Archive for the ‘Farm’ Category

Interview with Danny Perich (Full Plate Farm)

Danny Perich, owner of Full Plate Farm, farms and harvests food for 85 winter CSA shares on a small piece of land in Ridgefield, Washington. The land belongs to his wife’s parents and his wife, Michelle was born and raised there. I am one of the lucky participants of the vegetables that Danny nurtures and watches over all winter long. The first share that I got last week had a golden beet the size of my face and sweet carrots that made me realize that the grocery store carrots I have been consuming for years are as flavorful as cardboard.

Danny and one of his co-workers harvesting parsley!

Danny and one of his co-workers with fresh parsley!

Wendell Berry’s famous line “Eating is an agricultural act,” reminds us that our food choices have larger effects than simply filling our stomachs, but rather are political acts that reinforce different food structures and systems. Danny has labored over his piece of land in Washington to be able to bring nutritious, unique varieties of vegetables to his shares and to support his family (including his very new twins!). Portland Homestead Supply is one of the drop-off sites for Full Plate Farms’ amazing winter CSA. Check out the interview below to learn more about Full Plate Farms and to benefit from Danny’s suggestions for cooking winter vegetables common to the NW.

When did you first get involved in farming, and where did you acquire the skills you have now? I went through the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to New Zealand and hopped around volunteering at different small farms. When I came back, I starting working on a small family farm in Wisconsin that raised sheep and goats and made cheese. They had four kids, forty goats, two dogs, seven cats, a pony, and a couple sheep, and a bunch of vegetables. I was twenty-one that summer and fell in love with farming then, the hard work, the animals, the family, the life. After that, I looked for opportunities around Portland to come back home. It’s been a good journey so far.

Tell me the story of Full Plate Farm. How did it come to be? Michelle, my wife, was born and raised here. Michelle’s parents had always said, “You’re welcome to use our land if you ever want to.” I would always look at it and say that doesn’t seem like great soil out there. It’s not like, “Oh yeah, let’s farm out here in Ridgefield.” A lot of it is clay with a low PH, which you have to cover crop intensively to bring the PH up. It takes a lot of time, money and patience to bring the soil up to what it should be to grow vegetables off of. IMG_3384 IMG_3358A few years ago, we were living in Portland, but Michelle wanted to live out in the country eventually, and I wanted to farm and have my own place. So we took up her parents offer, moved to Ridgefield, and started to farm on their land. The first season the cover crop barely grew. I soil test every year and try to dial the soil in closer and closer in order to achieve the optimal growth for the vegetables.

Was the difficult soil part of why you chose to specialize in winter vegetables? It was. I thought I could do a summer CSA at first, but it was too hard to get anything started in the spring because the soil has a higher water table here, which doesn’t allow you to get established that early. If we were ever going to do a summer CSA, we would have to start in July rather than June, so it just wasn’t worth the struggle or the headache.

Kale on a misty day at the farm.

Kale on a misty day at the farm.

Also, we were extremely busy in the summer because we were remodeling our house and I was managing Meriwether’s Skyline Farm. I wanted to start something slow and low key at home. So we started a winter CSA with a little over a dozen folks the first year. Every year, we kept doubling our output, growing for 24 folks the second year, 50 the third year, 85 the fourth. This year, our fifth year, we have around 85 folks again. We are getting close to using the land as much as I want to.

I hadn’t heard of a winter CSA before hearing of Full Plate Farm, how unique do you think that is, either in Portland or nationwide?

Turnip peeking it’s head out.

There’s a good handful of folks that have been doing it year round or having seasonal CSAs. Pumpkin Ridge Farms out in Beaverton has a year round CSA. 47th Ave Farm located in SE Portland has a winter CSA. Growing in the winter can be risky in a lot of ways, even if you do know what you’re doing. The weather can still go crazy. Last winter was a pretty hard winter. We had plenty of carrots in the end, but had a gap in our kale harvest, which is rare for us. It’s not like the summer when you can say this crop totally failed, let’s hurry up and plant another round. Everything in the winter is slow growing, barely growing, so you can’t make up for losses as easily.

Right. In that vein, to harvest in the winter, when do you need to plant? Leeks, winter squash, and potatoes get planted in May or sometimes even June. That starts our planting schedule. Most everything else is seeded in July, all the chickarees, carrots, brassicas, kale, and collards.

Wow. So they are growing for months and months. Yeah, the vegetables grow normally up to this point in early November. From now until mid February, they grow minisculely. Once mid February comes, everything starts to grow again and it’s exponential from there. The green starts to re-grow on the vegetables the last month and a half the season. The vegetables ride the slow waves of winter.

Danny and his co-workers harvesting.

Danny and his co-workers harvesting.

Are you certified organic? What sort of farming practices do you engage in? We basically follow the organic practices, but we aren’t certified because it’s just one more fee to pay. We just sell to CSAs. If restaurants or selling wholesale ever becomes our main market, if we expand and rent land somewhere, then we’d get certified at that point. There’s no reason to get certified when we are only selling direct to families.

