Farm Tour 2014 – Oregon

IMAG0320CroppedI am simply incapable of resisting a farm. When the weather turns warm, I must visit some. There’s just no cure for this addiction.

This year, I’ve been touring western Oregon. It’s such a beautiful place. The land is rich and grows a huge range of crops from grains to nuts to grapes to, well, nearly everything. The farms are small enough that the crops create a beautiful patchwork across the rolling hills. As I was driving south out of Portland, walnut trees flowed into golden fields of wheat, which turned into vineyards, pastures, cornfields and rows of produce. Rain or shine, everything has a richness, an abundance about it.


Susan driving Amos and Gunter on Belle Mare Farm

My first stop was Belle Mare farm. Susan farms her 60 acres using horses, especially her Suffolks. She grows a variety of grains and raises animals, producing organically-grown (non-certified) animal feed for other farmers. The one problem she has is a lack of land-line internet access, although the lines are on her street. She makes up for it using wireless for now. Hopefully, the land lines will reach her farm soon. (P.S. Susan, see my last posting for some hints on how to prod the company a bit.)


Clare’s haflingers at Big Table Farm

She and I then visited Big Table Farm and tasted a few varietals from their winery. Amazing! I always enjoy a good Syrah, but they also had a Chardonnay that was just outstanding. They have a lovely web site and with great descriptions of their wines. The labels are very interesting, too.

On my second trip south, I travelled the Oregon Coast. Since many of the restaurants there purchase from local farms, I found that I was able to eat really well. Wines and cheeses are everywhere, along with tons of seafood. Not being of a particularly sporty nature, I enjoyed the culinary atmosphere and mostly tucked my toes into the sand on the beach while reading a good science-fiction between meals. (Yes, that’s my idea of the perfect vacation.) For those more prone to hiking, biking, surfing, etc., there’s so much to do. I strongly encourage a vacation there at least once in your life.

Oh dear, I’ve been talking about food quite a bit. It must be time for dinner…

Oh, that’s better. Good, fresh farm food is just the best thing for dinner. Okay, now I can talk about how these two farms, Belle Mare and Big Table, are using online technology to effectively communicate with their customers. They are both small farms in the same area but with different business models, each requiring a unique approach.

Big Table Farm reaches out to more traditional customers, selling directly to the public. They have a web site, with a shopping cart, where you can buy wines right online. They also have a Facebook page that keeps people up to date on the progress of the new winery being constructed on the farm.

Belle Mare Farm, on the other hand, sells to other farmers. Farmers may not spend tons of time on a computer but they usually have cell phones, many of them smart phones. That’s why text messaging and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are a great way to keep in touch with those customers. You don’t really need a web site if you can make your sales through word of mouth, but you still need a way to keep in touch with those customers. Social media works for that. For those customers who have only traditional phones, giving them a call works just fine.

The way to determine how to best use technology for your small business is to create a marketing plan. (What?) Yes, a marketing plan. If you’ve never made one before, it’s always a good exercise in understanding how you interact with your customers. It can also show you new ways to reach more customers. My next entry will have more about Marketing Plans and where you can get templates and guidance.

Hope, British Columbia

When I went to the Mother Earth News Fair, representatives from Hope, British Columbia, were there to introduce folks to their area. I entered their contest for two nights at a B&B in Hope, B.C. and, unbelievably, I won. (I know! How odd.) So, I made a reservation, commandeered The Sister, and we were off.

We stayed at the High Hopes Bed and Breakfast which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is perched above the river valley with amazing views of the mountains. All the rooms are incredibly well appointed, with an additional lounge area for guests. My favorite things about this B&B include:

  • The beds were really comfortable.
  • Our host, Pauline, brought me coffee and a muffin first thing in the morning, even before breakfast. Oh, and the breakfasts are very yummy.
  • The view at night from my balcony (every room has one) was stunning, with dense stars surrounded by a ring of mountains.

Hope is quite a lovely town. It’s on a bend of the Fraser River with a long park along the river and a city block-sized park in the middle of town. It’s surrounded by high mountains, clear lakes, and lots of wilderness. We walked around town and decided to stop at an Indian restaurant we saw, called Sakoon. I was not expecting such good food and I was quite pleasantly surprised at all the rich flavors. I’ll go back…even if it is several hours away from home.

The one thing I was really happy to see was the Hope Cinema, which recently installed a new digital projector, ensuring that they can show first-run films for years to come. It’s huge financial burden to change projectors and they are asking for donations to help defray the costs. So many towns across North America are losing their theaters to this crushing requirement by film distributors that all theaters must have digital projectors or they won’t receive any new films to show. Most small towns can’t support the cost of a new projector ($30,000 to $200,000 per theater) and the owners can’t keep a theater viable without films to show. Most of them are simply closing. We watched Elysium in Hope Cinema’s surprisingly large space. (It holds 320 people.) It was a great experience.

We then went to the Blue Moose Coffee House and had a nice cup of chai. Mmmm…yummy!

I love taking road trips. I’ve driven all over North America in my lifetime, meeting new people and experiencing the countryside. As, I was touring the Fraser River Valley, visiting farms and taking in the sites. I was quite impressed with the amount of land that was under cultivation in the river valley and the updated farm equipment and buildings I saw everywhere. There weren’t any abandoned farms. There weren’t any barns falling down or fields untended. The local farming community was well supported and farmers markets and agri-tourism were everywhere.

As I drove back across the border, into the U.S., the change was quite evident. More farmers here are struggling. More farms lay fallow, with fields turning back to a scruffy kind of wildness. It’s harder to find farm tours or to buy directly from a farm unless you know where to look. A collapsing barn is more the standard than the exception. Even in Skagit Valley, where the emphasis is strongly on agriculture, there are farms around every corner of Highway 9 that lay fallow.

Perhaps it’s because Canada didn’t suffer the recession we did here, or maybe it’s the Canadian government’s emphasis on agriculture that has made the difference. Maybe the University of British Columbia’s Land and Food System programs, including dairy, viniculture, and permaculture, are making the difference. Perhaps it’s all of these things together.

No matter what programs are in place, it’s ultimately up to us to determine how we want our food grown and consumed. Compared to the mighty Fraser River, the Stillaguamish may be small. However, it’s our corner of the world and we determine how we move forward here. Taking steps, such as the Port Susan Farmers Market is a good start. It is only a start, though, with much left to do.

Our farmers are retiring and we need young farmers, well trained ones at that, to take their place. How do we attract them? How do we get existing farmers to stay on the land and get new farmers to move here? We do it through vibrant local and regional markets, through vital support systems, and through our strong appreciation of what they bring to our community. We can provide the economic basis for a lasting farming community if it’s within our willpower to do so. Ultimately, it’s really up to us.

The Last Farm

Hong Kong is losing it’s last farms and there is concern among its citizens. The city is running out of housing and the only lands left are the very last farms. Since the series of scandals uncovering food contamination from mainland China, however, people are leery of having all of their food coming from there. This is the situation: