Archive for the ‘Vendor Spotlight’ Category
One contemporary writer has said, “We eat so much corn that, biologically speaking, most Americans are corn on two legs.” What if, instead of eating the byproducts of corn, we began consuming corn again in purer and more delicious forms? What if we gave corn back some dignity? Three Sisters Nixtamal, an organic corn masa and tortilla making business based out of Sellwood, has just this vision. Read the interview below with the owners, Wendy Downing and Adriana Azcárate-Ferbel, to learn about how they incorporate the tradition of corn in the Americas into their business and how you can incorporate the power of corn into your own life.
How did you meet each other and form the idea of Three Sisters Nixtamal?
Wendy: We met in prenatal yoga ten years ago in Sellwood. I have a chef background, and Adriana has a naturopath background. Adriana went to Mexico six or seven years after we had become friends and inherited her aunt’s tortilla cutter and bought a small stone grinder when she was there. Upon her return, she asked if I wanted to go into business with her. We starting selling our products in July of 2012 at the People’s Farmer Market and not long after at the Portland Homestead Supply.
Is that tortilla cutter still in operation?
Adriana: No, but I still have it. It’s a simple cutting machine— we picked up the tortillas off the belt and cooked them on a flat-top grill. Now, we have two machines that do all this in one.
Where did you learn to make corn masa and tortillas?
Wendy: We learned this process by researching on line and in books and then going to businesses in Portland, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and in Mexico that are still making their tortillas and fresh masa the traditional way.
Adriana: Nixtamaliztion and tortilla making has been done for thousands of years in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. The cooking and soaking whole dried corn kernels in water, salt, and lime (an alkaline, calcium hydroxide, not citrus lime) is a nutrient-enriching process discovered over three thousand years ago by the Indigenous people inhabiting what is now southeast Mexico and Guatemala. Everyone used to cook corn at their house and grind it by hand or take it to a local mill, but with modern times and the industrialization of the food system, people are mostly buying masa or tortillas at grocery stores or tortillerias and it is becoming more prevalent to use the dried tortilla flour instead of fresh masa.
Adriana: You see, they’re cooking blue corn, white corn, and yellow corn in these vats. She’s mixing the corn so that it will cook evenly. We can’t digest the nutrition in the corn without this cooking process; it unlocks the nutrients.
To cook it properly we have to taste it, check the temperature, and check how it feels to really say if it’s ready or not. When the kernels are cooked they soak overnight. The next morning we drain and rinse the corn and put it through a wet grinder. Our “Molino” has one fixed stone and another stationary stone so you can adjust the stones for the coarseness of the grind. We do custom orders for restaurants or individuals based on their desired grind for the corn. After we grind it, we mix it in the mixer. Masa needs to be mixed for the starches to join together. We then add water and a little bit of salt, and then it is ready to be made into tortillas or packed into blocks for people and restaurants to make their own.
Where do you source all of the corn?
It varies depending on what is available. Our blue corn typically comes from New Mexico and Mexico. The white and the yellow corn come from Illinois or Texas. We used to get it from Southern Oregon and Northern California, but the quality varied and that particular distributor preferred working with larger companies. It can be challenging for small companies to find a constant source of organic corn since the corn is harvested in the fall and then stored for the rest of the year. Sources have to change as the availability varies.
Most people now use masa harina or maseca at home, which is an industrially-made dried tortilla corn flour. The flavor and texture is not the same. We cook the corn kernels, grind them, and do not mix them with any flour. Most tortilla companies use this dried tortilla flour because it is easier, more consistent and takes less labor and expertise. Some companies mix the dried flour with fresh masa for a more standard and cheaper product. We use only 100% freshly nixtamalized organic corn masa with no added preservatives— just four ingredients: whole dried corn, water, lime (calcium hydroxide), and salt. Our way costs more. Corn production is subsidized by the United States and the company that makes the tortilla flour is subsidized by Mexico so there are two subsidies, and it’s really, really cheap. People might choose the tortillas from maseca because it’s less expensive, but once people taste the difference between our tortillas and the others, that’s when they are like, “Wow, this tastes better!”
Do you supply specific restaurants in the Portland region?