What is your favorite winter vegetable, and how do you like to prepare it? Well, I love carrots. Winter carrots are amazing because all of the starches turn to sugar because of the freezes. Once we get our first frost, all the greens, the parsnips, and the carrots sweeten up. You just don’t get that if you buy California carrots; they don’t get freezes; they don’t get that sweetness. If you buy local produce in the winter here, the flavors are truly incredible. Carrots are my favorite because they’re so versatile. You can roast them, mash them, snack on them, and they’re a big hit with kids. Also, I love making parsnip fries. Just cut them up into fry like shapes, drizzle olive oil and salt, and put them in the oven for a half hour or forty-five minutes at 400 degrees. I’d rather have those than French fries any day. Sugarloaf chicories are amazing too. They are a bitter green that looks like a small baguette. Incredible in a mixed salad, but you can also cut it in half, drizzle olive oil, put it in the oven for fifteen minutes at high heat. That is a nice way to prepare it because you get sweetness and crispiness.

In your work as a farmer all over the country, how have you seen the CSA movement evolve? I’ve seen it become a common name where most people have either heard of a CSA or heard of the idea. CSA is such a funny term, people kind of get the idea, but it’s easier to explain as something like a beer of the month club, but you get vegetables instead! I think the CSA market is expanding alongside the growth of the whole organic movement, which has exploded in the last five to ten years. I’ve seen the CSA market expand and diversify. There are now bread CSAs, fruit CSAs and different models of vegetable CSAs. Josh, over at Our Table Cooperative, offers shares for each season of the year and individual shares for one person. The CSA market has become really specific and farmers are tapping into different niches by offering something unique.

Harvesting parsley. Danny lives with his family just steps away from the field in the brown house.

Harvesting parsley. Danny lives with his family just steps away from the field in the brown house.

Rows of cabbage!

Rows of cabbage!

What is your next step for your business? What is your vision for yourself ten years down the road? Five years from now, I imagine we will have rented some land nearby and expanded our operations, offering more winter CSA shares and selling to wholesale markets too. We would also like to partner more with schools around here. Every spring, students from the Portland Waldorf School spend a week up here, camping out, learning what it means to have a life on the farm. It would be awesome to be able to offer more educational opportunities. My own daughter, Ramona, will probably be driving the tractor, she’ll be eight in five years.

And So I Cook

HarrietA 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.

Okay August, it’s on. I’m on, you’re on, we’re all on — the bounty, the harvest and full court preserving.  With July behind us we are well underway.  Jam pots have been filled and freezers packed with berries.  Yes, July gave us pause but nothing like what stands before us.  August, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road as stone fruits, beans, squash, cucumbers, pepper and tomatoes fall in mad succession. This is our proving ground, the time farmwives earn their cred, the time the reasons for the season make themselves known.

I’ve already mentioned some of the reasons, let us call it the farmwife initiative.  But other reasons exist – tasty ones, frugal ones, smart, farm-wife cooking ones.  This matter of cooking is, at the end of the day, what food preservation is all about, but I do not hear enough of it.  Not in the manner that befits the cause and that concerns me a bit.  Because without cooking food preservation floats perilously in the modern world of trending and trends do pass.  Before long jars of pickles and jam will saddle up between knitted hats and macrame plant holders (if you’re that old) to gather dust and mock our fleeting fascinations. I do not want to scold, but form without full-bodied function is our culture’s folly and the death knell of many a movement.  Which is why I am up in arms touting cooking – day in and day out cooking, solid simple everyday cooking, cooking from our (own) stores, cooking from the food we have put up in volume and farmer direct, cooking as the motive and logic behind this movement because without that important piece our movement is open to what may come.

I’ve thought long and hard about what may come and I don’t think I’m far off.  You see, without our deep and continued support small-scale farmers will need to look evermore to the market place for their survival.  To a certain degree they already do but in the long term the marketplace (with its long established operational systems) will demand an ever greater participation in a system that belies the heart of this movement.  The culprit (if I’m to call it that) is something called economies of scale and without going into it’s operational raison d’être, (if only because other posts will cover it) I will simply tell you that small farmers ain’t got it and likely don’t want it. What they have in it’s stead, however, is the proverbial swimming-up-stream scale because being small in an economy pegged to big is way more than an ideological stance — it is a challenge of unparalleled proportions.  Hourly wage???  Don’t ask.  So why do they do it?  Well, because they’ve looked at the land and the soil and the environment and figured out that of all the many things they could do in this life farming, honest small scale farming, might be the most ethical.  At least that’s how I figure it and I sorta agree.  Which is why I love them and love imagining I am a part of that life but not without understand my responsibility in the matter.

You see, to allow them to shoulder the weight of some pastoral mystique without standing shoulder to shoulder in the effort is blatantly unfair, and so I cook.  To leave them alone to deal with the cost of land today, the cost of start up, the learning curve, the merciless hours, the back breaking work is unfair, and so I cook.  To imagine they can sustain all the hand work and trips loading and unloading at farmer’s markets or management of weeds or watching produce gone to seed or chores left undone or a house left to disrepair is unfair, and so I cook.  To assume that it is fair that they cannot pay for help or take a weekend off is unfair, and so I cook.  I cook because I’m afraid what will happen if I don’t.   Because if I don’t then I cannot blame them for looking elsewhere.   Soon they will be open to whatever port in a storm is available to them.  Soon specialization will creep back into the lexicon.  Soon (and this is beginning to happen) they will be approached by big business (the brokers and big chain supermarkets) telling them to quit all that silly small farm diversity stuff and grow an exclusive main crop at guaranteed prices before season’s end which will mean, as it has meant before, pennies on the dollar.

