Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Sat, 19 Aug 2017 05:34:13 -0400 en Capital Press | Special Sections Oregon nursery industry reclaims No. 1 spot Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:29:25 -0400 Aliya Hall WILSONVILLE, Ore. — During the recession that began in 2008, one-third of the Oregon’s nursery business was lost, but now in 2017, the industry has come back strong, reclaiming first place among agricultural commodities in the state.

“It was almost a perfect storm of calamity economically,” Jeff Stone, director of Oregon Association of Nurseries, said of the recession. “It hit farm-wide.”

The recession that hit the housing and construction industries by proxy also hurt nurseries, because both are major customers. Homeowners also shied away from making improvements to their yards and gardens.

“I equate it to families who don’t go on vacation, but do a staycation, and say, ‘Man, my yard looks like garbage; I should go to the garden center.’ Well, they were so timid about their future they didn’t do any home improvement,” Stone said.

There had been downturns in the nursery industry before, but none lasted as long or cut as deeply, said Stone.

“The 2008 cycle was particularly dark and damaging,” he said.

The market difficulty combined with the lack of labor at the time made nurseries more cautious.

After 2008, nurseries had to change and adjust their growing time. Before, they could simply plant products and sell them, but during the recession, they “came to a rude awakening,” Stone said.

“When it got past a certain age of a plant that isn’t going to market, what do you with it? You destroy it,” he said. “You have all those years of trying to get a plant to market and then there was no market.”

Nurseries knew the recession wasn’t going to last forever, but the concern was if the companies could handle how long it would last.

“The ones that survived continued planting. Bigger nurseries weathered it out, medium (nurseries) had tougher times, but the smaller ones had true difficulty,” Stone said.

Recovery was initially slow, but the industry has since grown significantly. In terms of sales, nurseries have generated $950 million to $975 million; the peak in past years was over $1 billion.

However, fewer nurseries have generated that revenue, Stone said.

Nurseries have also changed how they manage production to look for more efficiencies. During the recession, they focused on making production more lean. Stone said that the biggest step to save labor cost was to switch to automation.

“Automation is an alternative for folks, but that still costs money and significant investment,” Stone said.

The ordering process has changed as well, said Stone. Customers are putting orders in to ship sooner than they had previously.

“The degree of dependence on planting a long time ago for sale next year has probably shortened,” Stone said.

Stone enjoys an informal competition with Oregon’s beef industry, which has traded the top sales spot with the nursery industry over the years.

“It’s the greatest arms race between aggies that you can have. I’d rather have us trade off by a growing market share,” he said. “We have great collaboration and relationship with cattle, wine and crop farms.”

After sitting at the No. 2 position, the nursery industry reclaimed its first-place position this month.

“The sales figures reflect how the nursery and greenhouse industry recovered from the great recession,” Stone said in an email. “The quality of plant material grown and sold by Oregon growers is well known and (I) hope that this signals continued success of our traded sector industry.”

As for the competition with the beef business, Stone called the cattle industry “vibrant and a force in Oregon agriculture.”

“I hope that we continue to grow together for the benefit of all of Oregon agriculture,” Stone said.

Bamboo a life-long fascination Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:26:40 -0400 Aliya Hall ALBANY, Ore. — From a young age, Dain Sansome was interested in bamboo.

The owner of Bamboo Valley in Albany, Ore., Sansome fell in love with Asian themes, such as martial arts, Japanese gardens and bamboo, after seeing a National Geographic special about bamboo. During high school in Minnesota, he started growing his first plants that he bought mail-order from a catalog.

“They did OK, but they didn’t grow like I wanted them to,” he said. “So I went to Japan and saw the big stuff.”

Sansome later moved to Oregon with his Japanese wife and began working at Bamboo Gardens in North Plains, Ore., where he was trained. In 2004, he opened Bamboo Valley, which is both a farm and nursery.

“I always wanted a farm more than a nursery. A nursery in my mind means small plants, which is fun and nice, but I like the ‘big’ stuff,” he said. “That feeling of actual mature bamboo, it’s really magical. It’s all one organism and you can get inside of it, which is a neat feeling.”

Beyond selling bamboo, Sansome also offers landscaping and stump-grinding services.

“There’s a demand for delivering plants, planting and removing. I wanted to get my hands into everything,” he said.

Sansome said bamboo is often purchased for privacy screens.

“It’s used for landscaping and beautification. It has a lightness and airiness about it that evergreens do not. Bamboo is very different, it has an exotic feel, an airy quality of leaves that rustle in the wind; people like having that option,” he said.

Despite popular misconceptions, bamboo is not a tree, but rather a grass.

Sansome said there are several misconceptions regarding bamboo, such as there’s no maintenance, all of it comes out of China and that there’s only one type of bamboo.

“There is a lot of variation in bamboo. All are different, even within a genus. There are differences in cane color, shoot appearance and leaves. It’s really fascinating,” he said.

Bamboo Valley grows 20 varieties, but the overarching categories are running and clumping bamboo. Sansome said the grasses are mainly “old favorites” with a few newer varieties.

Running bamboo varieties are popular for landscaping because of their rapid horizontal growth, which is useful for creating privacy screens. They can “run” from a few feet to 10 or 20 feet depending on the soil, which makes maintenance important because bamboo “wants to become a forest,” Sansome said.

Clumping bamboo, however, only spreads horizontally for a short distance before shooting upward. It is usually less than 15 feet tall, but some varieties can grow to nearly 20 feet tall.

Harvesting the bamboo is the most challenging aspect for Sansome because of how thick the rhizome runners are underneath the ground.

“They can be as thick as your thumb; cutting them is hard. I’ve tried everything from axes and shovels, we’ve graduated into hydraulic equipment now,” he said.

With the difficulties in harvesting the bamboo, keeping enough in stock is also challenging. Most of Bamboo Valley’s customers are retail, and it’s important for customers to see the product, grab it and go, Sansome said.

Sansome loves having the opportunity to meet and connect with new people through the nursery, landscaping and stump-grinding, but nothing beats being outside in the sun.

“I spend the vast majority outside in the sunlight; I love that,” he said. “Being able to have a family and piece of land that essentially is a giant garden.”

Peoria Gardens pursues sustainability Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:33:08 -0400 Aliya Hall Junction City, Ore. — Peoria Gardens takes pride in being sustainable, whether it involves the environment or employees.

Having taken over the business from his father four years ago, Ben Verhoeven, president and general manager of Peoria Gardens, is passionate about social issues. He also hopes to continue the legacy of sustainability his father pursued since founding the business in 1983.

“Dad always treated employees with respect and with benefits. Some of the employees have been around for 20 to 30 years. They are good people, fun and hardworking. I feel strongly about their benefits,” he said.

Peoria Gardens offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, overtime pay, paid vacation, sick leave and health and dental insurance.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s not that much money. It isn’t free, but it has a much bigger, more positive effect. I wish more people would do that,” said Verhoeven. “It feels good and it’s worth it. It helps people out.”

The nursery is also environmentally sustainable, selling annuals, perennials and vegetable starts.

“The veggie starts market has grown as more people are growing their own food. There’s been an increase in our certified organic, and we want to expand that production,” Verhoeven said.

The biggest challenge in maintaining sustainability is pest control. Environmentally friendly insecticides are not always easy to use, he said.

Verhoeven also said that the nursery industry uses a lot of electricity as a whole, and he’s trying to minimize that. Peoria Gardens has solar panels on two-thirds of its buildings and has already reduced its energy use by 30 percent.

“No one likes paying utility bills. This is better for the bottom line and the long term,” he said.

However, Verhoeven said there’s always more to do.

The nursery finished up its harvest season despite the “awful” spring that was early and wet, he said.

“Agriculture is a different beast, there are complicated factors involved; we’re at the whim of mother nature,” he said. “But we came out of it.”

Other nurseries have followed Peoria Gardens’ sustainable example. Although there is a bad connotation with the word “sustainable” within certain groups, the Oregon Association of Nurseries is using the term to showcase efficiency.

