Local Small-Scale Farmers Share Joys & Struggles of Growing in Central Oregon

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(Gigi Meyer and Rosie the goat in calendulas | Photo courtesy of Windflower Farm LLC)

Central Oregon can be a challenging place to grow things, but there are an increasing number of small, family run farms in the region where hearty souls have found ways around our cold and sometimes-fickle climate, the deer, land development and other farming obstacles common to the area.

From flowers and vegetables to pigs and eggs and just about everything in between, these small-scale farmers sell their wares through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, farmer’s markets and to local resorts, restaurants and grocery stores. They have used ingenuity to stay afloat, and have evolved with the times to keep their operations going as Central Oregon grows and changes.

The sampling of Central Oregon growers listed below is far from exhaustive, but provides an overview of what life is like for these hardworking folks. For a more complete listing, please visit localharvest.org/bend-or/csa.

Fields Farm

Jim and Debbie Fields have operated their small farm — located at 61915 Pettigrew Road in Bend — since 1989. As one of the first small-scale farms in the area, they have watched Central Oregon explode with newcomers, and have had to fight off developers wanting to purchase their 10-acre site. But they have weathered the storms over the years, literally and figuratively, and are still hard at work growing vegetables for their CSA program and the local farmer’s markets. 

“I had taken a master gardener class, and learned how to grow in a cold climate,” says Jim Fields. “At the time, Bend was considered too cold to farm, and it was in the middle of nowhere back then. Our CSA started 32 years ago, and was made of up friends and coworkers, a cooperative daycare program and mainly people who were interested in what they were eating.” The Fields have had a CSA every year since then, he says, though the program has grown and shrunk over the years. “We’ve had as many as four to five workers on the farm, interns and we have trained other farmers,” he says. They have also had many volunteers over the years, he says, and at one point even had a group of moms who would come to the farm and help.

Currently, Fields, who is 66, says he and Debbie are attempting to age out and are bringing in a friend who is a farm worker, Jeremy Fox, to assist. “Last year, we had no workers. It was just me and Jeremy and my wife helping.” Although they did not participate in the Wednesday afternoon farmer’s market in downtown Bend last year due to the challenges brought on by COVID, the Fields say they will likely rejoin the market this summer. “We’ve being doing that farmer’s market since the first year it became weekly on Wednesdays.”

The Fields — who grow a wide range of vegetables including arugula, asparagus, beans, beets, brussels sprouts, specialty broccolis and cauliflowers, cabbage, carrots, collards, corn, cucumbers, garlic, greens, lettuce and lettuce mix, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, peppers, potatoes, onions, scallions, summer squash and tomatoes — have also sold their produce to local restaurants, and they sell to Locavore (centraloregonlocavore.org) in Bend. “We have supported Locavore for long time. When we started, we were it. But nowadays, in the past five to eight years, there are a lot of other farmers growing here.” 

Their seasonal CSA program, Fields says, has always been oriented to utilizing nature as it is: the sun when it shines and water from the mountains. “We don’t use any artificial means of extending the season, no propane or gas to heat the greenhouse. We use a greenhouse, but we don’t try to have the first crop of anything anymore. Our CSA starts at the end of May with smaller bags, and it gets heavier and heavier as the season goes on. We’ve always worked with nature, and that’s what we continue to do.”

Fields says the business is doing well, and he and Debbie are enjoying their work-life balance. “For me, my work life is about whether or not I am enjoying myself. We love our work, so that’s the benefit. We get to work outside as farmers, so we are in tune with nature, the birds, etc. That’s a joy for us, as is nurturing plants. Our work is solitary outside, but we have interaction with customers once or twice a week, so we have that socialization.” He adds, “Financial pressures are behind us now, so we like our work-life balance as it is now.” 

The greatest challenge in his years as a farmer here, Fields says, has always been the weather. “There are so many variables that a farmer is not in control of. You have to be flexible and work with the weather. I’ve been at market on a Wednesday evening, and the weather will change overnight. We’ve had July and August frosts.” He says being a manager and trying to keep staff happy and working has also been a struggle at times. “Having a good friend working with me this year is wonderful. It’s a nice benefit. Having a younger person working with me is a joy.”

The other situation that has created some pressure for the Fields over the years is having Bend grow up around their property. “We have been like a frog in the pan. We have said ‘no’ to all the developers who have dropped by, emailed or called. The neighborhood has changed over the years. But we have wonderful neighbors, and they get to look out over the farm. That has been a challenge, but seems to have mellowed out now. We feel like we are appreciated for our difference. It’s a wonderful place for us to be.” 

Fields Farm is open to visitors and sells vegetables and a limited supply of eggs onsite at the farm stand. “People can come buy from the stand. They can drive right onto the property. During season, we have a stock cooler; and people can put their money in a trust box and make change. It seems to work just fine.” He adds, “We like to keep those dollars flowing locally; that’s been our focus from the beginning. If you can support your local farmer, that would be all we could ask.”

fields.farm • 541-382-8059

Windflower Farm LLC

Gigi Meyer, owner of Windflower Farm LLC, purchased her first ten-acre parcel out in Alfalfa east of Bend in 2005, and started her south farm at that time. “Then I bought my north farm in 2009 so I could expand,” she says. “I have two adjacent ten-acre parcels, 20 acres total.” Meyer’s offerings have changed since the beginning as need has arisen, and she says her operation has been diverse over the years. “I had pastured pigs on a small scale for a while, and I still have a dairy herd. I used to sell raw milk, but stopped doing that because insurance companies don’t allow it. Because of that, I stopped breeding goats, but now I am doing some agritourism with goat hiking. I repurposed my goats to become hiking companions. I will offer that this season: people can reserve time with my goats.”

