Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category
I sat down with potter Careen Stoll on a comfortable Thursday morning to discuss her work and the belief systems that influence it. Careen makes beautiful, hand thrown porcelain crocks for fermenting and sells them at the Portland Homestead Supply. Each thing she possesses and makes has an intention and is palpably infused with a passion for simplicity, utility, and a feminine beauty derived from the natural landscape about her. Before we sat down, Careen poured us both black tea into two of her handmade cups (see in the photograph to the right). She described that she fired the porcelain cups in a wood-firing kiln, as opposed to an electric kiln, and explained, “There is no glaze on the outside that you see. The color of the cup comes from the iron content of the clay, which is drawn out by the flame. You can see the path of the flame on your cup. You can see that this part received more ashes and the ashes melted into this shiny part, and then the flame curled around the cup.” Personally, I had never thought about what had come before the electric kiln. The kiln that fired the cups we were drinking out of was Careen’s innovation, a hybrid kiln built upon a wood firing technique many centuries old. Let Careen bring you into her world, one that is graced by intentional, handmade objects and a permaculture ethos, by reading the interview below.
For more information on Careen, visit her website where you can sign up for her quarterly email newsletter, which is full of good stories and updates about her work. Careen is also raising money to purchase a bigger electric kiln through a kickstarter ending September 14th. Visit her page if you’re interested or would like to donate to her worthwhile cause!
When did you first get involved in ceramics, and where did you acquire the skills you have now?
I learned the basics when I was a teenager, but was largely self-taught after that. I studied with two amazing mentors who are full time, self-supporting studio potters, one in Virginia, and one in Minnesota. Then I completed graduate studies and moved to Portland. I have shifted more into a teaching role after moving to Portland, but I’m still totally focused on studio ceramics. I’ve been at it for most of my life at this point.
What did you focus on during your graduate studies?
I focused on utilitarian ceramics as opposed to sculptural, and atmospheric fire, which means using wood as a fuel for the kiln as opposed to electricity. When you fuel the kiln with wood, you don’t need to use a glaze because the iron content of the clay is drawn out by the flame. You fire it for multiple days. Inside the kiln you have this river of flame that is carrying all of those ashes, and touching every single pot, up, down, on the surface of every pot as it passes. We would run multiple cords of wood through a kiln like that for multiple days. Beautiful team effort, and everyone is telling stories. I’ve been doing that for most of my career and trying to sell those pots mostly at art fairs instead of galleries.
How does the atmospheric firing differ from electric firing?
The short answer is that it is chemistry of flame and oxygen and clay. Whatever minerals are retained within the clay are pulled out by the flame. In an electric kiln, there is no flame. It’s just a giant oven. You often want the cleanest clay you can find because it’s not interacting with flame in an electric kiln.
Think of the wood kiln like a dragon. You have the dragon mouth eating all the wood. The dragon belly is where all of the pots are stacked up, and the tail is the chimney. That’s how they started 4,000 years ago in China. They would fire in caves that had a natural vent, and then they started building kilns out of bricks. Some are fired for weeks, around the clock. There is so much labor involved in wood kiln firing, and it is a wonderful way to get to know people around the clock.
Do you currently work with a wood kiln?
Not currently. Eight years ago, I built a kiln in the backyard of my rental property in SE Portland, which I named the Tin Man. I fired it fourteen times with groups of people. It was an innovative kiln because it was fired by two fuels, wood and waste vegetable oil, which combined in a way that maximized each against the other. Wood alone is a carbon-neutral fuel, and waste vegetable oil alone is a carbon-neutral fuel, thus contributing nonet carbon emission to the atmosphere. I can’t run the kiln on just pure vegetable oil because it doesn’t have a low ignition point. The wood provided a wick for the vegetable oil to fall on to. The two of them work together in a really efficient way.
What has been one of the biggest challenges of maintaining strong environmental ethics within your artwork and your business?
Primarily, that the amount of labor involved in preparing the fuel and firing a kiln that runs off of carbon-neutral fuels like waste vegetable oil and wood is not commensurate with what the market will bear. If I am going to earn a living wage, the pots are not affordable to the people I most want to share them with. The section of the population that does appreciate the work has so much to chose from. The average consumer doesn’t see the value of this work, doesn’t see the work that goes into the actual object and either can’t or won’t be able to pay for it. Now my work with the electric kiln is powered somewhat by solar panels up on top of the barn. Of course the consumer still can’t see that. Earning a living wage would be the biggest challenge.
How would you coin or describe your own style?
Heavily influenced by natural objects, like beach stones and eggs, and most recently, the female body. I love thinking about tactility and ergonomics, how one body touches another, how you hold this as the body of clay. My work tends not to have much of an articulated foot on it, and thus is most comfortable in the hand, as opposed to on the table. It’s fine on the table because it can be flat, but it’s more comfortable in the hand. It is intended for potlucks and picnics, and it shapes the eating experience in that way.