California and Washington already have similar benefits programs in place for their employees. Verhoeven said he would have loved to see Oregon be the first, but now that they are following suit other producers can see that the businesses haven’t suffered or cost them as much as they initially thought.

“I like being sustainable, environmentally and socially. I’m a new father myself, and anyone you know is either a parent or has been really sick before. These life events happen to everyone. We, as the agricultural industry, need to agree to help our neighbors out because they’ll help us out,” Verhoeven said.

Gray’s Garden Centers make a comeback Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:32:26 -0400 Aliya Hall EUGENE, Ore. — A staple of the Eugene and Springfield, Ore., area since 1940, Gray’s Garden Centers are often simply referred by community members as: Gray’s. The retail nurseries are considered an institution among area gardeners and landscapers.

That’s why, after the centers closed in 2013 in the wake of the recession, the Eugene location was shuttered for less than two months before former owner Scott Bocci bought back the assets and reopened. The Springfield location reopened after about a year.

The recession hit the nursery industry particularly hard since it is closely tied to the housing and construction industries. As construction ebbed, so did the landscaping business.

Bocci also hired back veteran staff members, and general manager Stuart Leaton was among them.

Leaton got his start at Gray’s 12 years ago, and worked in the tree and shrub department before taking over the buying.

“To many hearing about the closure, of course there was sadness related to that, but a lot jubilation to know it was going to be reopened by some staff who had been here formerly,” he said. “It was kind of rounding up the troops and bringing them back in.”

Leaton said it was these “highly skilled individuals” who helped get Gray’s back to its former level. They wanted to recover as fast as possible, and now they are in a period where they expect to grow, he said.

Gray’s is one of the biggest nurseries in the area, allowing for a large selection of plants and products that are used to keep plants growing and healthy, as well as garden tools and decorations.

“Landscapers who traditionally don’t pay full retail price on products will end up at Gray’s locally because we do have so many products to help take care of plants, and bright-colored annuals and perennials,” Leaton said.

Some of the newer product lines grow multiple re-blooms in one season: hydrangeas on old and new wood, azaleas in spring and fall, lilacs that bloom three times a year and blueberry bushes that produce two crops in one season.

Leaton estimates that Gray’s has 125 vendors, almost all of which are in Oregon.

One of the new developments since the reopening is the nurseries’ partnerships with other businesses in the area.

The Springfield center has partnered with McKenzie Feed and Pet Supply and the Eugene center has partnered with the Beergarden.

“Both of these give you a chance to have customers and clientele that you’re not spending advertising on,” he said.

“Both of us play off each other; they’re happy to have Gray’s because Gray’s draws a multitude of people, and we feel we’ve matched ourselves well to draw customers and clientele from other places. It’s a unique dynamic.”

Farwest Show promises the extraordinary Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:30:54 -0400 Aliya Hall PORTLAND — The 2017 Farwest Show will be far from ordinary as it enters its 45th year.

In fact, this year’s theme is “Be Far From Ordinary.”

The show will be Aug. 23-25 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

“We have strong educational components and we want to utilize that,” said Allan Niemi, director of events at the Oregon Association of Nurseries. “We evolved to show more things that people can achieve and gain by taking part in a Farwest Show.”

Past registration has averaged more than 6,000 buyers and has grown 6 to 10 percent during each of the past two years, Niemi said. It has seen “really strong registration” this year as well, along with more than 400 exhibitors.

The opening-day keynote address, “Connections: Cultivating Your Company and Your Professional Life,” will be presented by Terri McEnaney, president of Bailey Nurseries.

Farwest will also feature three showcases: Growing Trends, New Varieties and New Products.

The theme for this year’s Growing Trends is “Urban Lifestyle Gardening,” which aims to “home in on popular consumer trends and how they can be created in landscaping and at your garden center,” according to the Farwest website.

Forty-two new plant varieties and nine new products will also be showcased. Plant varieties are divided into the four categories: tree, shrub, perennials and grasses. Show participants and a panel of judges will vote for the best new varieties and new products, Niemi said.

The show will also feature three nursery country tours with the themes “Out West,” “Coniferific” and “Secret Garden” that will explore nursery country, conifer production and retail garden centers in Portland.

Thirty-one speakers will offer seminars on a range of topics, from “Soil Erosion Solutions” to “Are you Digitally Relevant?”

Six seminars will have Spanish translations, and two will be given only in Spanish.

Two additional mini-sessions, “Grower Solution Center” and “Retailer Idea Center,” are also available, as are pesticide applicator classes.

The Farwest Show also includes networking events such as the “Emergent Networking: A Group for Growing Professionals” and “Women in Horticulture.”

Participants will also have the opportunity to “Walk the Show Floor with Experts,” which include “Trend Spotting” with Brie Arthur and “Plant Spotting” with Sean Hogan.

A new addition to the Farwest show will be “Happy Hour,” a celebration that will conclude the first day of the event.

“We are trying to emphasize the social aspect of this,” Niemi said. “When you get 6,000 people together, yes, business is made on the show floor, but it’s amazing how much more can be accomplished and strengthened within the social aspects that we can provide as well.”

This will also be the sixth year of the Farwest’s pub crawl, which will be on day two. The first stop: the Doug Fir Lounge.

“We want people to experience the essence of Portland. Our beer scene, wine and pub scene,” Niemi said. “It’s such a strong element of our identity here in Portland, and we brought that into play.”

Niemi said that the pub crawl has grown so much that they’ve had “a couple hundred” people join in.

“It’s a fun thing. It makes us unique. People appreciate it and get excited about it as they’re making their trek to Oregon,” Niemi said. “I’m excited for that element, for the new things that we’re adding in that enhance the Farwest experience.”

Nursery grows from interest in palms Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:27:48 -0400 Aliya Hall WOODBURN, Ore.— Jim Parsons said he is asked all the time how he got into the palm tree business.

“When I first started showing at farmers’ markets, people who didn’t understand that palms could grow here looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. “Now I have people calling me, especially in the warmer months. So, it seems to be going more mainstream.”

Parsons, who is the health teacher at Woodburn Middle School, calls his family-owned business, Oregon Palm Nursery, a good “side-hustle.”

“I lived overseas and my first couple of teaching jobs were in tropical places. The first one was Guam and the second was Honduras. I learned to love palm trees and tropical plants,” he said. “They’re just so beautiful and majestic, and they’re an icon by themselves. Someone who doesn’t like them, I just don’t understand. They evoke a relaxed feeling for me, a peaceful relaxation when I see them.”

When he moved back to Oregon in 1999, Parsons saw a Chinese Windmill Palm in a Portland nursery with a tag saying it was hardy to low temperatures, and that sparked his research into growing palm trees.

“I looked up some other information about cold palms and thought, Wow, that’s amazing,” he said.

Parsons bought his first seeds online from outside the country, because there weren’t many palm seed producers in the U.S. at that time.

“I read how to germinate and grow them, and got a pretty good success rate. But I think I bought more than I needed; I had way too many and thought, What am I going to do with these?” He said.

Parsons began contacting local nurseries, but they had little interest. That was when he decided he needed a bigger property.

“I brought my plants with me and ramped it up more. People now call me and make appointments. We don’t have regular business hours because I still teach. I’m on vacation right now, which works out pretty good because spring and summer are my best selling months,” Parsons said.

About 90 percent of its inventory is cold-hardy exotics, plants that can withstand a wet and cooler climate. The nursery’s most common palms are Chinese Windmill and Waggie. However, it also sells Mediterranean and other rare palms, along with succulents, cacti and bamboo.

The biggest challenge Parsons has is producing the palms, especially the Waggie palm.

“The Chinese Windmill will grow one foot of trunk on average a year, but the Waggie grows six inches, if lucky, a year. The first five years are painfully slow,” he said.

The nursery is getting more customers from Northeast Portland because homeowners there have bigger lots and gardens, and have been fixing them up this year, he said. Parsons also sells to hotels and restaurants with Cuban, Mexican or Asian themes that want to make their business more attractive and inviting.

“We’re trying to focus more on the private homeowner, and working with the general public. Just meeting new people and helping them beautify their landscape and make their home beautiful. Just that personal touch with homeowners is rewarding, I think.” Parsons said.

