Archive for the ‘Farm’ Category
Home. It’s something I take for granted and usually don’t spend much time thinking about in an abstract way. I love our home. I love making our home feel comfortable and welcoming. I love cooking, cleaning, gardening and organizing (okay, maybe not cleaning so much). But what does “home” mean to me? I hadn’t given it much thought until I recently spent a delightful morning with Harriet Fasenfest in her home. As we drank coffee, walked around her garden and waited for the impromptu coffee cake come out of the oven (maple, blueberry and quinoa – YUM), we discussed the concept of home and what it really means to make a home.
For those of you not familiar with Harriet, she is the author of the book The Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a self-described Farm Wife. Harriet has spent a lot of time thinking about home and what it means to be a home maker. She is working on her next book which examines the history and modern implications of the home economy. Listening to her talk about the history of land ownership, the relationship between the global market economy and the home economy, and the devaluing of the culture of home, I began to have a new appreciation for what a “home” really means.
Harriet has spent the last few years working closely with small farmers in the area. She has traded her householding skills for farm fresh fruits and vegetables. She has learned to put up a pantry that provides delicious, nourishing food for the year. She has analyzed, tweaked and codified her methods for making a home and is now ready to share the wealth of information she has put together and talk to others about what it takes to make a home economy work.
For the next six weeks, Harriet will be hosting a working group that will come together once a month to read, discuss, analyze and philosophize on the topic of the New Home Economy. The groups will be held at the shop and at Harriet’s home. If you’re interested, check out the class page and register for the AUTHOR’S SERIES | Returning Home: The Practice, Principles and Art of the New Home Economy. I look forward to meeting fellow householders and sharing experiences, methods and new ideas. The first class is this Sunday. I hope to see you there!
For the past year, I have interviewed a variety of the vendors that sell products at the Portland Homestead Supply. I have been inspired and fascinated by the diverse ways that these vendors are reclaiming ancient processes and skills, which are in danger of being subsumed by newer technologies. Homesteading, I have discovered, is apprenticing yourself to the skills that have kept the candle of humanity burning for centuries, from farming techniques to blacksmithing to pottery to crafting candles.
Not only does homesteading keep ancient practices alive, it also allows us to live more autonomously within our regional communities. We are more resilient if people within our communities contain the knowledge and skills to produce nourishing food. Already, Oregon has a rich local agricultural economy, but we can support ourselves more fully by spreading knowledge about seed saving to farmers, home gardeners, and anyone else interested.
In Cindy Conner’s book Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping the Seeds in the Hands of the People, she proclaims that the most important reason to save seeds is because “whoever owns the seeds controls the foods supply.” In an era where Monsanto owns almost a quarter of the global seed market and intellectual property laws for seeds threaten farmers who save their own seeds, it is important that small scale farmers and gardeners preserve seed varieties that grow well in their climates by practicing seed saving. To parrot Conner, if we own the seeds, we control the food supply.
Seed saving varies dramatically depending on the plant. This article is meant to be an introduction to seed saving and will just scrape the surface of what is possible. The first thing to consider is whether the plant you are working with is an annual or a biennial. The beginner seed saver should start learning by saving the seeds of annual plants, which are much less complicated because you do not have to store the plant over winter in order to harvest the seeds.
|Type of Plant||Description||Examples|
|Annual||Life-cycle completed in one growing season.||Corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, broccoli|
|Biennial||Life-cycle completed in two growing seasons (the first year the plant produces vegetables and the second it flowers and seeds).||Carrots, beets, chard, rutabaga, cabbage|
Seed saving is an intentional practice. You must think about saving your seeds before you have even planted them because you want to prevent cross-pollination. Cross-pollination will occur if you plant different varieties of crops too close together. Thus, if you are serious about seed saving, you must plant your garden with it in mind. Seed Savers Exchange has created a useful chart that lists crops and the isolation distance that a home gardener should leave between plants in order to prevent cross-contamination.
The easiest crops to start learning how to seed save with are self-pollinators, which means the plant’s flowers contain both male and female parts and can pollinate themselves, thus reducing the chances of cross-contamination by external pollinators. Some common self-pollinators are sunflowers, lettuce, peas, beans, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
Within the easy crops listed above, there are two categories categories of crops: wet seeded and dry seeded. The seeds in wet seeded crops are embedded in the flesh of fruits (think tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squashes etc), whereas the seeds in dry seeded crops are enclosed in dry husks or pods (think peas, corn, beans, cabbage, lettuce, etc.) There are different harvesting and processing methods for wet seeds and dry seeds. We shall take on the simple steps for processing pea seeds (a dry seed) and tomato seeds (a wet seed) below.