There is also a lot of Scandinavianism Modernism in my work. My mom is Dutch, and my dad’s a world traveler, so I grew up with a Scandinavian aesthetic and Danish simplicity.
When did you start making the fermenting crocks that you sell at Portland Homestead Supply? Explain their specific design and use.
Tressa Yellig, who runs Salt, Fire, & Time, got me started on fermented foods for my own health reasons. Since I’m a potter, I was like, “Well, I can make the thing to make the fermented foods.” Between that and a student of mine, Annelise, I was encouraged to make them for sale. Three years ago, I started developing them and one year ago, I presented them to Kristl at Portland Homestead Supply. She was very encouraging.
As far as the design of the crocks, instead of making a relatively unattractive, straight-walled cylinder, I molded the shape of the crocks after a luscious, female form with a rounded, soft belly. The crocks come with stones that weigh down whatever is being fermented inside. I make the stones at the same time as the crock and the lid. I size the stones perfectly to the inside of the neck so that they rest in just the right place and lock into place as the food expands naturally.
The design of the crock includes a tight water lock, which means that my crocks don’t tend to get mold inside them. People have pretty hodge-podge fermenting situations, in which mold can be a big issue. Because of the design of my crocks, there is no mold.
Where do you get the clay that you use? Why do you use porcelain?
Porcelain, for one, is the most sensually satisfying material for me to work with. The supple, silky qualities of it are luscious to me. As far as technical advantages, it is the most dense clay available to me. What that transfers to is durability. Pound for pound porcelain is the best clay. If I create something in a way that is engineered well, I can make it thinner while still keeping strength where I need it to be strong. I tested the finished work and it pulls in .03% water. Industry standard is 1%. I’m making something that is a higher quality than is commercially available. Because of how I make it, but also because of the quality of the material. That is a crucial point for porcelain. Again, I just really love working with porcelain, so it’s convenient, but it’s also technically the best.
How do you think that design affects our eating experiences and our daily rituals? How, as a potter, do you integrate this into your work?
I think a lot about quality of life. I am surrounded by handmade objects because of my associations with people and things and my skill at making objects myself. A fair number of people remark that lovingly made, well-crafted objects help them slow down, help them appreciate their surroundings and the context of their life. So much industrially produced work is not ergonomic. I’ve noticed that you’ve turned your cup in a way that you are gripping it this way too. That comfortable sensation sends sensory information to the rest of you in a way that a diner mug might not. Well-designed work demands a certain amount of attention that I would like to interact with.
I want to make work that’s comfortable and that doesn’t interrupt the day too much, but sends that kind of sensation. I don’t want to make work that pleases just everybody. You can’t please everybody. I know that my work will sing to certain people and not to other people and that’s great. I do want to help people slow down if they can.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
I was dismayed when I learned how much misinformation has been propagated by the industrial food complex and then perpetuated by the FDA. Whole generations of nutritional misinformation and chemical engineering of foods has decimated our health as a culture, as a country. It’s horrifying to me. I had some health problems, and I learned how to care for myself with traditional foods and traditional methods of preparing foods and eating.
Because of my own experience, I can be a strong advocate for fermented foods and their incredible benefit for the body’s overall health and mental health as a result! If you’re preparing food in a way that’s more nutritionally bio-available, then you’re nourishing your brain cells as well as everything else. The slow food and the local food movement are gaining strength, and I have nothing but excitement for seeing the revival of that knowledge, particularly in young and urban people, and a strong, shift away from big-boxed store preparations. We need to eat food, not food products. The crocks are one small way that I can help people regain their knowledge and their health, and as a cultural movement, I’m happy to be a part of people owning that crucial component to a good life. The beauty that I can create can contribute to people’s quality of life, but if that beauty can be sustained down to a cellular level, that’s pretty special.
How do you support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Are you a part of any collaborative projects?
I’ve started working with Mud Shark Studios, which is a small, slip-cast operation in Portland. I’m starting to delve into industrial design, which is basically taking my designs and paying to have them manufactured and thus available in larger quantities. Instead of doing the art fair thing and making individual sales to individual people, I’m researching making pots that are of industrial standards, having them produced in the slip-casting or ram pressed methods, and then marketing them to restaurants. I think there’s a hunger for that kind of intriguing design in the restaurant industry now. I know how to do it, and I know the people to talk to.
I have also worked collaboratively with Biwa Restaurant. If you go there and order the sashimi, it will be served on some bowls that I have given them. I have an ongoing warm relationship with that restaurant. Together, we hosted a dinner at the Museum of Contemporary Craft as a benefit for the museum. Biwa catered the food, which was served on all of my wood-fired work. It was a beautiful dinner and setting with excellent company.
What is your next step for your business? What is your vision for yourself ten years down the road?