“We deliver it and see where it’s going to be planted, and then I’ll drive by later and see that, like, Oh, I sold that palm tree. I remember those people. That’s the most rewarding thing, having that relationship with the homeowner.”

Native seed business takes root Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:25:22 -0400 Aliya Hall ALBANY, Ore. — Sarah Stutzman and Michele Santoyo didn’t realize how hard their dad, Craig Edminster, worked until they joined him at Pacific NW Naturals a few years ago.

“You have to be a glutton for punishment,” Stutzman said about their native seed production enterprise. “My dad works his a-- off, always has.”

Edminster started Pacific NW Naturals in 1996 after working as a research scientist for a cooperative of Western farmers.

It was there that Edminster’s interest in native plant species began.

“Natives are quite unique. I didn’t switch 100 percent; I needed a day job,” he said. “The native seed business was strong east of the Cascades because it was funded by (Bureau of Land Management) money. But I saw it was a growth market with not a lot of competitors.”

The Albany, Ore., business struggled for the first couple of years, and most of the seed was taken to the dump, he said. However, Edminster continued to contract with organizations such as the Calapooia Watershed Council, FFA and 4-H. Eventually they also contracted with the BLM for a program based on indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity, which funded Edminster because his seeds were good for forest restoration.

“That’s what really put us on the map. Private dollars aren’t going to make this industry grow over a couple of years; public dollars are the way to get this thing going,” Edminster said.

The biggest learning curve, Edminster said, was not knowing when to cut the grass, how to fertilize it, and if it needed irrigation or required a combine.

“Every population is different; even in the same gene of species,” he said.

Stutzman and Santoyo said it was the same with cleaning the seed. As children, they cleaned each seed by hand because the company couldn’t afford a seed cleaner.

“We had a 50-pound bag of dirty seed and a tweezer to pinch the seed out onto white paper,” Stutzman said.

Edminster estimates that no more than 30 or 50 growers have ever tried local natives in their production fields because of the risk of not making money.

“When I was in the field it was all worked by hand with species that were too delicate to be put through the combine. We had to have a group of people going down aisles with scissors or taking seed off with their hands,” Stutzman said.

“It’s very time-consuming, and makes it more expensive and difficult to handle. People want them, but they don’t want to invest that time and effort,” she said.

Stutzman said she’s vacuumed seeds off the ground to save them. Santoyo added that those few seeds were worth $30.

“Most of what we do is as difficult as you can get,” Edminster said.

Stutzman and Santoyo knew that their father worked a lot, but they didn’t realize how hard until they committed to the company.

“It’s constant and doesn’t stop. When you participate in it, you see how hard it is,” Stutzman said. “I worked in the field with my now husband, and harvesting stuff is really difficult. You’re laying it out on tarps and drying it, then pitchforking it into a thrasher and then to the seed cleaner. It’s much more difficult than commercial grasses.”

Although Edminster joked about retiring as soon as he can, his daughters say they don’t see that happening.

Childhood business becomes successful life’s passion Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:24:09 -0400 Sheryl Harris Not everybody begins his career at age 10, but Dan Pearson did — with a detour for a college degree and eight years working as a landscape architect.

Meanwhile, he worked to build what his mother had named Dan’s Dahlias back when he was that 10-year-old.

“My goal was to grow the business to where it made more than my day job. College was valuable, but I earn more doing this,” he says, gesturing to his small dahlia farm.

It started when his father brought home 30 different dahlias, and young Dan promptly memorized the names. The next year there were 30 more. People stopped by, asking about the flowers, and Dan cut and sold them for $1 a bunch. Today they are $1 a stem.

Now, Dan’s Dahlias is the largest dahlia grower in Washington state.

“I’ve always had a passion for growing things,” says Pearson. “I loved the animals on my parents’ dairy farm, but I preferred growing things.”

Pearson sold the family’s farm in 1995, purchased his current 12 acres and added 5 more acres. He grows 500 dahlia varieties, companion plantings — sunflowers, asters, zinnias, statice and hypericum berries — and first-season raspberry vines for greenery in bouquets. Each year he discontinues 50 varieties and begins 50 new ones from an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 varieties.

Dan’s Dahlias is mostly a one-man operation, but Pearson has seasonal employees to plant, weed and dig up and divide the tubers. He and his brother do the cut flowers in the fall.

Pearson is a founding member of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Cooperative. The co-op provides flowers to florists and event planners nearly year-round.

“As a group, the co-op can give grocery stores a steady supply of flowers for eight months, so they will work with us,” he said. “Florists and event planners get fresher produce for less, and we get more than through typical wholesalers; we’ve doubled the proceeds from cut flower sales.”

He also sells tubers.

“I can sell tubers 10 months of the year,” he said. “About half my sales are online.”

What are Pearson’s plans? “I’m always searching for varieties with stronger stems, more blooms, and that produce more tubers.”

Nursery specializes in fruit, nut rootstock Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:22:39 -0400 Aliya Hall WOODBURN, Ore. — Brent Smith is the third-generation of Smiths to operate Treco Inc.

He has worked there since third grade, and finds it rewarding to see how the business has changed.

“It’s just being able to keep it successful. We’ve gone through our hard times, too, like everyone else, and have learned from it, but every year there’s some new challenge. We want to stay on the leading edge of things,” Smith said.

Treco was founded in 1941 by Smith’s grandparents, and initially they produced both 2-year-old fruit trees and rootstock. However, in 2000 Treco focused production strictly on rootstock because it was competing against its customers for orchard tree sales.

Treco is known for its apple rootstock, but has also started to grow hazelnut rootstock, as well as some pear rootstock.

“We have 75 years of experience growing it, and you can’t beat this climate. There are other nurseries, but with our soil type and the amount of rain we get, it’s ideal,” Smith said. “We’re very hands-on. Quality is a major thing, customers will buy our B-grade stock knowing it’s as good as others’ A-grade. It keeps commercial growers coming back.”

Treco’s production is known as layering. They plant starter material in the spring and let it grow for a full winter cycle to defoliate. That following spring they will lay the material on the ground and let it send shoots off, which they cover with sawdust to help root.

That following winter, when the plant goes dormant again, they cut off the mother plant’s rootstock and sell it.

“Rootstock controls the tree,” Smith said. “There’s very dwarfing rootstock that goes to garden centers for someone who is going to put a pot on their patio with a little fruit tree, and then there’s the other side of the pendulum that is as close to standard trees as you can get.”

Rootstock also determines how trees will grow in different soil and climate types.

“We have some from Russia and Poland that are really winter hardy. Then there’s rootstock that has some disease resistance. We get a lot of that from Cornell University’s Geneva Program,” Smith said.

There’s a lot more difference in apple rootstock than people think, according to Smith. His Geneva rootstock comes in crooked with spines that aren’t easily propagated until it’s in the orchard; older rootstocks grow straight with distance between the nodes and some that root better than others.

“They all have their little quirks. There is a ton of difference; no two rootstocks are the same. All have different characteristics,” said Smith.

Treco was able to recover quicker than most nurseries after the 2008 recession, even though it had just gone through a hit from the fruiting industry in 2000. That dip in the market was due to producers’ dependence on one apple — Red Delicious — that was overproduced, according to Smith.

However, the fruit market began recovering before the 2008 recession hit, which allowed Smith to ride it out.

“We saw a dip, but we didn’t see the big recession like the other nurseries did; we recovered a lot quicker. We just hunkered down and waited for it. It helped being on the food side,” he said.

In the future Treco will be focusing on the hazelnut market and finding that next edge to stay ahead.

Nursery finds niche in urban setting Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:21:32 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER SAN FRANCISCO — Nestled between a popular neighborhood bar and crowded restaurant is Sloat Garden Center, a plant “boutique” in San Francisco’s Marina District.

Andrew Alvarado has been manager for three years and caters to different customers’ needs.

“We’re part of the neighborhood and our plant selection reflects that,” he said. “Every customer has unique needs but the most common question has to be: ‘What do you have that’s impossible to kill?’ I try to reassure people that even the hardiest plants take a little know-how but that we’re always available for advice, knowledge and guidance.”