Yes! La Taq, La Panza Café and Stella Taco use mostly our masa and tortillas. We are also on the menu at two of the ChaChaCha! restaurants, Blossoming Lotus, Pono Farms at the Portland Farmers Market, Irving Street Kitchen, Bijou, Groundbreaker, American Local and Paragon. Our tamale masa is on the menu at Por Que No and Sarah’s Tamales at People’s Co-op Farmers Market.
There is a new food cart here in Sellwood, D.F. Fresh, and they are making tlacoyos, which almost no one makes in the United States. Tlacoyos are usually made with blue corn masa, and they are stuffed with beans, Mexcian ricotta, and favas or nopales. D.F. Fresh is making market type quesadillas out of our masa. It’s not easy to find 100% nixmatal.
A lot of people buy the tortilla flour masa and have a hard time getting the right consistency for making tortillas. It is easier to achieve the right consistency and a softer tortilla with fresh masa. If you have a tortilla press, you put the ball of masa between two plastic bags in it, press it as thick or as thin as you want, and then put the tortilla on a preheated griddle on medium to medium high heat. Put your tortilla on the griddle for thirty seconds. When the edges began to turn up just a bit and the color becomes more opaque, it is ready to flip the first time. After that, you wait a minute and then flip it again, and usually it puffs. If the tortilla hasn’t puffed, you should keep it on the grill for a bit longer. When you are preparing tortillas for tacos, you want it to puff because the steam inside the air bubble is going to keep your tortilla moist and softer. If you can cook a pancake, you can make a tortilla. It just takes one extra turn.
Can you use a rolling pin instead of a tortilla press?
Yes, it will just be harder and less even. When I lived in Spain, I didn’t have my press, so I used to press my tortillas between books. You can also press it by hand, but it will be thicker, more like a gordita or sope.
Masa is used for more than just tortillas. Its flexibity is the best thing about it! You don’t have to do just tortillas, you can make sopes, gorditas, tlacoyo, use it with other ingredients for tamales or pupusas. You can do so many things.
How often do you teach classes at the Portland Homestead Supply?
Once a month. We teach participants how to make tortillas, sopes, and gorditas. It’s really fun because we bring beans and salsas, so you get to eat everything you make! In most cooking classes, you sit down and observe. Here, no, everyone is making their own things because I want them to be able to go home and do it.
Is your masa available at most markets that sell your tortillas?
The fresh masa is more perishable than our tortillas and people are not familiar with it or sometimes don’t want to take the time to make their own tortillas. About half of the stores stock our masa as well as our tortillas. Portland Homestead was the first store to sell our products so you can find it here or if you can special order masa if you would like a larger quantity or a coarser grind for making tamales.
How long does the masa last?
Ten to twelve days. Longer if you don’t mind it fermenting a little bit. It’s ok if it’s a little fermented. We make fermented masa and corn beverages in Mexico like tequino.
What is your next step as a business?
I would love to be more accessible to some Latino stores in the community. We are reaching out to make connections to church groups so they can provide healthier food to their communities. I wish that we could be slightly subsidized so we could supply healthier food to a wider customer base. Some people shy away from the word organic, but it is better for the planet and the people. Our people have been eating tortillas for thousands of years, and now they are ingesting all of these chemical preservatives in their tortillas and eating non-organic. I would love to be able to provide something healthier for them.
Our goal is to provide great food and bring the spirit of the corn to everyone. Some people in the U.S. have a preconceived notion that they don’t really like corn tortillas. When they try ours, they say “Oh, wow, I didn’t even know that they tasted that good.” Our tortillas have a better texture and taste better because we don’t use chemicals, and we are treating the corn the way it has been treated for thousands of years. In Mexico, we have songs that say without corn, we are not people. We are not a nation without corn. So part of our business is bringing respect to the corn again. We would like to educate more people about why we are doing this and why they should choose this product.
Corn is a grain of the Americas. Learning to utilize it the way it should be used is bringing back who we are. We are teaching people how to use the fresh organic corn masa so they can use it to make their own food at home and teach their children. Our kids love making their own tortillas. I have customers who tell me that making tortillas has become an activity that brings their family together.