I want to teach workshops on a national level. What’s really important to me is working in a way that can best be described as a permaculture ethos. Permaculture to me means designing my life, my work, and the physical output of my labor in a way that integrates with inputs from my natural environment. Is my body able to work 40 hours a week in the studio? No. It’s physically demanding beyond what I can sustain. Being good to my body, gardening, growing the foods that I ferment in my crocks that I make and share with friends are all so important. Additionally, permaculture to me means working within the system of culture and helping culture develop in ways that take a cue from nature. Educating around listening to the natural environment is a really crucial point to the education I want to take to workshops. Talking about technique, for sure, in a ceramics related workshop, but really talking about environmental ethics and why we make what we do, and what are we making, and what is it saying, and what does that matter. It doesn’t all have to be utilitarian. It doesn’t all have to be made the way I make it or according to my beliefs, but I want to encourage students to investigate those questions.
Posted in Interview | Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
Ashley and Ethan Bisagna’s romance bloomed over the shared responsibility of butchering lambs in the basement of one of Portland’s most acclaimed restaurants, Clyde Common. The romance eventually moved beyond the space of the basement to bigger spaces: marriage, kids, and a dynamic, creative business built around their shared passion for food. On July 31st, Ethan and Ashley opened their own delicatessen on Tacoma Street in downtown Sellwood called Feastworks. It serves as both a restaurant and a hub for their catering business. Just a few blocks away from the Portland Homestead Supply, Feastworks supplies delicious cuts of consciously-raised meats for all hungry Portlanders. Feastworks has an educational element to it as well; Ethan shares his expertise with community members by teaching butchering classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Check out the interview below to understand more about the importance of well-raised meat and to get excited about the newest delicatessen in town!
How did you both get involved in cooking, catering, and butchering?
Ashley: Well, we both grew up in families that were very into food, so we just grew up that way, interested in cooking. Neither of us grew up eating processed food, so it is kind of natural that this would be our profession. We were both at Clyde Common when it first opened, and that’s where we met, butchering lambs together. That’s the romantic part… us in the basement, me holding a lamb while he’s sawing it; that’s how we fell in love.
Ethan: We both started cooking before that. Ashley has a bachelor’s degree from WSU (Washington State University) in Business; Hospitality Administration. She started out managing hotels after college – eventually she went to the back of the house because she realized that’s where she belonged. I went to culinary school ten years ago, so that’s how I started cooking. When I got the job at Clyde Common, they had just started doing the whole animal program, which Ashley brought on when she was working as a sous chef there. So I started my career as a butcher there. We both were cooking for quite a few years before Clyde Common.
What is the whole animal program at Clyde Common?
Ethan: Just whole animals. Instead of bringing in pre-cut, pre-fabricated meats, they started bringing in whole animals. That had to do with Ashley because she was working at Park Kitchen before that, and she was prepping animals with the chef. I got that because I had a lot of hunting experience. I’ve been, with family members, breaking down animals most of my life, which is different from the way I cut them now, but still good experience. Anyway, we started this together after Clyde Common. It was slow to begin with. I bounced around working at Phil’s Meat Market, Laurelhurst Market, while we were doing this. We both had to step off completely in 2010. -
Was it hard to convince Clyde Common to bring in the whole animal? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Ashley: No, because people are really interested in getting meat sourced from small, local farms with no antibiotics, no hormones. From a small farm, you can’t piece out meat as easily. That was just our way of getting that quality meat to work into our menu.
Ethan: It’s the same idea as farm to table with vegetables. You bring all your great organic produce to the table, and you should match the great produce with great meats.
Where do you all source your food here?
Ashley: Carlton Farms Pork, which is all natural, hormone and antibiotic free. Chicken is Mary’s Organic.
How did you choose those farms to source from?
Ethan: Carlton Farms is not commodity agriculture. It’s large, but it’s still small enough to where they have their own farms in Washington and Oregon that grow the animals to their specifications with no hormones, no antibiotics, to the size they want, to the weight they want, to the feed that they have to have in order to purchase from these farms. It’s small farm operations that grow to Carlton Farms specifications. It works well for us with the amount of pork that we have to have on a consistent basis weekly.
I know that you launched your store in Sellwood just last week on July 31st! How would you differentiate yourself from other delicatessens in Portland?
First of all, we make all of the product that’s in the case. We do not bring in any one else’s product. Everything that we put out, besides the bread which is from An Xuyen Bakery, which is a small, family bakery, is made in house. Everything, from the sauces to the meats to the pastries are made in house.
How long have you all been thinking and talking about opening this business?
Ethan: Years. We have been catering for five years, so we had been talking about opening something so we could build our catering company. It was really the place that we picked that would dictate the type of business that we could open. We knew we were going to sell charcuterie and food, but the location was going to determine our options. We had been talking about a delicatessen for years.
Ashley: This works best for starting out for us just because we already have the catering and the charcuterie going, so it’s a way to open up and expand on what we do well. We already have a great following at the farmer’s markets based on all of those products.
Will y’all still be doing farmer’s markets?
Ashley: Yes. We are at the Woodstock and Beaverton farmer’s markets.
What has been one of your biggest challenges in opening?
Ashley: Waiting five years for banks to finally take us seriously!