Sloat Gardens has three locations in San Francisco and several others in Marin County and the East Bay. Each has a different clientele. Some have customers with large expanses of lawn and gardens while the Marina location has customers with window boxes. Most of the plants are locally grown by wholesale nurseries in the Bay Area.

“We know the story behind every 2-inch succulent and 15-gallon Japanese maple that enters our doors,” he said. “All the plants are geared to San Francisco weather.”

The outside area is a dazzling array of colorful flowering plants and herbs. In addition to growing plants, Sloat’s sells high-quality garden tools, soils, planters and offers garden design and delivery. From planting and pruning to weeding, the nursery offers customers a monthly garden to-do list.

“It’s not just San Francisco weather in general but the particular and unique microclimate that is the marina,” he said. “Most of our customers live down the street from us so we have to think of their yards when selecting our plants.”

Alvarado answers questions daily about which plants are the most popular and which are the hardest to grow.

Right now, the ficus lyrata is most popular. It’s featured in all the design and lifestyle blogs and is in high demand, he said.

“Thankfully, they’re not too difficult to take care of,” he said.

As far as the most difficult plant to grow, “in my experience, maidenhair ferns are probably the toughest,” he said. “Demanding in light, water and humidity, they don’t forgive you if it isn’t just right.”

He says many challenges face the nursery industry, but one stands out.

“In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing the California nursery industry is effectively educating the public,” he said. “We may be officially out of the drought but we still need to keep water-wise practices and drought-tolerant plants at the forefront of everyone’s minds. We have to be proactive instead of reactive; you never know when the next drought may occur.”

Alvarado said he can answer most customers’ questions, but one day he was stumped.

“One time I had a customer come in wondering why her ming aralia (a tall fern) was smelling like maple syrup,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why initially, but we later got one in the shop and soon enough it started smelling like maple syrup, too. I figured out we had been overwatering it and when the roots rot they emit that smell.”

Nursery grows from tiny acorns Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:20:23 -0400 Dianna Troyer POCATELLO, Idaho — Envisioning a stunning oak tree in his yard, Dave Luker stopped by a greenhouse in Pocatello decades ago and was told oak trees cannot grow in southeastern Idaho.

“I grew up in Filer, and oak trees are everywhere because settlers from Missouri planted them,” Luker says.

That incident in 1983 compelled Luker to develop oak hybrids at his home nursery.

Working as a landscaper at a local hospital and later at nurseries, he planted oak trees throughout Pocatello that are thriving today.

After wild turkeys were introduced to the region, he partnered with conservationists to plant oak trees for the birds.

Since opening his business, WestWood Growers Conservation Nursery, Luker, 57, has become the only wholesale or retail nursery in Idaho offering more than 60 varieties of oak trees. He sells about 5,000 a year.

He is not only an expert at growing oak trees, but other deciduous hardwoods.

“I did a mission for my church in Ohio and saw an amazing variety of trees. Other hardwoods that do well here are buckeye, beech, yellowwood, red-flowering chestnut and Turkish hazel.

To stimulate seedling growth, Luker plants acorns and other trees in reusable plastic containers with perforated holes that encourage lateral root growth.

He also uses mycorrhizal fungi in a liquid to stimulate nutrient absorption in a tree.

“To plant a tree, ideally you should colonize the planting site with wood chips for up to a year. You can put down cardboard and pour a free 25-gallon pot of chips on it that we have here. When you plant a tree in a well prepared site like that, it will really take off.”

Besides providing oak trees of all sizes to landscape companies and consumers, Luker gathers 5 tons of acorns from mid-September to early November to sell to nurseries every year.

“Idaho is the only place in the country without weevil,” he says. “The acorns I pick up in Utah are heated in 120-degree water in a big pot for 30 minutes to kill the weevil without harming the acorn.”

For several years, Luker has partnered with local members of the National Turkey Federation to plant thousands of oak trees.

“Turkeys eat acorns in the fall and the male catkins in spring,” says Luker. “Flocks do well when oak trees are around.”

Many of his trees are also ideal for shelterbelts on ag land.

“Shelterbelts are a worthwhile investment,” he says. “Livestock does better with shade and shelter, and certain crop yields improve with a windbreak. You need at least three rows with a dense shrub, evergreen and hardwood.”

One of the most eye-catching oaks Luker has planted is a cross of a big bur oak and a little live oak, bred by Walter Cottam at the University of Utah. It grows near the former Bannock Memorial Hospital.

“Most people think it’s a holly bush because it has leathery leaves that stay green through December,” he says. “It grows as a small shrub without irrigation but can reach 35 feet tall with irrigation. It’s beautiful.”

Luker advocates planting trees that are less common.

“It ultimately increases the diversity of our plant communities and limits the risk of major pest attacks,” he says.

Native plants restore damaged habitat, thrive in urban yards Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:19:09 -0400 Dianna Troyer McCall, Idaho — A hunch to supply the niche market of native plants has paid off for Jim Crawford and Margo Conitz at Buffalo-berry Farm.

“We originally thought we’d set up a greenhouse to grow conifer trees for reforestation but realized it was such a competitive market,” says Crawford. “We chose to pursue the native plant market instead.”

Conitz recalls their first growing season in 1994 on their land in mountainous west-central Idaho south of McCall.

“We had a demand for our crop of local native shrubs for fire restoration near McCall,” she says. “Things built from there.”

Their farm specializes in growing native plants of the Intermountain Northwest including perennial wildflowers, wetland and upland grasses, conifers, trees and shrubs.

While native plants have long been used for restoration projects, they are becoming increasingly popular with consumers wanting beautiful, drought-tolerant plants in their yards. In some areas, thirsty lawns are being replaced with low-maintenance native perennials.

“We’re seeing increasing demand for native plants from retail consumers living in low, dry areas,” says Crawford. “Several cities in Utah require residents to grow native plants for landscaping to conserve water.”

To keep up with demand, Crawford and Conitz tend to plants in their 4,000-square-foot climate- controlled greenhouse and a 10,000-square-foot fenced area for large containers. To help them, they hire three or four seasonal, part-time employees during the spring planting season and during the fall packing season.

“Our plants are used for habitat improvement, mining reclamation, erosion control projects and campground improvement,” says Crawford. “We’re also a source to landscapers and other nurseries for native plants.”  

They strive to match seed sources, elevations and soil types to produce plants best adapted to certain sites. 

To help their plants absorb nutrients, “we inoculate seedlings with species appropriate mycorrhizal fungi,” says Conitz. “The plants carry that association into the field, giving them an advantage when planted in harsh sites.”

As they gather seed in the fall, they find one of their favorite shrubs, the Russet Buffalo-berry and namesake for their business.

“It’s an interesting shrub because of its unique growing places,” says Crawford. Native Americans used it for medicinal purposes and whipped the berries with water to make a frothy dessert.

As they look over the plants in their greenhouse, Conitz says, “It’s gratifying to know our plants are being used for many purposes, especially helping to restore wild areas.”

Crawford says, “We enjoy working with our agency friends on their projects and showing individuals and groups the process of growing plants started from native seed.”

DeGoede Bulb Farm and Garden in third generation Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:18:04 -0400 Sheryl Harris Mossyrock, Wash. — Travelers along Washington’s scenic Highway 12 are bound to notice the colorful fields of tulips, iris and perennials that is DeGoede Bulb Farm and Garden.

Henry and Hildegarde DeGoede started the operation in 1951 in the Skagit Valley of Washington state. Needing more property, they purchased land outside Mossyrock, and around 1976, they moved the family and business to its present location nearby.

Today, sons Jack and Bob and grandson Alex are at the helm. Jack and Alex manage field production, Bob handles the garden center and container plants, and Alex manages cut tulips and the Dutch irises.

While bulbs have been a mainstay, Jack DeGoede says they are adding more perennials. This is because the bulb market has been decreasing and labor costs and competition from Europe have been increasing.

“We have about 100 year-round employees in all divisions,” Alex says. “It might vary by 10 or 12 seasonally, but that’s all.”

