugene, Oregon. Once a year, Thurman makes a cross-country road trip back home to Arkansas to pick up Sassafras branches harvested by friends who maintain sustainable stands of the hardy trees. He then makes his way to Texas to pick up the broom corn before coming back to Oregon to begin assembling several hundred handcrafted brooms. Read the rest of this entry »