Ethan: We don’t have investors; we did it on our own from what we had built before. We put all of our money back into the business. Time management is definitely challenging with catering, building this business, and having three children.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Ashley: Well, for example, today, there was a couple that came in and bought some charcuterie that had been at one of our classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Ethan taught a pig butchering class. They went there and had learned from Ethan how to butcher a pig. They came and are interested in our business and our product and are also interested in getting a pig themselves and using that knowledge.
Ethan: Just further education on why you should source your meat responsibly. Instead of doing commodity mass agriculture from the Midwest, which I understand there’s a reason for, but sourcing your meat responsibly and continuing to teach how to break down animals, how to make sausage, just educating the general public on getting good product and why it matters to get a good product.
How often do you teach the butchering class?
Ethan: We are only doing a few a year right now just because we’ve been busy. A couple years ago, we were doing a lot, but now we do them around Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, around holidays. We might up on the classes now that this business is open because we can advertise easier here. We might start doing a monthly class, still at the Homestead Supply.
Did you butcher the pig in that room?
Ethan: Yeah, a lot of people just walking through were really interested. Every now and then, you get people who won’t walk up there while it’s happening. One time, we had ten people in our class, but with thirty people watching from the sidelines.
How much are the classes and what do you do in them?
Ethan: $125. You really learn how to take an animal from a whole animal to portion cuts that you would see in your local butcher shop, half an animal to primals to sub-primals to portion cuts. Then I explain why these cuts are cut like this, where they come from.
Where would you suggest if people are wanting to buy cuts or if someone wanted to buy a whole pig and put it in their freezer?
They could buy a whole pig from us. We’re not selling raw meat directly out of the case, but if someone ordered something large like that, we would sell them that. Any of the big butcher shops around town, like Laurelhurst Market is a great place to source really well-raised products. CHOP Butchery & Charcuterie would be able to do it as well.
How does Feastworks support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community?
Just here in Sellwood, we are friends with the Portland Homestead Supply, the Portland Bottle Shop, Reverends Barbecue. We all support each other and have worked with each other at some point throughout our careers. We all send people to each other. We eat at their places, they eat at ours.
For those interested in growing and butchering their own animals, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips?
Take a class first. Don’t be too intimated, understand there’s not really a wrong way to do it. If you’re cutting the meat that you can cook and you can eat, and you haven’t wasted any of it, then you really didn’t do anything incorrectly. Understand that it’s all meat. As long as you can cook it and eat it, you’re doing just fine.
What is your favorite meat product that you sell? What would be perfect for a summer picnic and why?
Ethan: Ham. I like hams in all forms. I make an American style smoked ham, which I really like. Salt cured ham, country style ham, boiled ham, smoked ham, I’m just a big fan of ham. I think we do a very good one.
Ashley: I’d say our hot link, 100%. It’s the best hot link I’ve ever had. It’s a Louisiana style hot link, smoked pork sausage, very spicy and very flavorful, delicious.
What kind of spice is in it?
Ethan: Cayenne, garlic, salt, allspice, basil, mustard seed, red chili flake. It’s really good.
What is Feastworks next step? What is your vision for Feastworks ten years down the road?
Our next step is growing this business, this deli. Long term, I’d say we would like to eventually get a catering commissary kitchen that is separate, so that we can grow our catering company. And who knows from there!
Posted in Interview | Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
I caught the end of Saundra Kamman’s soda-making class at the Portland Homestead Supply. It was a full house, people of all ages leaning forward in their seats to carefully measure and pour ingredients into bottles. There was an excited chatter circulating the room as participants tasted the sodas they had just concocted. When I stepped in to taste the freshly made ginger ale, I gasped in delight because it was overflowing with the undiluted power of ginger, the tangy balance between spicy and slightly sweet.
The ginger ale recipe created by Saundra Kamman capitalizes on the natural properties of ginger, bringing out its incredible taste and health benefits. Saundra, an extremely creative herbalist, teaches both the soda-making and herbalism classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. She recently launched her own business, HerbN Tea, that is dedicated to supplying the Portland community with health-benefiting loose-leaf teas, herbs, and balms. Kamman also runs a community supported herbalism program, and another program that helps fledging gardeners to support Oregon’s bee population by planting bee-friendly herbs. Check out the interview below to understand more about Saundra’s incredible work supporting the interconnectedness between herbs, the health of our bodies, and the health of the planet.
How did you get involved in herbalism, and who helped you learn skills along the way?
I grew up as a gardener and was growing a lot of my own foods, as well as my own herbs. I always wanted to know more about what I was growing. While on sabbatical for a year in Northern California, I met a woman in one of my dance classes who is an herbalist and has her own school modeled after her teacher Michael Moore. I started taking herbal classes. I really enjoyed building this relationship between what is growing in the garden and what herbal creation I can make in the house, whether it’s a tincture or tea or soda or mead.
You took herbalism classes in Northern California?
Yes, at the Northwest School of Botanical Studies. I did it backwards. I took lots and lots of classes and advanced classes, then I went back and took the professional herbalist program. I already had many herbalist hours and experience, before getting the certification.