Jack explains, “Our work is steady so it allows us to keep good people. Replacing our workers is difficult since we can’t use temp or seasonal workers, so we’re always looking for ways to streamline our work.”

He describes a recent equipment advance that fills containers.

“It took two people to do it; now it takes one,” he says. Since it is much faster, actual savings may be four or five employees over the year. Jack says another way to save is growing plants in beds, not rows as they get more plants per acre and it helps grow them to size without dividing them.

About 250 of their 300 acres are in production. About 95 percent of DeGoede’s product goes to U.S. buyers. Container production goes to an area between Bellingham, Wash., and Eugene, Ore., west to the Olympic Peninsula, and east to the Yakima Valley.

About 80 percent of the field production goes east of the Rocky Mountains.

Before leaving DeGoede’s, visitors enjoy the peace of the Farm Chapel and Prayer Trail. Henry and Hildegarde DeGoede built them to give thanks and glory to God for the blessings they had received in their lives, marriage, and a business to pass to future generations.

Nursery still blossoms 108 years after opening Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:16:25 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER San Rafael, Calif. — Chris Untermann, manager of West End Nursery, says his green thumb is in his genes.

“Leaving Germany in search of the American dream, my great-great uncle and horticulturist Richard Lohrmann bought some land in San Rafael, California, in 1909,” Untermann said. “There, he opened a small neighborhood nursery serving the community where he lived and worked.”

Lohrmann sold the operation to his nephew, Karl Untermann in the 1960s. Chris Untermann is the fourth generation to operate the nursery.

Chris Untermann worked at the nursery through his high school and college years on weekends and whenever he was available. He started full-time 20 years ago, after he graduated from the University of California-Davis with a degree in agriculture economics.

The sprawling operation boasts 2 acres of plant material purchased from wholesalers around California and Oregon.

All plants are geared to Northern California’s climate.

“Japanese maples are our most popular and expensive plants that we sell,” he said. The prices range from $50 for a small tree to around $600 for ones over 15 feet.

But West End Nursery is about more than sales.

“In addition to sales, we spend a lot of time identifying plants for people,” Untermann said. “Customers bring in leaves or send pictures and we tell them what it is. We also help customers with problems they are having in their garden.”

The busiest time of the year is March to June, but the nursery’s Christmas House is also popular. The seasonal treat began in 1985 to create a niche market for well-priced, unique ornaments and decorations.

Over the last 30 years, it has grown to include more than 60 glittering trees, becoming a holiday tradition in the community.

Untermann said there has always been an interest in drought-resistant plants, and that demand has accelerated. A high percentage of the nursery’s plants are drought-tolerant. Highly efficient drought-tolerant plants also come from places like Australia, where they have more water problems than California.

Changes have been ongoing but one thing remains constant: Every customer wants instant visual satisfaction, he said. Plants need to be in full color and good size to start — no more waiting for things to grow.

There are also challenges the founder in 1909 did not experience.

“On the upside, it is hard to ship a plant, so nurseries are fortunate to not have to try and compete against Amazon,” he said. “However, the big box stores are always a threat to independent nurseries, but as long as we can provide quality plants and quality service that is hard to find in other places, I think the nursery business should be fine.”

The only other fear is a major drought, he said, “though this last one was surprisingly not bad for business, as customers replaced lawns, but a five-plus-year drought could be disastrous.”

Tillamook’s new visitor center to open in 2018 Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:40:00 -0400 Gail Oberst TILLAMOOK, Ore. — To more than 1.3 million visitors each year, the Tillamook Cheese factory, operated by the Tillamook County Creamery Association, has been more than just a production facility.

The Tillamook Cheese Factory became a must-see family attraction shortly after it was built in 1949.

This year, that attraction is growing to accommodate those visitors. The old visitors center at the Tillamook Cheese Factory will be torn down, and built in its place will be a new 38,500-square-foot facility. The new center is due for completion in the summer of 2018, but a temporary center is open across the parking lot from the factory.

The Tillamook Cheese Factory’s first visitor accommodations were simple: restrooms, a small cheese store and guided tours, according to TCCA spokeswoman Tori Harms.

In 1968, the company built a special entrance and observation area where visitors could watch the cheesemaking process through windows.

The now-old visitors center was part of a 1979 expansion, and was remodeled several times in the following 38 years, adding a gift shop, a dining and kitchen area, an enclosed patio for the atrium and a new upstairs observation deck.

In 2003, the center got another makeover — its last one.

The Tillamook Cheese Factory’s visitors center is as big an attraction as the Space Needle in Seattle, says the association’s CEO, Patrick Criteser. Tillamook is one of the Northwest’s largest dairy cooperatives.

“This project represents a significant investment in our local presence here in Tillamook County and one that we anticipate will attract even more visitors to our area,” said Criteser.

The new center will feature a larger cafe with indoor and outdoor seating and a new, cheesy menu including wood-fired pizza and local wine and beer; improved ice cream, coffee and retail areas; enhanced viewing of the cheese making and packaging area; interactive exhibits; a small theater; a workspace where Tillamook staff can conduct focus groups to get feedback on new products; a private event room for small parties; and improved parking.

In the meantime, a small temporary visitors’ center combines some features of the old and new: the smell of waffle cones greets visitors at the door, just as before. The sound of mooing cows and calves fills the main hall, where children push buttons to hear and see the variety of sounds a cow makes.

Visitors can check out — and play with — the latest milking parlor equipment and tractors and can watch a video of the Seals family’s dairy, a multi-generational operation in Tillamook County, or look at educational displays of farm life.

There’s the popular line of cheese samples, just as in the old center. Racks of jams and jellies and local goodies, T-shirts, stuffed cows, coloring books and jewelry, fudges and candies fill the temporary gift shop.

From the refrigerators, visitors can still purchase Tillamook products — from cottage cheese to smoked cheddar. As before, they can buy a scoop (or two or three) of Tillamook’s famous ice cream, packed into fresh waffle cones or served in a dish.

Coffee, fancy or plain, with real Tillamook cream or not, is also available at the temporary center café.

The temporary center is open year-round from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. June through Labor Day and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. after Labor Day.

Butter’s comeback boosts creamery Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:39:27 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Larsen’s Creamery does one thing, and does it well.

“All we make is butter,” General manager Tom Hughes said. “There are not a lot of creameries around and that basically identifies us as a survivor. To my knowledge there’s just one other size butter operation that functions as we do that only produces butter, and that’s back on the East Coast.”

This has Hughes concerned.

“With the closures, acquisitions and mergers of so many other creameries it’s kind of left us out here,” Hughes said. “If we’re going to have a lot of milk out here, where’s that milk going to go?”

In the meantime, butter is making something a comeback among health-conscious consumers.

Once reviled as public-health enemy No. 1, butter is now being pitched as a more wholesome alternative to margarine and trans fats. Americans are forecast to eat 8 percent more butter this year compared to last year, the most since 1967, USDA data show.

That’s been helped by large enterprises switching to butter. That includes McDonald’s in its signature Egg McMuffin, calling for an estimated 600 million pounds of milk per year. Jack in the Box and Burger King have also made the change.

Founded in 1927, Larsen’s Creamery is in Clackamas, Ore., and owned by Andrew Gianopoulos. The plant produces more than 25 million pounds of butter a year and has a 9½-acre footprint that includes a 7,000-square-foot production space and 32,000 square feet of cooler and freezer space.

“The demand for butter keeps increasing. You’re seeing the institutional users jump into it. People are coming back to natural fats and they’re recognizing that butter is not the Darth Vader of the food industry,” Hughes said. “Natural, delicious fat is coming back and we’re riding the wave of that.”

Despite the renewed demand for butter, margins are small and Larsen’s must stay on its toes to remain profitable.

Among the challenges is finding skilled employees.

“It’s tough to find qualified people and difficult to pay the wages that are being demanded,” Hughes said. “It’s not an easy job and you’ll find these young millennials come out and want to start at the top and get paid even more than being started at the top.”