We want to teach people that making tortillas is something you can do! It’s not that hard. That’s why we began offering the masa. Not only is it more economical, once people try it out, they discover that it’s not that hard to prepare tortillas at home. Our traditional tortilla making process is bringing back knowledge that has been lost through the industrialization of our food system.
I sat down to wait for Isla at Grand Central Bakery in Sellwood. She walked in with effervescent exuberance, greeting each Grand Central employee by name and then proceeding to ask with genuine curiosity about each of their mornings. For those of you who frequent the Portland Homestead Supply, you have probably had the chance to interact with the lovely Isla; she works the front desk on Tuesdays and teaches the candle making classes at the store. The pleasant surprise is that she is not only an employee, but also a vendor! Isla is the proud owner of Wee Mindings, a small business that sells heart-felt gifts like candles, lotion bars, lip balms, and soaps. Read below to find out more about Isla, the inspiration for her business, and helpful candle-making tips.
When did you start making candles, and how did you learn?
When I was living overseas, I bought several books on candle making. I would read about it, but also would buy a candle every time I went shopping. As soon as we moved to Sellwood three years ago, I signed up for a candle-making class with Kristl. I was in one of the first candle-making classes taught at the Homestead Supply. I fell in love with it! I got home and decided that I needed to learn all the nitty-gritty about candle-making in order to make it into a business for myself. I started my business in January of 2013.
Tell me the story behind Wee Mindings.
Wee Mindings means little gifts in Scottish. When I was growing up, my granny used to come to boarding school and give us little treats. She would come and say, “Here’s a wee minding for you to cheer you up!” We shared a love for potions and lotions, so she would usually drop off little hand creams at school for me. My granny passed away about eight years ago at the age of 90 after a good, long life. We were really close, and I wanted to honor her in some way through my business. So that’s the Wee Mindings. I also think it’s hard to find affordable but good quality little gifts. My concept is to make really high quality products that are affordable for a big section of the population. When I used to go shopping for nice candles, they were in the $30 range, which is ridiculous for a candle. We all need little gifts on hand that won’t break the bank!
Is making the candles affordable a big challenge for you?
It’s not. I’m lucky that I can obtain most of my ingredients locally. I get many products through the Portland Homestead Supply store. The challenge is not making the candles affordable, but is finding stores where my products fit. A lot of the stores think that good candles need to sell for $25 or more, and I think there is a big market in Portland for people seeking natural and nicely packaged gifts in the $5 to $20 price range.
Where else do you sell, besides online?
I sell at a wonderful fair trade shop on Mississippi called PDXchange. They carry many of my products – candles, lip balms and bath sachets. The Sellwood Dog Supply also carries my candles!
What are common challenges beginners face in making soaps or candles? Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your work?
One of the cool things about candle-making is that it’s a journey. Maybe one day you’ll do something and it turns out great. The next day you may have a big sinkhole in the top of your candle. People get frustrated that they’ve done everything according to the instructions, and it hasn’t turned out just right. I like to say that the best thing to do is to take notes. Write down what your pour temperature is and see how that effects the overall look of your candles. That way, if there are any issues you can adjust the temperature accordingly. I give out lots of tips in the candle making class on how to create soy and beeswax candles at home, and how to fix any imperfections. My key point to share is that if you want to have consistent results with your candles, you need to be measuring temperatures, and practice makes perfect!
What types of wax do you use for candle making? What are the pros and cons of the waxes that you use?
I use both soy and beeswax. I love beeswax because it’s a natural, renewable resource and it makes the longest burning natural candle you can make. Beeswax candles burn about twice as long as a soy candle the same size. The only con about beeswax is that you have to find a melting pot to dedicate to beeswax, as it doesn’t clean up easily. It can also be trickier to find the correct wick size when working with beeswax.
I really enjoy working with soy because I personally love fragrant not overpowering candles, and soy holds fragrance really well. Soy is a very clean burning vegetable, so it’s easy to clean up, unlike beeswax.
Soy burns twice as long as a paraffin candle the same size. Paraffin candles are what you see in most stores like Target and World Market. Paraffin is the cheapest wax you can buy. It is created from the sludge waste when crude oil is refined into gasoline. It contains a lot of dodgy chemicals, mainly formaldehyde and benzene. When you burn paraffin, it is emitting those chemicals into the air. I chose to work with soy and beeswax because I want to create natural candles that are not toxic, and are safe to burn around the entire family and pets.