The first step to saving peas is resisting the urge to harvest every single delectable pea on the plant, thus leaving pods to dry on the plant until they are brown. Harvest them four weeks after one would normally harvest them for eating, and then remove the seed from the dried pod. Place into a paper bag, label, and put in a cool, dry place until you want to grow peas again!
To save a tomato seed, you must harvest the tomato when it is ripe, bisect it, and squeeze out the jelly-like substance inside the tomato that contains the seeds. Place the seeds and jelly in a small jar, cover, and put in a warm location for three days, stirring once a day. You are essentially fermenting the seeds; after a few days fungus will appear on the top of the tomato seed mixture. This fungus performs an essential function, eating the gelatinous coat that surrounds the seed. After three days, fill the container with warm water. The viable seeds are heavier and will sink to the bottom, which means you can easily pour out the water, tomato pulp, and immature seeds that are in the top of the mixture. Take out those clean seeds, let them dry completely, and label and store them until the next planting!
There are many helpful resources online for the beginner and advanced seed saver. I have listed a few below.
Vegetable Planting and Seed Saving – Crop-specific planting and seed saving instructions from Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Saving Zine – The Seed Ambassadors Project, a group of organic farmers and gardeners based near Crawfordsville, Oregon, produced a beautiful zine that is a user-friendly introduction to seed saving.
Organic Seed Alliance: A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers – need to enter your email address to download the guide, but it is well worth it!
Saving Seeds from Biennial Plants – informative blog post about biennial plant seed saving
Portland Seed-Saving Resources
For those who live in the SE neighborhood, the SE Tool Library is an amazing resource. Not only do they have all sorts of tools to rent for free, they also have a seed library. I have picked up sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, and basil seeds, and given back snap pea seeds and kale seeds. The SE Tool Library has odd hours because they are entirely volunteer run, so make sure you are stopping by on either a Tuesday or Thursday evening or a Saturday day.
If you live in NE, you are not out of luck! There is a NE Tool Library based out of Redeemer Lutheran Church that hosts a seed library as well. They are open on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday daytime.
If you want to participate in a more hands-on experience, various organizations in Portland offer seed-saving classes. One of them, Handmade Gardens, has classes throughout the year focused on different gardening skills. The September 3rd class, Growing Seeds for your Garden and Community, will get your seed saving fire blazing.
The Portland Nursery is also an amazing resource for everything garden related. They get extra bonus points for providing classes to the public for free! There is a Wet Seed Extraction (Tomatoes and Cucumbers) class on August 22nd and a Finishing the Seed Harvest class on September 19th.
In summary, we will be working on our gardens all summer long, nourishing our vegetables to eventually nourish our bodies. But it doesn’t have to end there! As your vegetables and fruits ripen, consider saving the seeds ~ a practice which preserves diversity of agricultural crops, resists the global dominance of monolithic seed corporations, and saves you dollars because you don’t have to buy seeds all over again the next year.
If you missed planting seeds in March or April and your garden is still barren, it’s not too late. We have plant starts for sale at the Portland Homestead Supply, supplied to us by Winona Farms. Winona Farms is a one-man operation, run by Zach Hinkelman, located in the SW hills of Portland. Read the interview below to become acquainted with Zach and some helpful tips to keep your garden healthy as the summer approaches.
Why did you start Winona Farms?
Growing plants has always been my joy. I like tending to the cycle of life, and I enjoy making my own soil out of compost that I have maintained. I do not use chemicals or outside inputs in my soil, and I grow everything to organic standards. I grow plant starters and sell them because I want people to have success gardening. If they start off on the right foot, people are going to have a pretty good experience gardening.
When did you start growing plants? Sounds like it was a long time ago.
I grew up on a pig farm in Idaho. Back then, my grandfather was still farming around fifteen hundred acres of grain. My great aunt and I would pour over the Gurney’s seed catalog every spring. I created these enormous seed orders, and she would limit them down to about a third of what I had originally chosen. My passion for plants went dormant for a while after I left Idaho. I graduated college and went to work for an insurance company programming. I never had the space to grow plants until my wife and I bought this place back in 2009. When we moved in, I said, “Oh my god, look at all this space! I’m going to get some tomato seeds.” I bought heirloom seeds from Pennsylvania and ended up with about twenty mature plants. I knew I didn’t have a use for twenty tomato plants, so I advertised them on Craiglist for a hundred dollars. The next year, I started selling plant starts at farmers’ markets and then Barbur’s World Foods. It just keeps on getting bigger and bigger!