He said it takes two to five years to train a good-quality butter maker “and it’s hard to find people that will be dedicated and develop a passion for this business when they can go on down the street to Portland for a more laid back environment.”

Platt’s Oak Hill Dairies grow, diversify Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:30:14 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Jack Platt’s dream was always to own a dairy, something that’s difficult to do in Southern California, where he was raised.

Now he owns two.

He married Marilyn in 1975 and within a few years moved to Corvallis, Ore., and started a dairy on 25 acres with 150 first-calf heifers.

Nine years later, in 1987, they moved to Independence, Ore., where they bought 100 acres and milked 350 cows.

Today Platt’s Oak Hill Dairy milks 1,600 cows three times a day and raises its own replacement heifers.

“There are just so many variables in the price of milk and the cost of feed that we have virtually no control,” Jack said. “That’s why we grow as much of our own feed as possible to help control our production costs.”

In 2004, the Platts took a deeper plunge and started an organic dairy in nearby Turner, Ore. Organic was growing fast and it seemed a good time to diversify.

Managed by Tim Baker, the Turner dairy milks 1,000 cows three times a day and farms 2,400 acres in Turner and at its heifer facility in Klamath Falls.

Baker gets nervous when rain persists, delaying planting and the day the cows can be let into pasture. The USDA requires organic cows get at least 30 percent of their dry intake from pasture grazing at least 120 days a year.

They’ve also had to find alternatives to traditional medicines including garlic oil for infections and diatomaceous earth for worming and doing away with lice.

“These cows are athletes,” Baker said. “In the summer time the cows will walk two to four miles a day going in and out of pasture and have lots of muscle. They are probably healthier than I am.”

In addition to the inspections required for conventional dairies, organic dairies are subject to an exhaustive yearly certification.

“The audit can take two to three days and involves everything from the seeds to the feed to what we use to wash the milking parlor walls — all of that must be approved before we can use it,” Baker said.

A big part of their success lies in their employees, Marilyn Platt said, and while managing people is one of the most difficult parts of dairy farming, some of their employees have been with them more than 25 years.

“Communication is necessary to keep employees happy and motivated and need to know they’re appreciated,” Marilyn said. “They take pride in their work and we try to treat them how we would want to be treated.”

Nevertheless, as in most areas of farming, labor issues have dairy farmers seeking more automation in the milking process.

“Things have changed so much; we used to be happy with 50 pounds average per cow and now we expect 90 pounds,” Jack said. “With all the changes in genetics, nutrition and overall design of facilities, I don’t expect it to stop there.

“It has its ups and downs, but we are proud to be part of the dairy industry,” Jack said. “Milk is still the purest of foods, whether organic or not.”

Field trips are helpful in giving the public a taste of how their milk is produced.

“We’ve always tried to run an honest, ethical business and we feel we’ve been blessed because of that,” Marilyn said. “The best part of dairying is being able to spend quality time with our family, watching our four girls grow up and seeing our grandchildren enjoy life on the farm.”

Dairy Council of California connects public, agriculture Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:36:01 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Ninety-eight years ago California’s dairy families and milk processors saw the need to showcase the nutritional value of milk and dairy foods.

One vehicle they developed to do that is the Mobile Dairy Classroom.

Combined with training programs and online tools, they can now reach millions in California and throughout the nation.

The Mobile Dairy Classroom started in the 1930s when Clarence Michaels of Edgemar Farms customized a trailer to bring a cow and calf on school visits in the Los Angeles area.

The assemblies based on the Mobile Dairy Classroom are California’s original Farm to School program, said Efrain Valenzuela, the Dairy Council’s Mobile Dairy Classroom manager.

“Today six instructors with agricultural and education backgrounds across the state bring the custom-built units to elementary schools and Ag Days during the school year,” Valenzuela said. “This valuable program reaches 450,000 children and adults each year.”

Since 1919, the Dairy Council has developed other programs to partner with educators, health professionals and communities to elevate the health of children and parents through the pursuit of healthy, balanced eating habits, he said. That includes drinking milk and eating dairy foods, he said.

The Dairy Council is a marketing order with oversight from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

All of California’s dairy families and milk processing companies contribute to fund the outreach efforts.

“We offer classroom nutrition education lessons for grades K-12 that are free to California teachers,” Valenzuela said. “We also offer nutrition education booklets to health professionals to assist adults and parents in making healthy eating choices and raising children to be healthy eaters.”

In addition, the Dairy Council is part of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California, Local School Wellness Policy Collaboratives and other community outreach programs, he said.

Currently, the council is reaching out to teachers, school food service professionals, healthcare workers and others to raise awareness and boost participation in the free summer meals programs funded by USDA.

Only about 15 percent of students who rely on free and reduced-price meals at school take advantage of summer meals, which offer free breakfast, lunch and snacks to all kids 18 and under — no paperwork or documentation required — when school is out of session.

“Every breakfast and lunch follows healthy meal standards,” he said.

Dairy family adds innovation to operation Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:37:39 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas ROYAL CITY, Wash. — This large dairy the Columbia Basin 30 miles southwest of Moses Lake, Wash., is owned and operated by Austin Allred and family, who farm nearby.

The facility was originally built in 2000 by the Smith Brothers, who also ran a bottling plant.

“They sold it to Nelson Faria, who ran it a few years then started farming in Texas in 2008. That’s when my dad and I got involved. In 2016 I bought Nelson’s portion so now it’s just our family. We are potato farmers and grow row crops and apples, but I branched out into dairying,” Allred said.

“I was fortunate to be able to work with him for several years before he moved to Texas,” Allred said.

Most of the cows are Holstein-Jersey crosses. Faria utilized the best of both breeds.

“I have 1,000 purebred Holsteins and some purebred Jerseys but most of our cows are crossbred. We are going toward Jerseys; that’s what the market dictates,” he said.

“I spend all my days milking cows and loving it,” he said.

On average of 20 calves are born each day.

“We use sexed semen to ensure plenty of heifer calves,” he said. At this point they don’t sell surplus heifers because they are still expanding cow numbers.

The family farm grows most of the feed. Rotation crops such as alfalfa and silage work well with potatoes.

Austin and his wife, Camille, have a 3-year-old boy named Porter and a 1-year-old girl named Adaline.

“Their favorite thing every morning is go check the cows. Porter just got his first battery-powered 4-wheeler and loves to drive back and forth between home and the office. My favorite thing is to have my kids at work with me,” he said.

“I am new in the dairy world. I grew up growing potatoes and apples with my dad. This is a new adventure, but I have an advantage regarding regulations and challenges that dairies are facing right now because I don’t know much about the past,” he said.

The dairy is up to date and doesn’t have to try to change traditional ways of doing things, he added.

One innovation Allred has installed is a bio-filter.

“The dairy industry has a challenge with manure, and liquid manure management is the biggest challenge. We already process our green water through a centrifuge and are now taking it one step farther and processing it through a bio-flow-through system installed by BioFiltro,” Allred said.

It utilizes large, concrete structures that hold layers of rocks, wood chips and shavings and a top layer of earthworms and bacteria.

“We apply the green water on top of that with sprinklers and within four hours it percolates through and comes out significantly cleaner. This natural filter removes most of the nitrogen and phosphorus, and much of the potassium,” he said.

The water can be put back onto the land via pivot irrigation.

They also have a valuable by-product in worm castings. The worms consume a lot of the wood chips along with the nitrogen and some of the other nutrients, he said.

“We harvest the worm castings, which are used as a nutrient-dense fertilizer by greenhouses, orchards and gardeners,” Allred said.

“The goal is to manage our water in a system that is environmentally helpful rather than harmful. If we have clean water to utilize on the dairy and farm, we use less total water, plus have the benefit of fertilizers from solids in the manure.”

Dairy farmer shares industry’s story by engaging critics Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:36:35 -0400 Suzanne Frary CHEHALIS, Wash. — Dairy farmer Michelle Schilter had an encounter with animal-rights activists last March that she said was an eye-opener.

She saw the activists at South by Southwest, a food and technology conference in Austin, Texas.

She introduced herself as a dairy farmer and asked what they hope to accomplish. They wanted to end factory farming.