Different soy waxes exist for different applications. You would want a low melting soy wax if you were using essential oils with a really low flash point, like lemon or sweet orange essential oil. You couldn’t add those essential oils into a 150 degree soy wax because they would just evaporate.
For people that are just starting out, where would you suggest getting materials or doing classes?
All are available at the Homestead Supply store! We have people come from out of town, the Gorge, Oregon Coast because they find us online and know we have everything to make candles from start to finish. We have the wicks, the tabs, the wax, the molds, the containers.
What is your favorite “wee minding” that you have created over the years?
I set up a booth at the Scottish Highland Games last summer. It was really nice for me to see who bought my products and why. Most people are drawn to my logo and to the Celtic script. What I loved about it most was that they wanted to share with me tales of their Scottish heritage. A lady bought a candle at the Highland Games and went back to North Carolina. It was a ‘Secret Garden’ candle that smells of sweet violet and lime. She emailed me right before Christmas and asked if I could use the candle fragrance in soaps so she could wash in it! She told me that she suffered from depression her whole life and that the fragrance made her happy. That would be one of my favorite customer stories!
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Unlike some of the other vendors who are selling items that you buy to help create something, I am actually handcrafting goods for the gift category. I operate in kind of direct competition with people who come in to create their own candles. I hope that for every person that wants to do that, there is another who says, “Oh, here’s a candle ready made up, and I’m going to buy it.” Similarly to other homesteaders, I go by the premise that I like to use ingredients that are beneficial to your health and skin. Sharing my candle making skills with others in the candle class gives me a lot of joy, and helps me be more of a homesteader!
What is your vision for your business five or ten years down the road?
My immediate goal would be to try to expand into a couple more stores that I love in the Portland area. I’ve met with New Seasons and Whole Foods about getting my products into their stores. Unfortunately, right now, I don’t have the manpower to sell there, should I be fortunate enough for them to express an interest, because I create and package everything from start to finish, which is really time-consuming. Unless I expand and hire people, being in a big retailer would not be feasible. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t like that down the road, but I’d need to do a lot of thinking. In the immediate future, selling in small boutique gift shops in the Portland metro area is my goal.
For the people that read this on the Homestead blog, I’d love to say a huge thank you to everyone who has purchased a Wee Minding for themselves or as a gift, or attended a candle class. Thank you for supporting my business and I wish all of you a new year filled with light and joy!
And last but not least, thank you to the Portland Homestead Supply – the first store in Portland to carry Wee Mindings. I’m so grateful for everything you have done for me.
You can browse through Isla’s products at her website – www.weemindings.com.
On a rainy Saturday, I came upon Neil Bohne’s booth at the Portland Saturday Market. Holiday shoppers teemed around his booth, bestowing praise upon Neil’s unique handmade wooden and acrylic razors. Neil has a magic hand for all things wooden and sells not just his distinctive razors at the Portland Homestead Supply, but also soap molds and molded beeswax. After beginning to sell soap molds for the Homestead Supply, Neil took a soap-making class and now only uses handmade soap in his own home! Read the interview below to learn more about Neil, his unique art, and how he sees himself fitting into the homestead movement.
How did you begin making handmade shaving razors?
A few years ago, I was selling cutting boards at the Saturday Market. There were so many other artists selling cutting boards, so I thought I would change it up. I had made my Dad a razor set for Father’s Day, and it was a hit, so I started producing and selling shaving razors for the Saturday Market.
I am active in the Air Force, which is what brought me to Portland. I’ve got seventeen years in and three years left to go. I get home at 5:00 at night, work in the garage until about midnight, and sell on the weekends on the Saturday Market. When I retire in three years, I’ll be doing this full time.
It is a badger hair brush. The reason I use the badger hair brush is because it holds the most amount of water, and it’s all natural. The brush is used to stimulate the whiskers before a shave.
Are there other people who are occupying the same market niche as you currently?