How has your family’s farm evolved? Is your family still farming?
My parents retired, and my uncle took over the farm. I actually go back and help him bring in the harvest every August; I’ve only missed one of them in all of my forty years. People have family reunions, and that’s mine! It’s always a joyful time, brings me back to the innocent times when I was six and seven begging my grandpa to let me ride in the combine with him.
It’s an interesting dynamic because I grow everything here organic on a small scale and my uncle grows with conventional GMO seeds on a large scale. I have to keep an open mind because this is how my family makes their living. I’m not a GMO supporter myself; I believe that there are plenty of good seeds out there that can produce the amount of food we need. GMOs have sprung up because they are easier. I have to be careful that I don’t say, “These are stupid. These are terrible.” That’s not the way it needs to be. Instead of blaming, I approach it as a conversation about how we can use less pesticides and fungicides that we both can learn from.
Where do you source most of your seeds now?
Most of the seeds come from Johnny’s in Maine. I also get some from Baker Creek and Seeds of Change. I am always looking for organic and small companies. Johnny’s isn’t that small, but I’ve always had awesome success with their seeds.
Do you have a favorite tomato or pepper that you grow?
I can give you a top five of the peppers. I love, love peppers. I have this Ancho which is also called a Poblano Magnifico. If you get it to ripen up red, it is so sweet and smoky. They are like vegetarian beef jerkey. I am also a big fan of the Super Hots (the Scorpions), which is what I make my salsa out of. The fish pepper is a fun one because it is variated. The leaves are green and white, and the peppers come out like striped zebras. It’s a nice looking ornamental plant.
My favorite tomato of all time is a White Trifele. It’s a really nice sauce tomato. Their appearance and their varied uses are a nice combination.
Are any of the tomatoes or peppers better suited to this climate?
Some of the Principe Borghese tomatoes that I potted up about three weeks ago are not really doing anything. The Principe Borghese is an Italian heirloom that is awesome for sauce. The story goes that the Italians would dig up the whole plant and hang it up and sun dry their tomatoes. I love the plant and the fruit, but I think they need a warmer climate.
Do you have any pro-tips for seeding plants and having success?
Don’t be afraid of failure because that is how you learn. Don’t be afraid to try stuff because it just might work! Seeds are very resilient; they can overcome some pretty rough stuff. Peppers will take more time and basil can be finicky, but overall the successes will overwhelm the failures.
The hardest thing to do is to continually nurture your plants. You can start out very excited, thinking, “I’m going to seed these tomatoes!” and then you forgot about them a few days later. They get dry and die off. As long as you can focus on your gardening a few minutes a day, that’s all it takes.
Also, if you buy starts, plant them in the late afternoon or evening so the plants can get acclimated before they get beat down upon by the sun.
Are there any resources that you would suggest for those interested in expanding their gardening skills?
I know some garden centers that have a lot of classes. Those are good tools simply because you can ask questions and talk through issues with experienced gardeners. New Scalpel, Portland Nursery, and the Homestead Supply are all good resources!
If you really want to be ambitious, look into a community garden plot. I belong to the one just down the street at United Methodist Church. They offer a program where you can donate all your produce to Neighborhood House. It doesn’t even cost anything for the plot. You just have to be out there, make sure you weed it and water it. You learn a lot just walking through and watching how other people grow their vegetables.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homestead movement?
The homesteading thing has always been a weird thing for me because I grew up on a farm, and the movement is trying to recreate that lifestyle in a city. I can appreciate wanting that.
I think my business fits into the homesteading movement because it is giving people a head start on their gardens. Some reports say you can save quite a bit growing your own food. I appreciate the fact that if you’re growing your own food, you know where it’s coming from and you know what you’re putting in it. If you want to put chemicals on it, you can. The fact that you’re growing food in your backyard means it doesn’t have to be trucked up from California or South America. It’s much gentler on the environment, and harvesting produce you have grown yourself can be very satisfying.
What is the next step for your business?