“I asked them, ‘What’s your definition of a factory farm?’” she said.

The activists couldn’t say.

“They wanted to end something, but they couldn’t say exactly what that was,” she said.

Michelle was at the conference representing Dairy Management Inc., which was there to promote dairy products. She serves on the national organization’s board.

She is also chairwoman of the Washington Dairy Products Commission.

The commission and DMI encourage farmers to use social media to tell their stories to reach the “movable middle.”

“They’re the people who aren’t sure if dairy is healthy, or if they should be using almond milk instead,” she said.

Michelle said dairy farmers often hesitate to talk to the public. They worry animal-rights groups might target them, she said.

“They think, ‘Why do I want to waste my time with an activist on Facebook when I’m dealing with things on my farm?’” she said.

She and her husband, Lonny, are third-generation farmers. They own Sun-Ton Farms, a 180-acre organic dairy near Chehalis, Wash.

The farm has about 220 milking cows in a 450- to 500-head herd of red-and-white Holsteins.

Lonny grew up on a farm in Auburn, Wash., before his family moved their dairy to Chehalis in the early 1990s. Michelle grew up in California’s Napa Valley, studied agriculture in college, but didn’t farm until she met Lonny. The couple have three teenagers.

The dairy transitioned to organic in 2006.

“It was the best decision,” Michelle said. Prices for organic milk are less volatile than for conventional milk, she said.

The farm belongs to the Darigold co-op, and its milk is sold through Horizon.

Michelle raises the farm’s calves, some of which move next door to the dairy owned by Lonny ’s parents. Her 3-year-old calf barn is self-flushing and has automatic curtains that adjust for ventilation.

A few weeks after the conference in Texas, a windstorm ripped off the commodity barn’s roof and rain ruined the feed and bedding stored inside.

The dairy’s nutritionist temporarily adjusted the cows’ diet to include more alfalfa and less grain. Keeping cows healthy is the first priority on an organic dairy, said Michelle.

“We have so few options for treating illness,” she said. “If a cow needs antibiotics, we give it, but the cow has to leave the herd.”

People are curious about dairy farms, she said.

Michelle said people want to know if she treats her animals humanely. They want to know if she names her cows, and if the dairy produces a “clean product,” she said. “I do all of that, everything they say they want.”

Couple develops taste for making gelato Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:35:19 -0400 Marina Riker Jeff and Juli Labhart knew they wanted to start their own business. But they had no idea what they wanted to do.

The two were living in Bend, Ore., when they decided to take a break from their day jobs and backpack around the world for a year. While exploring new countries and cultures, the two were always on the lookout for new places to fill their appetite for sweets — especially for gelato.

Juli Labhart, who is allergic to gluten and corn, found it easier to satisfy her cravings abroad, where the frozen treat was more likely to be made without such ingredients.

“At the time, there were only a couple main ice cream companies that I could eat (in the United States),” said Labhart. “I was like, why are we behind on this?”

When the husband-and-wife team returned to the U.S. a year later, they enrolled in classes taught by gelato-making masters in hopes of being able to craft the dessert from local ingredients back in Bend.

Nearly a decade has passed since then, and business is booming at Bontà Natural Artisan Gelato. What started as a gig selling pints at the local farmers’ market has turned into a 20-employee company equipped with its own creamery. The Labharts run a scoop shop in downtown Bend, and offer their pints for sale in stores ranging from Albertsons to Whole Foods.

“We were new to the food industry, so we had to do a lot of research,” said Jeff Labhardt. “It took a while to figure all of it out.”

Today, the company uses 240 gallons of milk a week to produce up to 3 gallons of gelato every 10 minutes at the creamery in east Bend, where Juli Labhart experiments with new recipes and monitors each batch. Whether she’s mixing dulce de leche and sea salt or Oregon hazelnut, she follows a strict recipe for each batch.

“I love food, and I love numbers,” said Labhart, who studied math in college. “I have a really dorky spreadsheet where I calculate the fat and sugar.”

Unlike ice cream, gelato is about 6 percent fat and made mostly from milk, explained Labhart. In general, ice cream is made with more cream and churned differently so there’s more air, which can mute flavors in comparison to gelato, she explained.

“When you taste something without fat, the flavors are more rich,” Labhart said.

The Labharts use all-natural sweeteners, which means Juli Labhart can eat the gelato she makes — even with her food allergies. The couple seeks out local ingredients — such as hazelnuts and strawberries — whenever possible, and often crafts new flavors depending on what’s in season.

Eberhard’s Dairy Products, which is based in Redmond, supplies all of the company’s milk.

For the Labharts, using local ingredients just made sense. Jeff Labhart grew up in Tillamook surrounded by local dairies, while his wife grew up working in the berry fields of Lynden, Wash. Being able to create and sell a product that supports local farmers was a dream come true for the couple.

“We kind of have an appreciation for that lifestyle and the people who do it,” said Juli Labhart.

Brothers start dairy of their own Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:34:01 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas CASTLEFORD, Idaho — After interning on their uncles’ dairies in California, Jerome and Nathan Vander Poel started their own dairy.

“Our dad is a veterinarian, and our uncles milk cows, so we grew up around dairy cattle,” Jerome said.

“A year ago we talked about starting a dairy in Iowa or Nebraska. Then we had a chance to look at Idaho and decided this was where we wanted to go,” he said. “My brother and I are young — I am 20 and Nathan is 22 — and Idaho has a growing dairy industry. This dairy at Castleford was one of several we looked at that was for sale.”

It was closed but the brothers determined that it had a lot of potential. It also needed some work on the facilities.

“Then we hand-picked cows from dairies across the U.S. to fill it up,” Jerome said.

“We started with Holsteins, but in January started adding Jerseys because of the way the markets have grown,” he said. “We like a balance, to have both breeds.”

The nice part about starting from scratch was being able to select only the cows they wanted.

“Some dairies, everything is already there when you buy them, including the cows. In a way that would be easier, since we had to bring everything in and fix everything up. But every cow here is one we wanted,” Jerome said.

They are milking 800 cows but plan to keep expanding.

“We wanted to start small and build up. Winters here are totally different than California, so we wanted to start with something we could manage, and test this area before we got really big,” he said.

“We made it through the first winter, which everyone is telling us was the worst in 30 years, so I think we can handle it!” Jerome said. “That was the biggest test, for us.”

He and Nathan plan to grow their dairy — and buy more.

“On our next dairy we hope to just buy it with everything already there,” he said. “The way we did this one, going through the whole starting process, is a lot tougher.”

They have a lot of plans, he said.

“We have uncles in the dairy business and they are good mentors,” Jerome said. “My brother and I have seen about 100 different dairies, run many different ways, so we were able to put our dairy together the way we wanted.”

They are also familiar with animal health, from helping their father.

Theirs has been a valuable education.

“Neither of us went to college. We chose instead to have a hands-on education in the dairy. Even if you do go to college, you have to come back and learn it through experience on a dairy,” he explained.

“Some things, you have to be there to learn it, and some things you learn the hard way and that’s the best teacher. If you make the wrong decision you’ll remember it and never do that again,” he said.

Eventually they will keep a lot of heifers to help facilitate expansion plans, but it will take a little time to build up the replacement program.

The two brothers always had a partnership in mind.

“It’s been a great adventure, because when we came here it wasn’t like having a family dairy to start in, or to ask a family member for advice,” he said.

“We had to piece everything together ourselves and learn quickly,” he said.

They grew up near Modesto, Calif., and their uncles have dairies near Bakersfield.

“When we graduated from high school we migrated down to Bakersfield and started learning the dairy business — and then we ventured to Idaho,” Jerome said.

The goal is to keep their cows healthy and happy.

“A happy cow is a happy life. As long as the cows are happy, we’re happy!”

Dairyman makes sure industry’s voice is heard in Salem Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:33:12 -0400 Gail Oberst TILLAMOOK, Ore. — Across the pasture from the Tillamook Cheese factory is Chad Allen’s Victor Dairy, a 500-head operation co-owned by his father, George Victor Allen.