Absolutely not. I am the only person in the Portland area that’s doing these handmade razor sets. There are people doing them in other areas, but I’m trying to differentiate mine by making unique designs, like the deer antlers, natural woods, and acrylics.
Here at the Saturday Market, there’s a lot of jewelry and clothing, but there’s not many gifts for guys, which has turned out to be a niche that’s good for me.
I have a lot of different materials that I craft my razors out of. My favorite and the more popular design is my natural-shed white deer antler razor. The antlers are from Montana. I go out in the woods and find them myself in the spring, so they are naturally procured.
I go to the scrap bins for the wood that I make my razors out of. So instead of throwing wood away or burning it, I turn it into something that’s going to last a lifetime. On some of my razor handles, I mix acrylic and put it in the voids of the wood. Those turn out just beautiful as well.
I make beeswax wood conditioner that I sell at the Portland Homestead Supply. It is all natural beeswax that I filter myself, and then I mix it with mineral oil. It’s 100% food safe for conditioning wooden cutting boards.
In terms of the process, how do you go about making the razors?
Everything starts out as either a piece or a block of wood. I cut the wood to a square size that I need, and then I drill a hole inside that for the razors, and then I turn them out. Once I get them to where I like them, I sand them down to about 1000 grit, and coat them with superglue, which makes them 100% waterproof.
When did you learn to work with wood?
I started out making cutting boards. Nature is amazing with the different types of woods and designs and styles she can make. Woodworking gets my mind off of other things and get’s me into a world of my own. I learned many of my skills watching YouTube videos. A lot of artists share their abilities and ideas on YouTube. I learned through them and through trial and error.
Have you ever taught woodworking classes?
I’ve been asked by WoodCraft to teach people how to do the acrylic work because it’s an art to work with the acrylic and get different colors. You have to get things just right. I mix the colors all myself. I make my own molds for the acrylic, then pour it in, and let it harden.
What is the purpose of a soap mold for those of us who have never made soap?
Soap molds hold soap into a form when you are making homemade soap. People use wooden soap molds because they hold heat well. If you are doing a cold process soap, you need to be able to keep heat in for twenty four hours so that the saponification can occur. If you do a hot process, the wood also holds the heat, but acts principally as a form to mold the soap.
How do you feel like your work contributes to the larger homestead movement?
The shaving razors are bringing people back to more of the pioneer days of using double edge safety razors and badger hair brushes. The soap molds are imperative because they allow people to make their own soap for use at home. The beeswax conditioner allows them to keep wood products they own from cracking or drying out.
What’s your next step for your business?
Right now, I am the sole proprietor. My shaving sets have become so popular that I’ve had a lot of local businesses ask me to do wholesale. As soon I retire from the air force, I am thinking of getting some local employees, producing more, and going wholesale with my items.
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.
Angela Creais, who teaches the mending class at the Homestead Supply and also sells beautifully sewn kitchen items, lives just blocks away from the Homestead Supply. Ashley and Ethan, owners of Feastworks, who teach the butchering class, have a charcuterie down the block from the Homestead Supply. Oaks Bottom Forge, a
forge that sells hand-made knives, is just down the road as well. The Portland Homestead Supply is a Sellwood hub of creativity, ingenuity, and people taking things into their own hands. Angela, whose work you can see displayed on the right, is just one example of the homegrown economy that the Portland Homestead Supply cultivates. Check out the interview with Angela below to learn a few sewing tips and gain insight into Portland’s best sewing resources.When did you start sewing, and who did you learn from?
I’m self—taught. In the 1980s I got really interested in sewing and started to order fabric and buy patterns and make my own clothes. I did this for about five years or so, and then I got involved in the corporate world and had no time for it anymore. I came back to sewing ten years ago with an increased interest in apparel and things for the home. When I retired from Xerox in 2006 I went to a local home décor workshop here and said, “I’ll work for nothing. I just want to hone my skills.” The owner hired me to do that, and I stayed with her for about six months and learned things that I had never had any experience with. After that, I started to work at Mill End Store, a huge fabric store in Milwaukie, as a part time job. There, everyone sews and it is a very supportive and skilled community. Now I’m back to a full-time job with little time for my handiwork.