Soon competition will increase and payments decrease.  Soon get big or get out will repeat its rationalizing mantra.  Soon farmers will see their crop shipped or trucked hither and thon or mixed with the produce of other farms to end up as private-label, value-added stuffs marketed as “organic on a budget” which will, at first glance, appear fair but on closer consideration will reveal the principles of economies of scale and efficiency systems and vertical integration come full circle. Soon it will be production, distribution and consumption as usual if only with a brand new organic and local party hat and frankly, who could blame them?  I mean you try being a broke ass hard working small scale farmer for a couple of years and then talk.  So I get it, see it, and fear it.   We is why I yammer on so much about farm direct purchasing and farmwifery, food preservation and now cooking.  It is why, if you haven’t figured it out, I say we farmwives are important, no, VITAL, bookends to this movement and that we have to show up, put up, be counted and cook.  If not do not be surprised when the revolution is packaged and sold on your grocer’s shelf.

But what’s that you say?????  You’re too busy to cook.  I know that rationale and I will not jump into that briar patch except to say busyness is not particular to our generation but rather, as a generation, particularly based on the presupposition of leisure.  And leisure, as it has been handed down to the people (particularly during the growing season) is the rationale of efficiency systems, cum industry, cum economies of scale, cum marketing, cum chicken Mc nuggets or, at the other end of the spectrum, fancy hand-crafted foods that speak the language of a movement many times removed from the economies of small scale farming.   Leisure, as it turns out, is based on a certain lie and either costs too much or too little and, dependent on class, is feeding a people either filler or hype.

Yes, yes, we are busy or perhaps only seduced by the easy flow of food stuffs brimming from street carts to grocery stores (in fact Heat-and-Eat family meals is one of the quickest growing segments in grocery sales) or because we imagine cooking a mystery.  My sense is we’ve made too much of cooking or maybe just fancy cooking.  But farmwife cooking ain’t fancy, it’s real!

Perhaps one day I’ll get around to writing a cookbook that shows just how simple it can be.  Then again, there are plenty of books out there that can give you the basics and as I’ve written before, all you really need is one “how to cook everything” cookbook and you’re set.  The Joy of Cooking is still my go-to favorite, but the point is you don’t need to complicate things.  Really, all you need is a willingness and commitment to cook your meals.

I guess I’m lucky.  I hail from a generation whose parents still cooked.   Utility was the point, frugality was the reality.   There were no recipes, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother look at a cookbook.  What she had was a repertoire.  Most nights there were baked potatoes set on the dinner table, and no one ever decried the repetition.  They were easy to make, affordable and tasty; a virtual farmwife trifecta. Vegetables were simply steamed with a little meat roasted or broiled to the side.  Dessert was simple.  Applesauce or fruit compote – that mystery of stewed dried fruits reconstituted with a bit of lemon peel and cinnamon.  A miracle of thrifty innovation.

Beside my mother I have sat at the table of older farmwives.  Women I have met since moving to Oregon and from whom I’ve learned both the simplest and most profound style of cooking.   Biscuits or cornbread cooked in the flash of an eye and repeated infinitum.  A jar of pickles brought out at every meal or that here-to-fore odd but soon to be revived (if I have anything to do with it) mixture of frozen mixed vegetables cooked in a flash.   Sausage, steaks, ground beef or chicken defrosted and simply cooked (if you go that way) keeps it easy along with a bit of mashed potatoes.  Canned fruit sauces (apple, pear, plum, whatever), served to the side of many a pork chop or for dessert or in baking – miles and miles of baking in muffins and cake – is simply utility unbound.

Yes, this is August, the season of our madness.  As you continue with your bad selves let me encourage you to think seriously about how you cook, what you cook, how much you cook and, most importantly, why you cook.  Choose items to preserve or store that will go the distance.  Put on your farmwife hat and think utility more than fancies.  And on that note I offer you mom’s recipe for stewed fruit.  Couldn’t be any easier.

Dried FruitSonja’s Ever So Delicious Stewed Fruit

In a pan put an assortment of dried fruit (the fruit you dried over the season)

Suggestions: – Prunes, apples, apricots and pears

Add a stick of cinnamon and a few slices of lemon peel

Add water to cover

Bring to the boil

Turn off heat, cool

Put in a jar and let the fruit sit overnight to make it’s own syrup

Eat as is or served with yogurt or cottage cheese or on pancakes or, or, or.

Will stay good in fridge till a very long time!

Harriet Fasenfest

Urban Farmwife

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

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.

IMG_3064How 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 info@homesteadsupplyco.com, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you! 

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. www.homeorchardsociety.org. There’s a link on there to the Arboretum and it has all my contact information.