When did you launch your own business?
HerbN Tea was started, officially, about a year + ago. I began teaching classes and perfecting my recipes. Now I sell my own organic loose leaf teas, as well as healing balms, lotions and body butters.
What has been one of your biggest challenges of having your own business?
I have had my own business a couple times before, so I knew what to expect. The hardest part is the balance. You are now doing everything. You can hire other people to help, but it’s pretty hard to do when you’re just starting. So later you’ll hire PR people, marketers, etc. I had the good fortune that I am also a professional graphic designer so I designed my website and everything else. I find that a lot of people are really into natural medicines and herbalism now, but I think it still takes people a little while to get from the idea of taking something like a medication or a tincture to drinking tea everyday for its medicinal values. Part of why I’m doing what I’m doing is because I want people to not just try to deal with things when they get sick or older or ill, but rather to be more preventative by practicing herbalism every day. That’s really important to me and is why I teach the classes and sell herbal teas and products. Hopefully it sticks with a few people.
What is one of the number one things people can do daily as a preventative step?
The hardest thing to do in our culture is to stop to take time to take care of yourself. People will come to me and say, “What do I do about this problem?” I can give them a tea or herbal tonic, but they actually have to use it daily. So my longtime goal is to open a tea shop where people can go in, get the tea, sit down, and make it a daily ritual to take care of themselves. I think the biggest thing people need to do is make, whatever time it is, fifteen minutes or one hour a day for themselves, where they slow down. For me, it is sitting down with a cup of tea, ruminating and processing. This actually can help people deal with stress and anxiety, which is one of the biggest issues in our culture. If you can take some of that pressure off yourself everyday by sitting down and letting go, that is essential. All of the stress builds up in our bodies and when you don’t let it out it starts to create illness.
I saw on your website that you do community supported herbalism (CSH). This is something I haven’t heard of before. Can you speak to how widespread that idea is?
It’s growing in Portland. I’m definitely not the only one doing it. When I lived in California, it was huge, so I don’t know if it’s just because there are more herbalists there, but they are already doing it on a larger scale. It’s the same idea as a CSA, but with herbs. The shares arrive quarterly. You get whatever is made from that season’s herbs. Fire cider to boost immunity, teas or tonics to boost low energy, honey for coughs & colds, it depends on what herbs are the right ones for that season. A share consists of a combination of herbal remedies to help you get through the next season.
Can you buy shares individually? Could you give us an example of what would be in the winter share?
Yeah, you can buy them individually or for the full year. There are large and small shares. In the winter share, I tend to do a warming tea, something like a chai or a red rooibos, and then typically an elderberry honey, which is great for building your body’s natural immunity. You can take it every day in tea or in your cereal or just have a taste. It helps people stay healthier, which is a long-term goal. Also included are tonics, honey, herbal balms or oils, and lip balms. More details on the website. www.HerbN-Tea.com
Explain your Community of Gardens + Bees Program and how you became inspired to start such a unique program.
As an herbalist and a gardener, I know how important bees are. I’ve been involved in Portland Urban Beekeepers. Every month I go and learn from all of these people who have been beekeeping for so long. So much fascinating information. We really need to do something to support the bees because we are creating huge problems for them. If we don’t do something, it’s going to affect everyone and everything. I’ve already been gardening for many years with pollinators in mind, using things in the garden that can promote their health. Bees basically go out there and get what they need for their own health, you just have to provide them with the possibilities. We’ve been seeing huge numbers of dwindling bee populations, and that’s within the beekeeping community. So we also have to think about all the native bees that we aren’t keeping tabs on. There are thousands of varieties of bees. Basically, they are solitary bees so no one is paying attention to them. The idea of this program is to encourage people that want to start a garden or that already have a garden to plant more bee-friendly plants. They have to agree to not use herbicides or pesticides in their gardens because those can greatly impact bee populations. There is a small fee for the program, but I basically volunteer my time. The fee is to buy seeds and dirt, but mostly it’s because I find that if people have to make a small monetary commitment, they are more invested. I wanted people to be really serious about being a part of this for multiple years. One year is fine, but a lot of the time you plant and the garden you are building is not instantaneous, particularly because I encourage people to start with organic seeds. We start all of our own seeds for the group. Hopefully, in a couple years, everybody has a great pollinator’s garden and it’s just overflowing with beautiful plants and flowers. I started this program because a lot of things that are good for the bees are actually good for herbalism too. It all fits in together perfectly.
Are there available spaces in your program right now?
Initially, I set this up to have a limit of a certain number of people, mostly because I was afraid everyone would want to do it all at once. What I’m realizing is that the group will continue to grow because once people are established, I have more room to start helping new people become established. I see myself as continuing to do this forever, even if there are only a few people interested, it’s better than nobody else doing anything for them. It’s interesting because the bee crisis has been popping up more in the news, and there are a lot of people getting involved in helping the bees. Because awareness has changed, it’s not quite as critical as when I first started this program. Previously, I felt like not enough people were aware of the issue. Now, the issue is becoming more well-known with people gravitating towards it because they feel like they want to do something.
