As I write this final article, I am surrounded by boxes ready to be loaded into a cargo trailer and hauled to Texas, my new home. I’m so excited for what is ahead for me, my two dogs and two parrots, but I know I’ll miss a lot of what Oregon has offered me in the last 67 years.
I have enjoyed writing these columns, not only because I’ve met some amazing people under some unique circumstances, but I am a learner and these encounters have given me an opportunity to expand my horizons, and hopefully, yours too.
One of the first articles I wrote was about Dallas and Rhonda Amer of Kalapuya Honey, and it absolutely checked all the boxes! I met Dallas, his daughter and son-in-law in Sutherlin and we headed east of town.
I was busy taking notes, not paying any attention to where we were going when Dallas pulled the truck off of the road and turned in his seat and gave me a very serious look. “Do not, under any circumstances, tell anybody where we are going.”
I laughed then and I’m still laughing now, because I had no idea where we were, where we’d been or where we might be in between! He was concerned that two legged predators might try to find his hives, along with the four-legged variety that he already had to deal with. Winnie the Pooh wasn’t the only bear who loves honey.
When we finally got to the hives, set among lushly blooming blackberry vines, as soon as we got out of the truck I could see thousands of honey bees, flying to and from those hives. I had never seen so many bees!
We approached the hives and the magic unfolded. Dallas donned his bee suit and started his smoker, a device that pumps out smoke, which calms the bees. He pulled the top off one of the hives and motioned me over. I had done my homework and knew that bees are friendly little critters, if you are quiet and calm, so when some of them landed on my forearm, I ignored them.
I’ll never forget Dallas commenting on my calmness and the look of approval when I told him that I’d been researching. He offered me a taste from the comb, honey in its purest state, warmed by the afternoon sun. I’m quite the foodie and have tasted some pretty fine things, but nothing, before or since, can compare to that taste of honey.
I’ve been involved in agriculture all my life, so some of the people I interviewed were like going home. Monte and Karen Burcher, purveyors of fine beef at Burcher Ranch, were a delight. They raise Dexter beef, a small beef breed that yields prime quality in smaller cuts, much more to the liking of your cardiologist.
I wouldn’t exactly call the Dexters “cute” but seeing full grown cattle of such diminutive proportions gave me pause. These cattle are all inky black, with their lush winter coats shining. One calf, concerned that I was going to interfere with his lunch, pulled his head away from his momma’s udder, displaying a white frothy ring around his mouth, perfect for the “Got Milk” advertising campaign.
The Burchers gave me a great interview and I left there with a grin on my face on account of that silly calf, and an appreciation for the way the Burchers raise their beef. Low stress, lush pastures, plenty of acreage to give them freedom and a good quality of life. Clearly, these producers care about what they sell at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market.
Another livestock article that I still get a chuckle out of was done out in Glide at North Buffalo Ranch. As I said, I’ve been involved with agriculture all of my life, but buffalo were new to me. The research I did was so interesting that I kept learning after the article was printed. On the way to the animals, we passed handling pens of enormous size, made of massive materials like railroad ties, guard rails and huge sections of pipe. While I silently pondered what it took to contain these animals, we drove into the middle of the herd.
Daniel North, owner, got out of the truck and casually walked among the animals, pointing out this and that. I stayed in the truck. He encouraged me to get out. I stayed in the truck. One of the junior bulls walked over to the front of the truck and began rubbing his enormous head against the front fender, rocking the truck enough that tea sloshed out of my cup.
I stayed in the truck.
Two of the younger bulls were giving each other the stink eye, then started making ugly noises that I can best describe as “woofing.” I stayed in the truck. It was an enlightening interview. I must admit that I have a fascination with the buffalo, but I’m glad I stayed in the truck!
Valadez Organic Produce was fairly new to the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market when I went to their place near Myrtle Creek to do their interview. Ever since I moved to Canyonville over 15 years ago, I had been admiring their operation when I drove by on the freeway so I was anxious to get a closer look.
Juan was working on one of the other places they farm when I got there, but Lucy and several of the kids greeted me and we took a walk down to the growing area.
Something that had a very profound effect on me was the footprints in the dust on the dirt road — footprints of all sizes, from kids of four years old (lots of those, since they are twins!) on up to teenage footprints. Adults wore shoes, kids, not so much. Footprints that wandered off the roadway to grab a handful of strawberries or grapes or blackberries or maybe a cucumber. Footprints that carried armloads of produce out of the field to pack in boxes, footprints that had walked along those rows, planting the seeds that they would harvest later.
I was so impressed with the knowledge these little people had in them, knowledge that they gained through osmosis. This was the playground of a new generation of farmers.
My relationship with the Valadez family is something that I treasure. I was honored to be invited to their beautiful daughters Quinceanera, her coming of age celebration. One of the twins used to come sit in my booth at the farmers market. We didn’t converse… he’s a man of few words, and he may have been more interested in my parrot than me, but still, I knew I had found a place in that family.
Some interviews were straight forward, involving one product, and others were all over the place. I loved those! I never knew what would be at the end of the next row.
Deb Gilding, proprietress of Debs Garden, was like opening a whole pile of surprise presents. Deb is fascinated by all things that grow. All things. Her father instilled in her a love and talent for grafting fruit trees and she has used this gift to grow dozens of different kinds of apples on her small hillside farm. I doubt if she has more than 100 apple trees, but she probably has half again that many varieties, thanks to her talent for grafting scions that she buys on the internet to her existing trees.
Besides apples, Deb grows row after row of cane berries, traditional garden produce, several varieties of stone fruit and citrus fruit. Dave, her husband, put up a greenhouse for her citrus and she has oranges, lemons, limes and a strange thing called a Buddha Hand that looks like a large yellow glove.
When asked what her goal was, as far as what she grows for the farmers market, she said that she wanted her customers to be able to taste a lot of different things. She doesn’t sell nor does she aspire to sell large quantities, but small quantities of a large variety. This is her way of educating folks so they realize that there is more out there than red raspberries and green beans.
Barbara Anderson, of Wing Shadow Farm, gave me a great interview. When she and her husband Dave moved here, she was planning on growing a garden, some herbs, doing some canning and freezing and building a new home. Luckily that new home has a gourmet kitchen big enough to do some serious baking, because Barbara sells out nearly every week at the farmers market.
I have so enjoyed watching her business develop and grow. When I went to her place to do the interview, the raspberries were ripening, and I was encouraged to help myself, which I did, gleefully. The property the Andersons bought already had some fruit trees and copious raspberries, and they have been planting additional fruit.
Barbara is a fine example of someone who has bloomed where she planted herself, getting involved in Master Gardening, Master Food Preserving and the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market, not only as a vendor, but as a board member.
Like other vendors, she views the market as a community where selling your wares is only part of the gig. The other part is educating shoppers, presenting new varieties of flavors and letting shoppers know where their food really comes from and how it gets to them, whether in the form of a box of tomatoes or a raspberry cream cheese brownie.
As I sign off, I want to thank all the people who used my little email address at the end of each of my articles to tell me that they enjoyed the article, or that they tried one of the recipes and loved it, or that I brought back some old memories. Apparently a lot of you picked beans when you were growing up!
If you don’t already shop at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market, I urge you to do so. You’ll find it in the parking lot of the Methodist Church on Harvard Avenue in Roseburg, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, year round.
Y’all eat your vegetables now, ya hear?