I’m at a spot right now where I can’t get much bigger. You can see all these trees; it’s hard to get a lot of sun in here. I can’t expand any more in my backyard, besides building one more greenhouse. If I want to grow, I need a place out of town with a lot more sun. It’s a strange crux in my life because I lost my job of 18 years about a month ago. It’s actually been a blessing because I had been frustrated in that position and wanted to focus more on my gardening. I don’t know yet if the plants can pay all the bills! But for me, it is therapeutic. I could garden for hours. It would be rough for me to give up.
Since their birth in 1986 in the United States, CSAs have expanded so much that the question is no longer “Where can I get one?” but instead an overwhelming “Which one do I choose?” According to surveying done by PACSAC (Portland Area CSA Coalition), there are at least 60 farms that bring food into the Portland metro area. Such an abundance of options can leave one flabbergasted and immobilized. I spoke with Caylor Roling, PACSAC Project Coordinator, to get her perspective on current CSA offerings in the Portland metro region. The first thing Caylor said was, ‘When choosing a CSA, you need to ask yourself, “What are my priorities? Am I concerned with share size, convenient pick-up locations, farm experience, having fresh veggies year round?”’ Caylor helped me realize that the increasing demand for CSAs has enabled farmers to occupy niche territory, differentiating themselves by offering models like individual shares, winter CSAs, and CSA models for distributing meat or flowers or plant starts. If rolling out of bed and being able to pick up your CSA a few blocks down from your house is your priority, this City of Portland map of pick-up sites will be your golden ticket. The veritable explosion of CSAs offered in the Portland metro area ensures that if you want it, some farmer out there has got it. Below is a list of helpful categories featuring local CSAs ~ read on to spring into summer.
CSAs that take SNAP benefits The problem with writing a piece about choosing a CSA is that many Portland residents don’t have the money to make that choice. CSAs are fairly expensive, and historically, share members have had to pay the full cost of the CSA before the beginning of the season so the farmers (who aren’t being subsidized by the govt. or other large corporations) have the start-up money necessary to buy their seeds and fertilizers. This up-front monetary investment is the fulcrum of the CSA business model: it allows farmers to directly market, plan, and finance operations before the start of the growing season while ensuring a consistent demand for the food produced. However, paying $600+ all in one sum can be a large financial burden and is a barrier to the benefits of a CSA for low-income people. In an effort to make CSAs more accessible, a few farms have begun to address this problem by accepting SNAP/EBT payments and enabling SNAP members to pay monthly or weekly, instead of with a lump sum. Zenger Farm, an educational working urban farm in East Portland, has created a website that lists all of the farms in Oregon that accept SNAP benefits. I have highlighted a few below.
Zenger Farm is a pioneering force in making CSAs more affordable to lower-income residents. For SNAP members, they offer a $27 a week CSA share and a subsidized SNAP share at $20 a week.
When: June – November, 23 weeks
What is included: Vegetables, herbs, & a package of beans or grains from Bob’s Red Mill!
Price: Regular shares: $650 made in one, two, or three payments
SNAP shares: $27 weekly payments or $124.20 monthly payments
Scholarship SNAP shares: $20 weekly payments or $92 monthly payments
Pick-Up: Zenger’s Farm or Lent’s International Farmers Market
When: June – October, 19 weeks, with the option of a Late Season Share
What is included: Seasonal vegetables farmed using biodynamic methods.
Price: $555 with different payment plans, including monthly payments.
Pick-Up: SE, NE, and SW Portland.
In exchange for 12 hours of work during the season, working shareholders at 47th Ave Farm will receive a $30 price reduction. Three work parties and potluck celebrations occur during the summer for shareholders.
When: May 19th – October 27th
What is included: Bountiful veggies!
Price: Half share ($550) and full share ($990)
Pick-Up: SE Portland (Woodstock) and Lake Oswego
Supporting Great Non-Profits There are quite a few CSAs available in Portland that come from non-profit farms. Supporting these farms through subscribing to a share serves a double purpose: getting you fresh veggies and furthering the mission of these non-profits. Check out a few below!
FoodWorks – I have to give a special shout-out to FoodWorks. I interned there a few summers ago, and the work they do is groundbreaking and important. FoodWorks is a youth employment program based on a small farm on Sauvie Island: they provide paying jobs on the farm to youth from the St. Johns neighborhood, teaching them invaluable job skills and giving them a chance to grow into leadership positions like CSA intern or Farmers Market Intern. When you buy a share in their CSA, part of your payment goes towards subsidizing a CSA share for a low-income family. Please think about supporting this amazing organization!
When: mid-June to the end of October, 21 weeks
What is included: 7-12 different vegetables and the Food Works newsletter which details farm happenings, what’s in season, favorite recipes, youth writings and Food Works program updates.