What are the best bee-friendly plants?
Oh, there are so many! A lot of the plants in the sunflower family, not just for bees, but for a lot of different pollinators and birds as well. Calendula and borage flowers are also great. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned, particularly about honey bees because they live in hives as opposed to individuals, is that you need larger stands of plants.
So you would need not just one borage plant, but twenty borage plants. Not just one lavender plant, but many. Basically, the bee’s little scouts will go out and find their optimal place. If somebody has a big field of something, they’ll tend to go there instead coming all the way to my house for one plant. Bees fly up to five miles from their hive so they will go that far if they need to go, especially if there is something delectable, but they’ll tend to stay a little closer to home.
What is your favorite summer suggestion for tea and what are its properties?
I’ve got two answers for that. My first favorite is year round. It’s the Eyebright tea, and it was formulated to be nutritive and delicious. You can drink it every day. Long-term, it helps you feel better, and promotes health and vitality. The Eyebright has vanilla, rooibos, mint, and just a tiny touch of a few other herbs. It’s great hot and iced. I recommend that one. I also have a number of different mint teas that are really great for the summer because they are really cooling.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
I think it’s exactly what everybody is moving towards. Even if they’re not gardening or growing their own herbs, they are using them and cooking with them, like today’s class, making their own sodas. It’s a way to get out there and have something fun for your kids, like these bubbly sodas. They are not made with corn syrup; they’re made with honey or brown sugar and fresh herbs. That way kids get fresh ginger ale or root beer, and the parents can control how sweet it is. So the kids are getting the benefit of the flavor without all of the crazy hype of the sugar.
Do you sell the sodas?
I do not sell the sodas. I just teach people how to make them. You can come to the Mississippi Farmer’s market on Thursdays to try a few sodas..
How does HerbN Tea support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is HerbN Tea a part of any collaborative projects?
I am part of a committee that has started the Mississippi Farmers Market. Our mission was to create a market for small and start up businesses. Traditionally it can be harder for small, new businesses to get into larger farmers markets and they typically have a larger booth fee than our market. I am also a vendor at the market. My goal is to test my products and teas to see what people gravitate towards and respond to their feedback. The market is the perfect blend of diverse vendors, location, and community. The market is Thursday from 3 – 7 pm, June – mid October.
For those interested in growing herbs in their backyard, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips? Are there specific herbs that thrive in Portland?
I actually have a blog on Tumblr, and I have that exact blog post from earlier in the spring. Some of the easiest, best to grow, and most useful are calendula, which is a bright orange flower in the marigold family, peppermint, any of the mint family, yarrow, but not the hybrid yellow/pink one, the white variety, which is the native variety. But you should go look at the blog because it will show you what to grow and how to do it.
What is HerbN Tea’s next step? What is your vision for HerbN Tea ten years down the road?
The biggest long-term plan is to open a tea shop that also sells herbal products. It’s basically about supporting people to improve their health through a delicious cup of tea without maybe even knowing it. Customers would come in to enjoy a really good cup of tea, and long-term, if they kept coming back, it would improve their health. I formulate teas for flavor but I also add nutritive herbs, herbs to adapt to stress and herbs to boost immunity. Creating a habit or daily ritual of drinking tea would help long-term with everyone’s health and vitality. I really think that you can’t prolong someone’s life, but you can improve the quality of their life. So that’s the goal.
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.
Walking through Sellwood on a lazy summer day, agenda-less wanderers could indulge in the many facets of the local neighborhood economy: tasting the subtleties of a Portland microbrew at Laurelwood or Oaks Bottom Public House, getting their bikes fixed at Sellwood Cycle Repair, and finding treasures scrounging through the bins at the Bins. If at any point in their exploration of Sellwood they hear the faint, distinct sound of a hammer hitting an anvil, they would think themselves mistaken, submerged in a medieval daydream. However, that ancient sound is alive in SE Portland: local Pat Wojciechowski has breathed new life into blacksmithing, creating an urban oasis for the unexposed art form. Pat founded Oaks Bottom Forge, a business that sells hand-forged knives and also provides blacksmithing classes to share the old world skills with a wider community. While I was interviewing Pat and Whitney Mount, who is the manager, a woman walked in off the street, curious about the boisterous forge in the middle of the otherwise quiet, service-driven neighborhood. Pat said to her, “We make knives by day, and we teach by night. There’s knives up there, you’re welcome to walk around.” If you can’t make it down to their location at 8236 SE 17th St. to explore their handicraft, you can at least journey into the world of blade smithing and knife building by listening to Pat and Whitney in the interview below.
How did your interest in forging knives begin, and who helped you learn skills along the way?
Pat: I started taking an adult blacksmithing class at the Portland Waldorf School. Tom Meyers teaches that class, and he’s been there 21 years. He teaches all the woodworking and blacksmithing. Blacksmithing is a required class for every junior and senior there. When I would pick up my children, I kept hearing the blacksmith. And I’m going, “What are they doing? What am I hearing?” That’s how I got involved.