“Dad always had a love for dairying,” said Chad. In 1977, George and his father, Ben, established the Allen Dairy in Tillamook with 100 cows. Chad was younger than 2 when his family moved from San Luis Obispo to Oregon.

George also partners with Chad’s younger brother, Casey, in their C&C Dairy operation, with 300 head, located across Highway 101 from Victor Dairy.

The two brothers made the friendly split in 2008. An older brother works for CHS Farm Co-op in Tillamook, and a sister lives in Bakersfield.

Chad, 42, said he always knew he was destined to be a dairyman, but his foray into politics is an indication that he able to influence those beyond his own pastures.

Last year, as the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association president, Chad helped lead the charge on Senate Bill 1517, a pilot project in Tillamook County that would bring wetland developers and impacted landowners — especially dairies — together to collaborate on projects. It passed and is now taking shape as a coalition of people who represent wildlife, dairy, conservation and environmental interests.

Allen also testified before Oregon’s House Special Committee on Small Business Growth, suggesting ways to improve milk and environmental quality by assisting Oregon’s 240 dairies with new technology that might not be affordable to smaller dairies.

“This committee could play a significant role in helping to identify existing funding sources or appropriating new dollars in the upcoming legislative session to shore up this very small population of dairies who contributed more than $650 million to the state’s economy in 2014,” Chad said in testimony in 2016.

More recently, Allen publicly criticized Oregon House Bill 785, which would require dairy farmers to make public any use of antibiotics.

As they do for most dairy farmers, Oregon’s strict standards for confined animal feeding operations — known as CAFOs — keep him busy. Chad’s animals graze for most of the year, but are kept inside during the rainy season to keep waste runoff out of the Wilson River, which borders his property. But Chad has also worked to increase manure storage facilities and tax credits for other dairies in Tillamook, where the waste is digested and turned into methane.

In addition to the ODFA and legislative issues, Chad has been active in the Tillamook Bay Flood District, the Tillamook County Planning Commission and the Oregon Farm Bureau. George is a past president of the Tillamook County Creamery Association board.

Allen’s work to promote farming interests has earned him kudos from the Farm Bureau.

“Chad Allen represents the best of his rural community on the Oregon Coast,” said Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue. “Chad strives for collaboration when tackling complex regulatory issues, reaches out to state agencies, conservation groups and local farmers so all stakeholders can have a voice.”

Chad Allen earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science from Oregon State University, but he jokes that, considering his public activities, he might have been better served getting a political science or communications degree.

After college, he married a Tillamook woman, Adrienne, who was working at an office store where he bought his office supplies. Adrienne, too, came from a dairy family.

“I made a lot of excuses to buy paper,” he said. “I had enough paper for a year, and then I asked her out.”

The couple now has five children. The oldest girl is 11. Four boys followed; the youngest is 7 months.

Victor Dairy’s milk can be found in Tillamook County Creamery Association products.

Cheesemaker teaches old-world techniques Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:32:17 -0400 Marina Riker BEAVERCREEK, Ore. — Cheesemaking is in Gayle Starbuck’s blood.

In the late 1800s, her great-grandfather trekked thousands of miles from France to Southern California, where he started a farm and raised goats, cattle and sheep.

For the next century, his descendants were raised on that farm, where they passed down family recipes and techniques for transforming fresh milk into cheese, butter and ice cream, Starbuck said.

“It was passed down to my grandmother — his daughter — and then to my mother, who then taught me how to do it,” said Starbuck.

Decades later, Starbuck has moved from the farmstead to a lush two-acre parcel in Beavercreek, Ore., where she teaches some of same cheesemaking techniques her mother taught her. A couple times a month, she holds cheesemaking classes, which fill up quickly. Six students at a time learn everything from which milk to use to how to clean residue off cheesecloth — a sticky byproduct of straining whey from curds to make soft and semi-firm cheese.

Starbuck’s home is surrounded by rolling, green farmland, where she grows fruits and flowers including blueberries, citrus and rhododendrons. Her home’s kitchen was approved by the state agriculture department to be used commercially.

During her beginner classes, Starbuck guides students through a handful of recipes ranging from queso fresco to creamy French-style feta that’s marinated with oils, olives and raisins.

Starbuck, who wears a yellow, floral-print apron, explained the cheesemaking process starts long before students enter her kitchen. Students must first pick out what kind of milk they want to use, Starbuck said.

Buying milk that’s suitable for cheesemaking is easier in Oregon than in many other states, Starbuck said. Oregon’s state beverage is milk, and the state is home to more than 200 dairies. Milk that is vat or regular pasteurized and sold in grocery stores works great for cheesemaking, Starbuck said.

However, students must avoid ultra-pasteurized milk, which is heated above the boiling point and won’t form firm curds.

“A lot of people are under the misconception that you have to have raw milk to make cheese, and that’s not the case,” said Starbuck.

She said the secret to good cheesemaking is controlling the temperature of the milk, which she stirred on the stove top, often using a laser thermometer to check the heat. Once the milk is at the ideal temperature, she takes it off the stove and adds ingredients such as cheese cultures, calcium chloride and coagulating enzymes such as rennet. If all goes according to plan, the milk begins to harden into curds.

“You never know what can happen,” she said, adding that she’s had to rescue some students after heating the milk too much.

Starbuck teaches her students how to strain whey from curds, which she uses to fertilize her blueberries and rhododendrons. Her students practice slicing curds, which are eventually strained into cheeses such as lemon ricotta and sampled by all. Starbuck takes a spoonful of the ricotta while reminiscing about when she used to milk the family’s cows twice daily, seven days a week.

“I miss it,” said Starbuck. “And everyone says, ‘Oh, you were so lucky to be raised this way.’”

Regulations rile California dairyman Mon, 5 Jun 2017 15:30:59 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER SANTA ROSA, Calif. — A third-generation dairy farmer, Doug Beretta, says the best part of his day is knowing he is taking good care of his cows and helping to feed the world; the downside is complying with regulations.

“Waking up each day, walking to work outside, being your own boss and working with the cattle is the best,” he said. “When you see that 2-year-old heifer have her first calf and start to milk her, it really brings a good feeling knowing you raised and cared for her. It is a big accomplishment.”

Beretta started working on the dairy at the age of 8 and started relief milking when he was 14. Today he owns and operates Beretta Family Organic Dairy with his wife, Sharon, two of their children and four employees.

The 350-cow operation has been certified organic for 10 years.

Beretta Dairy sells the milk as a raw product to Wallaby Organic Yogurt in American Canyon.

“We have Holsteins, Jerseys and crossbreds,” he said. “The crossbreds are mostly Jersey-Holstein crosses, with some other breeds such as Montbeliarde and Swedish Red. The cows are about two-thirds Jersey and Jersey crossbred and about one-third Holstein.

Beretta’s average work day is long — 10 to 12 hours. He also sits on many boards and committees that are ag-related. There are days that he puts in 10 hours, goes to a board meeting at night and gets in bed around midnight and gets up at 5:30 a.m.

He said the dairy industry is a job but it is also a way of life.

According to Beretta, the list of challenges facing California’s dairy industry is long.

“I think regulations — water quality, air quality and animal welfare — are the top of the list,” he said. “People are sitting in their offices making rules that affect all of agriculture who have never run a business, been on a farm, or understand the passion farmers have for their animals and land.”

Animal health is a particular concern for him.

“Without healthy animals and healthy farmland we would not have a business,” he said. “People have to understand that farm animals are cared for better than some humans, but they are not our pets that we bring in the house every night. How many people know that have a doctor on call, a nutritionist that tells them what to eat and four to five people watching over them? Our veterinarian is on call 24 hours a day, our nutritionist visits the farm monthly and is a picture or email away if there are any problems.”

Beretta theorizes that the challenges are some of the reasons fewer people are going into dairy than in the past.

“California has lost over 600 dairies in the last five years, maybe even more than that,” he said.

“I think the decline is due to many things. Low milk price, cost of doing business — labor cost, environmental cost and added regulations,” he said. “Other crops can be planted to make a better living without working 24/7.”