Meyer says she got into farming following a “meandering” past. “I was a painter and journalist in New York City and Italy, but I grew up in Oregon, and we had a farm in eastern Oregon. I was a horse trainer, so I was traveling around and had rescued a couple of horses. I needed a place to keep them, so I started looking for a farm. I had always been interested in growing veggies, so it was a domino effect.” She continues, “It became a bonafide commercial farm. I love ecologies, plants and animals, and I love to see the systems. I plant pollinator crops, and have a beekeeper on the property. There is a lot going on in season. It feels very alive to me.” 

Although she still has an egg CSA — which typically sells out and has a waiting list — Meyer says she is slowing down as she ages, and she tries not to overextend herself. She is not offering a full CSA program this year, and relies on vegetable and flower sales to the chefs at Brasada Ranch and Pronghorn for steady income. “I have really tried to streamline things that are working for me. My chef account is reliable. For the chef at Pronghorn, we harvest the baby veggies in the morning and deliver them that afternoon. He’s been an incredible partner to the farm; he appreciates what we do and has been a long, loyal client.” She adds, “I am moving into flowers more because it offers a creative outlet and opportunity to work with color and shape. I am hoping to market bouquets more robustly this season. It’s something I realize I really enjoy; it’s like painting for me now.”

As she expands her flower business, Meyer says she is offering a bouquet-making workshop, and does wedding arrangements. “For the past couple of years, I have sold flowers to Brasada, Newport Market and I do weddings. It’s great; I grow a really diverse variety of flowers locally and I grow them sustainably. It’s great for those who want a sustainably minded wedding; it’s fun for me and for them.” 

Meyer agrees that the biggest challenge in growing here is the short season and variable climate. “It was 54 the other day, and 17 that night,” she says with a laugh. “The labor costs of season extension for the greenhouses, the covering and uncovering, the monitoring of temps and the use of hoops to protect our new starts when we move outside is challenging. I’m now 62, and I’ve had overuse injuries with farming, so I am having to hire folks, and I believe strongly in paying a living wage.”

Another hurdle, she says, is in educating her customers as to why her prices are higher than they may expect. “Our laying chicken flock and dairy herd are all certified animal-welfare approved, which is the highest level of humane animal welfare approval. All our handling is humane, and our slaughtering is humane. We hope our customers understand that farmers aren’t making money, and can’t afford insurance. The employees work really hard and provide public service in providing food to our customers.” She adds, “The chef base is really the only way I can make this work. I have to get top dollar in order to do this. We do a higher level of care, so it costs more. It’s a challenge to compete when we have greater investment; people expect cheaper prices.”

On the flip side, Meyer says the clean air, cool nights and variety of plants that can grow here are positives. “Lots of things thrive here; carrots and beets, salad greens, peas and more do really well here. We grow a huge diversity with the season extension, including wonderful heirloom tomatoes. We can do it with greenhouses. Central Oregon clients are becoming educated; they are appreciating this more. It’s heartening to see these hardworking, knowledgeable young farmers coming in and doing this. The more the merrier! As Bend grows, there are more eaters around.”

windflowerfarmbend.com  • 541-678-3166

Cultivate Farms

One of the newest small-scale growers in the region is Cultivate Farms, established this year by husband-wife team James and Maegen Radnich and their two young sons.

“We left our 9 to 5 jobs in search of something better for our family,” says James Radnich. “The community support and feedback that we have received so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We are so excited to know that Bend is full of people who support local businesses.” He adds, “This summer, we hope to plan some fun farm events for CSA members and guests to attend.”

The Radniches are offering their first CSA program this year, in which members who sign up will receive a 20-week share of fresh vegetables delivered to their doorsteps or with a pick-up option available at Bevel Brewing in Bend. The Spring Season program includes six items per week including bags of Spring Mix and Mixed Baby Greens (Mizuna, Tatsoi, red Romaine lettuce, Spinach and Arugula), a variety of radish, Hakurei Turnips, Green Pole Beans and herbs. The Summer Season program offers 12 items per week, including bags of Spring Mix and Mixed Baby Greens (varieties rotate seasonally), Green Pole Beans, Pattypan Squash, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, herbs and flowers.

As newcomers to the local farm scene, the Radniches are currently growing on a one-quarter-acre parcel in Bend. “Our cultivation techniques are based on minimizing harmful impacts to the land and precious water resources in Central Oregon. Our farm uses regenerative agriculture practices, minimizing tillage and maximizing biodiversity in our stewardship of the land. We are also seeking our certified naturally grown certificate,” says Radnich. “We believe that growing a sustainable source of local, nutrient-dense food is an essential part of our community.”

Radnich says that their greatest hurdles in operating the farm are yet to be seen. “But there are unique challenges to growing in Central Oregon, including extreme weather fluctuations, very low humidity and deer.” COVID has had minimal impact in launching their farm, he says, compared to other types of businesses. “We have had to wait a little longer for things to be manufactured and shipped, and things may cost a little more, but it could be worse, and for that we are grateful.”

bendfarms.com • 541-390-2138

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