Are the blacksmithing techniques used by Oaks Bottom Forge fairly old in origin?
Pat: We definitely do an old world style; we call it a free hand style. People have been playing with fire for a long time. It’s a lot of work, that’s why most people don’t do it. Nobody here’s afraid of working hard.
Why do you have that commitment?
Pat: I just love doing it. I like the design and I like seeing results and I like working with people. It’s a great collaborative group here. We all live in the neighborhood, and this is what we do.
Pat: All of our knives are hand made. We hand forge knives one heirloom at a time.
Whitney: Most knives today are made using steel removal, so you end up grinding off the steel. You remove the metal to make the knife. We actually hand forge it so we are blacksmithing and hammering the metal to create knife instead of using the machine.
Pat: There is an art to steel removal too; we just don’t do it. They start out with a blank that is the size of that knife at the end and they very methodically remove that metal until it tapers out. They use a machine, while we hammer and hand forge ours. We hand trace each handle out of wood. There are no automatic machines here that make our handles.
Why hand forged instead of steel removal?
Pat: I don’t like shiny knifes (laughs). There is something about hand crafted that I like. Some people use big drop hammers. We use a hand held hammer and a forge and an anvil. There are plenty of other blacksmiths, but not many that make knives the way that we do.
Are there any other businesses like this in the US or in Oregon?
Whitney: Not many that are making actual hand forged without a drop hammer. Every single knife is unique because they are free hand hammered. Because we’re not using a drop hammer, not doing steel removal, every single one is slightly different.
What is the most challenging aspect of creating the knives?
Whitney: Trying to explain to people what we do. People will ask, “Oh, are these blades made in the USA?” And we always answer “Yep, they’re made right here in Portland at our shop by hand.”
Pat: Most people don’t know how knives are made. Period. They just don’t know. What they’re used to at any store is a flat, shiny knife. They see ours; they’re hammered. The material starts out an eighth of an inch thick and we hammer it. We compress all the crystals of that metal together, as opposed to just taking it and removing it. People who buy knives or know something think our knives are made out of Damascus. Damascus is layers of different metals that are pressed together, and then folded, pressed and folded, pressed and folded. It is beautifully done. Japan’s been doing it for thousands of years. So people look at our knives and say, “How many layers are in your Damascus?” We say, “It’s not Damascus.” There are drawbacks to Damascus. In the big picture, Damascus has multiple layers of metal touching each other. When you go to sharpen that, each of those metals has a different property. Some are softer, some are harder. So when you do it, you’ll still get a sharp edge, but some layers will stay sharper longer than others. It’s better for us to get brand new metal and hammer it down. Then, there is only one metal on the edge that we have to sharpen, and that is it.
Even when we tell people that we make our knives with a fire-burning forge, an anvil, and a hand-held hammer, they will always be like, “What’s that texture on there?” What is it, it’s a hammer! Some people think that you just hammer it to get a texture.
Whitney: A year after my boyfriend and I started dating, he finally asked me, “Besides just putting texture on the knife, what does hand-forged really mean?”
Pat: See? People really just don’t know. We use a charcoal forge instead of a coal forge. Charcoal is a renewable resource. Most of it is made out of trees that have been removed anyways, palates that have been discarded. Wood is a renewable resource; coal, once you take the coal out of that hill, it’s no longer a hill. Much of the country is being destroyed by coal. We are anti-coal. We do what we do with wood. There is something about the sound of a hammer smacking an anvil that is good. It’s just good, hard work. There’s nothing easy about sanding a handle. But there’s something that is very satisfying and very zen about this thing. You can’t buy this knife at Gerber. They’ll never make this knife at Gerber.
Do you get all the wood and all your other materials from close by?
Whitney: Yes, other than the stuff that we are making for Big Game Hunters. We’re definitely not getting water buffalo horn from Portland. But otherwise, most of the wood that we use is reclaimed and local. We used some of the wood that came from the building of the light rail that’s coming through SE Portland. A guy got some of that wood, kiln dried it, and donated it to us. There was a lady who got a steak knife set made out of it actually.
Pat: We get zebra wood from folks. People come buy and are like, “Do you need wood? We’ve got a lot of wood.” We’ve gotten pink rosewood from Japan, tiger wood, all kinds of different woods. The guy at Saturday Market who makes the wooden puzzles, he has wood pieces from thirty years of making those same puzzles. We trade.
Where do you get the metal?
Pat: We buy it brand new from Pacific Machinery. When we first opened, we tried to repurpose some metals. It just doesn’t pay off though because you don’t know how it’s been stressed. Brand new metal is the way to go.
You all do custom knives too?
Pat: We do! We’ve made things for people’s sixtieth birthdays. We put silver quarters on each side, hammered them flat, and then engraved on them.
How many different kinds of knives do you all make?
Pat: We started at about twenty-two different styles, but we’ve narrowed it down to right about twelve styles. We are designing a folding knife, which we’ve never done. It’s a very old design. Very simple, there are no springs, nothing to break on it. It’s low technology. I am old, so I like old things. Most people are always trying to recreate designs with tactical knives, etc. You can make knives now with colorized, anodized metal now and people are always trying to get some crazy electronic machine that will etch orange tiger strips on the side of that knife. It’s weird. This is a much older art. We are not reliant on much high technology at all. It’s a hot fire and a hand-held hammer and that’s all.
What sort of workshops does Oaks Bottom Forge offer, and how can people get involved in the educational aspect of Oaks Bottom Forge?
Whitney: When Pat started the shop, he said, “I want to make knives and I want to make our living making knives, but I want to offer classes because I want to give back to the community and I think that’s really important.” So we don’t really make money off of our classes, but we try to keep the prices low. We really want everybody to have access to it. That is something that is special that is here that is offered at a more affordable price than other places.
Pat: Some people can’t afford the knives that we make, but we’d just as soon teach them how to do it. It is all utilitarian. We have blade smithing classes, so people who come out and really have an interest in making knives, they can do that. We have knife-building classes where Mom or Dad can bring a son or a daughter and together with their hands, build a knife to make Father’s Day gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, things for grandpas, uncles. They get to spend three hours without Ipods, texting, DS games, or email, and it’s one great opportunity to do that. Those are really successful; we have three of those classes per week.
Their classes include various levels of blacksmithing, knife building, and woodworking. Check out the full list and schedule here.
How does Oaks Bottom Forge support, and receive support from, other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is Oaks Bottom Forge a part of any collaborative projects?
Whitney: We shop local, we get all of our charcoal from the True Valley Store down the road. We used to make our own charcoal, but we lost our chimney. In the big picture, we support our local groups. We’re part of the Sellwood-Moreland Business Alliance, the Northwest Blacksmith Association, the Artisan Blacksmithing Association of America, the Oregon Knife Collector’s Association. We have donated a lot of knives to schools and organizations. We have done a lot of school auctions. The Portland Homestead Supply Store is really great about advertising our classes.
Pat: They were actually the first store ever to sell our knives. Back then, it was just me hammering and sanding handles and doing the work. It was before Christmas. My baby’s mama said, “You should go down there, and I did.” Kristl, owner of the Portland Homestead Supply, bought a dozen knives right there; she has always been our biggest supporter. So cool.
Pat: We opened the shop last spring. Our first fire was last March, at the spring equinox at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. Everybody came and wrote things on pieces of paper and put them in the forge. We started our fire that morning.
It’s amazing that you all are this close in in Sellwood.
Pat: The landlord actually wanted us here. We went looking for a lot of buildings. This landlord, who owns a lot of buildings, didn’t have to rent us this building. He called me and said, “You sure you don’t want this building? I really like what you’re doing, making hand-forged knives. I like that you’ll be teaching; our community really needs that.” He said, “I just don’t think we need another nail salon in Sellwood.”
We hoped that the difference between having the forge in the window instead of tucked away in a warehouse would be to sell a few more retail knives a month. We can make a fair living for all of us. My big goal was for blacksmiths and artisans to make a living, which is something that no one else is doing. Anyways, we got a window front kind of like a fishbowl. It’s nice to be able to share it. When children walk by, they love watching the fire. It’s not a lost art, it’s just not a very exposed art.
What is Oaks Bottom Forge’s next step? What is your vision for Oaks Bottom Forge ten years down the road?
Pat: We’re into more stores now. My big goal is I’d like us to be Portland’s destination for hand-forged cutlery. If you’re looking for a unique, hand-forged gift, I’d like to be Portland’s choice. We would like to be more well known.
Go Africa, which is an African safari group, likes our knives. They’ve been field tested from Oregon to Africa. Our knives passed with flying colors. If it works in Africa on the biggest game out there, it certainly works in your kitchen.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Pat: People my age come in and say, “My grandfather was a blacksmith.” Well, yeah, back then, everybody’s grandfather was a blacksmith. That’s what they had to be. Back then, there wasn’t IKEAS, they wasn’t box stores, everything was custom. If you needed a dining room table for your house and you didn’t have the woodworking skills, you went to the family that built tables. That’s what they did. It is a primitive skill. It’s a good thing to know. I think some people just want to get back to their roots, to what their grandfather did. They remember seeing their forge at their grandfathers or they got to hang out with grandpa while he was hammering. I think it’s a really good skill. I think people are interested.
Whitney: Beyond that, if you can’t take the classes, having something that you know is handmade is important. Our products appeal to the DIY community, knowing where your food comes from. You know nothing is imported from overseas, not only in the US, it’s made in your city here, and you can come and see it. You know how it was produced and who made it. You know it’s going to last for a long time, which is totally against the culture and buying something cheap and having to buy it twenty times in your lifetime.
Pat: Our knives last for generations. That’s what it’s about. It’s nice to know that you’re making something functional that someone will inherit. Every kid wants their grandfather’s knife!
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.