Price: Regular Share: $600, $450 is the base rate and $150 (tax deductible) will be used to offer the same CSA share to a family who might not be able to afford the full price.
SNAP Share: $15 weekly payments, total of $315 for the season.
Pick-Up: Portland State Farmers Market, St. Johns Farmers Market, Village Market, and the Janus Youth Programs Office
Schoolyard Farms is a Milwaukie-based non-profit whose mission is to educate youth and health and nutrition through hands-on experience in the garden. Their work is made possible by the financial support of CSA members.
When: June – October, weekly
What is included: five small bunches of different seasonal vegetables, weekly
Price: $275 for an individual share
Pick-Up: SE and NE Portland, Milwaukie
Individual Shares Having too many vegetables is a ridiculously abundant problem, but the average share size of CSAs is meant for families or those who are sharing food. In the past, a CSA has not been practical for someone living alone. The market has evolved to offer smaller, individual sized shares so that if you don’t want to share, you don’t have to.
When: They offer CSAs for each of the four seasons.
What is included: An assortment of vegetables.
Price: Prices vary by season, but Summer 2015 is $121.52 – $124 for an individual-sized share.
Pick-Up: Various Locations around Portland.
When: June – October, 22 weeks
What is included: Small share of vegetables that you get to choose! Each week, an email is sent out with a list of the available crops, and you get to choose six to eight items that you want.
Pick-Up: SE and NE Portland, Gresham
CSAs that Extend Beyond Summer and Fall We are extremely lucky that we live in a climate where vegetables can grow all year round! I have been receiving winter vegetables from Full Plate Farm out of Ridgefield, WA since November. They are sweet and nourishing and large after growing slowly during the winter months ~ I even received a bold purple beet that was as large and round as my face. Check out the farms below that have diversified their businesses by growing vegetables year round.
When: All Year Round – 52 weeks!
What is included: Seasonal Veggies all year round.
Price: $1560 for the full year, $30 per week
Pick-Up: Various Locations in the Portland metro area.
When: November – March, 24 weeks
What is included: Gorgeous winter vegetables.
Pick-Up: Various locations around Portland.
Diversification of CSAs (Alternative, Non-Veggie CSA Models) The CSA model has extended to several different markets as part of what local non-profit Ecotrust calls The Future Economy. Akin to the vegetable CSA model, you can receive a weekly supply of flowers, meat, seedlings, fish, and many other goods directly from the farmer (or fisherman) that grows or harvests them.
When: May – September, weekly
What is included: Flowers sourced from their farm and partner farms made into beautiful bouquets and delivered right to your home.
Price: $400, $20 a week for 20 weeks
Pick-Up: No pick-up ~ It’s home delivery!
Winslow Food Forest offers both a Harvest share, which includes a half dozen eggs, veggies, greens, herbs, and fruits, but more uniquely offers a Seedling Subscription, in which you select a variety of seedlings and they deliver the plants right to your door timed for outdoor planting.
When: April – June
What is included: 12 plants a month with the full share and 6 plants a month for the half share.
Price: Full Share ($125), Half Share ($75)
Pick-Up: Delivered to you!
What is included: Conveniently portioned cuts of grass fed, pasture-raised meat ~ you choose what’s in your box.
Price: Half-Size (60 lbs of meat a year): $588, Full-Size (120 lbs): $1,152
Pick-Up: No pick-up ~ delivered to your home once a month.
When: Share distributed during August and September
What is included: 21 pounds of wild sockeye salmon harvested from their Alaska fishery
Price: Approximately $10.85/ lb
Pick-Up: Inner Southeast Portland
When: June – November, 22 weeks
What is included: This is where it gets good. Mama Tee’s has a traditional veggie CSA, but also collaborates with several other farms to offer egg shares, bread shares, and meat shares. Who needs to go to the grocery store anymore?
Price: Prices vary depending on share choice.
Pick-Up: Missionary Chocolates in NE Portland
I hope that this article has served as a matchmaker, helping you to find a CSA that compliments your needs. To learn about even more choices, you can visit Portland Area CSA Coalition’s website, where they have provided us with a comprehensive list of CSAs in the area. Happy CSAing! Note: Portland Hmo
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.
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. A 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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!
Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to firstname.lastname@example.org, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!
In 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Howdy 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!
Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to email@example.com, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!
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!
Portland’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.
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. For 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?
Figs. 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!
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.
A 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.