Western innovator: Farm creates local 'destination'
'We always ask people what they would like to see'
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Rick and Barb Bauman opened their farm stand in Gervais, Ore., roughly two decades before the term "locavore" entered the popular lexicon.
Back then, Barb was simply looking for a source of income that wouldn't interfere with her duties as a mother.
The retail operation at Bauman Farms had a humble beginning in 1988, consisting of a shed with fruits, vegetables, tomato seedlings and hanging baskets offered for sale.
Although the enterprise started with modest ambitions, the shop soon took on a life of its own as customers asked for a greater variety of produce and a longer season.
"We always ask people what they would like to see," Barb said. "That's what helps us with our ideas."
Today, the farm has a complex of retail buildings that house aisles of fresh and preserved produce, a bakery, coffee shop, apple cider press as well as a nursery and greenhouse.
The Bauman family sells more than 200 crops that it grows on about 300 owned and leased acres, but the store also includes food from other local producers.
A few items -- like oranges and bananas -- don't grow in the region but are brought in for the convenience of customers. However, the farm's success doesn't spring from imitating a grocery store.
Visitors expect to find unique crops that are worth a drive to the country, such as Melrose apples, an old "multipurpose" variety that's hard to find elsewhere, Barb said.
Tayberries, the offspring of red raspberries and Aurora blackberries, have also developed a following, she said. "People appreciate great foods and this is one of them."
The farm's approach to marketing predates the recent surge of interest in local food, but the trend has been a major boost to its business, said Brian Bauman, the couple's eldest son, who helps operate the company.
"It's played into our strengths," he said.
One area of potential growth for the company is its cider production facility, which processes apples grown at the farm as well as by other growers.
To reduce microbial pathogens, the cider is treated with ultraviolet light instead of heat pasteurization.
"It doesn't affect the flavor or the sugar content," Brian said.
Food sales comprise about 25 percent of the farm's sales, while the nursery business represents about 30 percent and the bakery 10 percent, Brian said.
The biggest source of revenues, at 35 percent, is the annual pumpkin patch and harvest festival, which can attract up to 75,000 people to the farm in a month, he said.
Originally, the idea was hatched when Brian's grade school class needed a field trip destination prior to Halloween. Over time, the farm has built up a brand with several generations of visitors.
"Every year, we try to add something else," said Brian, noting that the farm now has 25 activities, including a hay maze, obstacle course and animal barn.
After Halloween, visitors rush to the farm for pies for Thanksgiving, then Christmas trees and wreaths. Once the holiday rush is over, the farm must begin planting hanging baskets to prepare for spring.
"There is no slow time," Brian said.
The farm's out-of-the-way location is both an advantage and a hindrance -- the family's job is to provide incentives for repeated trips throughout the year, he said.
"As a destination, we need to keep creating reasons for them to come back," Brian said. "It's not just, 'Come get your strawberries and then forget about us until next year.'"
To that end, the company keeps in touch with customers through social media and a regular email newsletter that reaches 20,000 people. Face-to-face interaction at the farm also helps the Baumans react to customer requests.
"We can change very quickly," Brian said. "We're in complete control."
Founded: The farm was originally settled in 1894 by the ancestors of Rick Bauman, who has been running a retail operation with his wife, Barb, since 1988.
Employees: 25 to 100, depending on season.
Management: Rick Bauman runs the farm, Barb heads customer service, eldest son Brian manages the overall retail operation and accounting, daughter Sarah Farrell focuses on social media and marketing and her husband, Ryan Farrell, runs the nursery.
Location: Gervais, Ore.
A collection of 2011's Western innovators is available on Amazon's Kindle. Take a look at "Western Innovators: Profiles of 42 agricultural leaders who shaped the West in 2011" at amzn.to/WesternInnovators