YONCALLA, Ore. — The back-to-land movement that Richard and Kate Wilen joined as young adults back in the 1970s has stuck with the two.
The couple are now in their 23rd year of owning and operating Hayhurst Valley Organic Farm and Nursery that is located in the Hayhurst Valley in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range about four miles west of this small rural community.
The farm has evolved into both a wholesale nursery and a row crop operation. Vegetable starts are grown and sold to several outlets in the Eugene and Roseburg areas. The vegetable starts and a wide variety of vegetables are grown and harvested for sale at farmers’ markets in Eugene on Tuesdays and Saturdays, Roseburg on Saturdays and Coos Bay, Ore., on Wednesdays. During the winter, the farm has a 50-member Community Supported Agriculture program.
“It’s the right livelihood for us,” said Richard Wilen, 58. “We’re growing food in a real positive way. If you look at our operation, it’s a lifestyle farm. We found paradise up here in northern Douglas County. We wanted the peace and quiet it offers.”
Richard Wilen is originally from Atlanta, Ga. He moved west in the early 1970s. He became involved in organic agriculture, working and living on organic farms, running the community garden program for Eugene, teaching organic gardening classes and writing a syndicated organic gardening column. Wilen has degrees in both anthropology and archaeology and has also studied the history of agriculture.
Kate Wilen moved to Eugene in 1977 from Connecticut. She studied botany and Chinese at the University of Oregon and soon got involved in organic farming.
“I wanted to have an adventure, to see new places,” the 55-year-old said of moving west.
She also worked for small organic farms in the Eugene area.
Richard and Kate met in 1991, and decided “it would be a good idea to have their own farm and to make a living off the land.” They got married in 1992.
After looking in the Eugene area for property and finding nothing to their liking, they found Hayhurst Valley and purchased 83 acres that included bottom land being used for pasture and hay, and some hillside forest. Billy Creek runs year-round through the property.
“It was virtually bare land and we developed it from scratch,” Richard Wilen said.
He spent eight years commuting the 45 miles from Eugene. He built the pipeline system, the greenhouses and a couple other outbuildings. The couple finished building a house on the property in 1999 and moved permanently to their farm.
Richard Wilen said he remembers the Extension Service telling him farming organically was impossible.
“A lot of us were doing our own research,” he said of other organic enthusiasts. “There was a lot of sharing of ideas.”
The farm pays $1,200 a year, keeps extensive records on its agricultural practices and is inspected regularly to earn organic certification.
Wilen said some adjustments have had to be made from what the couple dreamed of growing. Because their well loses water volume through the summer, the Wilens developed the nursery side of their business because water was no problem in the spring.
“That was a positive economic move for us,” Richard Wilen said.
Surplus starts are planted outside and then in the greenhouses after the nursery season, growing produce for the farmers’ markets.
“We grow a lot of row crops, A to Z, but in small quantities,” Wilen said. “With the fresh market approach, you need new crops coming on all the time.
“We emphasize quality over quantity, then we take it directly to the consumer and get a high price for it,” he said. “The consumers we market to are very concerned about their food. We’re filling a niche.”
The Wilens said they are most proud of being a small farm business that has survived for 23 years.
Hayhurst Valley Organic Farm and Nursery
Location: Yoncalla, Ore.
Farmers: Richard and Kate Wilen
How long in business: Began developing the farm in January, 1991
Acreage: Three acres of row crops, five greenhouses for growing both starts and harvestable produce
Crops: Vegetable starts, small quantities of a wide variety of row crops