What are the types of things that you sell at the Portland Homestead Supply?
I make potholders, tea towels, tea cozies, clothespins bags, hangers with lavender bags in them so your clothes smell nice, little covers for jars and lots of other things. It’s fun making little things because you have a specific number you’re going to make, and you start and finish them, instead of laboring for days over a larger project.
What is your favorite piece that you have created, either recently or over the years?
I saw these tea towels in Paris last year and I thought this was such a clever idea. When you go to Paris you do all the touristy things but you don’t usually spend much time in a department store. They have the most amazing department stores there! I took one half-day and went to the BHV Marais by myself and combed every floor and every department. In the kitchen area I admired beautiful tea towels which have a piece of twill tape sewn down the middle with a loop at the end for hanging. I’d never seen anything like these in this country and so I started to make them for Kristl at the Homestead Supply and they sell very well. Those and my chicken pot holders are my favorites.
Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your work?
If you’re making more than one of something do it in a pieced way. Do all the ruffles at one time, then all the hems, etc. Sew in a production mode. It will go a lot faster and you won’t get bored as easily.
In my beginning mending class the first thing that I teach people is how to thread a needle, how to tie a knot in the thread, and five simple stitches because those are the very basic things that a lot of people don’t know. People feel that once they have these few basic things down, they can sew anything, and they can. People who haven’t sewn much usually only have a needle and thread and their hands. It’s exciting to see people discover that that combination is really all they need to fix or even make things.
Are there any meet-ups or resources that you might know about for people interested in learning to sew or in sharing sewing skills?
PCC offers great classes; I’ve taken pattern-making classes there. The art institute here, PNCA, offers a degree in fashion design. Portland Parks & Recreation offers very basic sewing, knitting, and crocheting classes and Sharon Blair at Portland Sewing offers great classes for beginners and advanced sewers and designers. Anybody who sews in Portland goes to Mill End Store, Fabric Depot and wonderful little shops like Bolt. At Mill End I met customers and employees who only quilt or just sew lingerie or headbands. Everybody’s got a specialty.
Then, there is also this whole hand-sewing trend going on right now. Modern Domestic is a great store on Alberta that sells sewing machines and all kinds of fabric. They recently gave a three-day seminar on hand sewing, not just mending, but sewing everything by hand.
Do you teach any classes?
I teach a class on mending at Portland Homestead Supply, and I also belong to Repair PDX, which is a group of volunteers that fix things. We meet once a month at different locations, and our September meeting was at Portland Homestead Supply. You can get your bike tuned, you can have a small appliance fixed, your knives sharpened, your computer fixed, your resume edited, etc. I am usually there with two or three other ladies who sew. My specialty is zippers. I don’t know why, I just love fixing zippers.
Once a year Repair PDX also does something called PDX Skillshare. This year, fifty different people gave fifty different classes. One of the women I met through my mending class taught a class on book-binding. I took a class on blogs, and one on silk-screening, all in one day. PDX Skillshare is great because it is totally free and offers every imaginable class.
It’s a critical piece. When I describe my mending class on Homestead Supply’s website I say teenagers and men are cordially welcome because most of the people that come to the class are women. I had one wonderful guy that took my class who had never held a needle in his hand and yet I know men who know how to sew and to iron and they do it for themselves, not for anyone else. Everyone can benefit from knowing these few simple things.
What is your next step in your sewing endeavors?
I have a new job and I just finished school (again). Between working full-time and school, something had to give so it was my sewing. I’m actually having a little bit of withdrawal! As you will see, my sewing room is imploding on me because I have so much fabric and stuff and I’ve neglected it these last few months so I’m going to take a few days off soon and clean up my act. I can’t wait.
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.
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.
Posted in Vendor Spotlight | Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
Meet Our Broom Maker
We are very excited to be carrying Scheumack Brooms at the shop. Thurman Scheumack hand crafts each of his brooms in his studio in Eugene, Oregon. Once a year, Thurman makes a cross-country road trip back home to Arkansas to pick up Sassafras branches harvested by friends who maintain sustainable stands of the hardy trees. He then makes his way to Texas to pick up the broom corn before coming back to Oregon to begin assembling several hundred handcrafted brooms. (more…)