Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Sat, 27 Aug 2016 17:25:53 -0400 en Capital Press | Special Sections J. Frank Schmidt & Son celebrates 70th anniversary Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:48:52 -0400 Janae Sargent J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. celebrates its 70th anniversary this year — and the 50th anniversary of its introduction of the Redpoint Maple tree.

The 2,500-acre wholesale nursery in Boring, Ore., sells more than 500 varieties of trees and has become one of the nation’s largest wholesale nurseries and has one of the leading tree introduction programs.

Even with such a large operation, Nancy Buley, the nursery’s communications director, said a high standard of respect for employees and treatment remains a cornerstone of the company’s success.

Buley considers herself a “tree journalist,” and has been with Schmidt for 26 years — making her one of many employees who have made the nursery a home.

She handles marketing and communications outreach with Jeff Lafrenz, the marketing manager. Both found their way to J. Frank Schmidt unexpectedly and stayed for the supportive environment.

Lafrenz, who has been with the company 30 years, said the creative freedom he has is as close as it gets to being self-employed but with a lot of support from the company.

The company is owned and operated by J. Frank Schmidt III, a third-generation nurseryman. His father, J. Frank Schmidt Jr., started the company in 1946 after growing up on his father’s nursery.

J. Frank Schmidt Jr. saw a need for trees of consistent quality, form and survivability and began cloning and introducing new trees. The nursery has introduced more than 70 trademarked cultivars.

The nursery’s best-known tree, the Redpoint Maple, took 17 years to develop.

Thirty years ago, Schmidt also started selecting trees for heat and drought tolerance.

“Developing trees is a long process that takes a lot of patience, dedication and vision,” Buley said. “Frank Jr. had a lot of vision for the future.”

To clone and introduce a new tree, up to 2,000 seedlings are planted and the best ones are grown out for several years. They are then sent to evaluation trials in various regions around the United States.

Introducing and growing trees has become such a large operation that production had to be split among five smaller farms across the property.

In the first stage of the growing process, cuttings are made to reproduce trees at High Forest Farms, what Buley calls the “nursery of the nursery.”

Manager Celina Villaseñor said her team makes more than 30,000 cuttings per day at the farm.

Eva Alvarez has been on the cutting team for 18 years. Her husband and son also work at Schmidt.

Buley said she thinks employees stay at Schmidt for so long because of how well they are treated and the close-knit community.

For example, every Wednesday after work, employees gather at the company’s 3-acre garden to take whatever food they want home for themselves and their family.

Schmidt employs 70 full-time employees plus seasonal employees. Buley said labor has become a concern at the nursery because it keeps having to raise its wages above minimum wage to stay competitive with other nurseries to get good help.

Buley said another labor concern is replacing retiring employees with a younger workforce.

Schmidt is well into training the next generation to take over the nursery. Frank III’s nephew, Sam Barkley, is expected to take over the company and has been working in various parts of the nursery for eight years.

Alpha Nursery treats employees like family Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:41:14 -0400 Janae Sargent Doug Zeilinski, owner of Alpha Nursery, credits his employees with the growth and success of his business.

Alpha Nursery is a family-owned container nursery that sells more than 750 varieties of plants across the U.S.

Started in 1978 by Zeilinski, a 23-year-old Oregon State University college graduate, it has grown from 3 acres to 150 and bases its success on innovation, diversification and employee empowerment.

One of those employees is RJ Tancredi, general manager, who has been at the nursery 36 years, since the nursery was started. He remembers walking through the original property with Zeilinski and imagining the future.

“I grew up with this program, a lot of us did,” said Tancredi. “This was my first job and will probably be my last.”

Tancredi is the longest-tenured employee at Alpha Nursery but not the only one that has made Alpha a career. Zeilinski said at least two dozen of his 50 employees have been at Alpha for at least 15 years.

When employees reach the 15-year mark, Zeilinski gives them a gold Alpha Nursery watch as a way to commemorate their place at the company.

Employee value and empowerment is a cornerstone that is honored far before employees reach their 15-year mark.

Alpha Nursery maintains a full-time staff of 38 crew workers and 12 staff. Every employee at Alpha has received health insurance, vacation and sick pay for the last 15 years. Zeilinski and the other managers conduct reviews and report cards for each employee to determine bonuses and raises, honor outstanding employees with plaques, hold regular barbecues and parties and even let employees name the equipment they work with.

“If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have this,” Zeilinski said.

Family is another pinnacle of the growth of the nursery; Tancredi said he ended up being “Uncle RJ” to Zeilinski’s two sons, Scott and Josh.

Scott Zeilinski now manages the Zeilinski farm in Keizer, Ore., and Josh works at the nursery in nearby Salem.

Zeilinski originally grew up on the farm with his dad, Ernie. He said having the farm has allowed the nursery to take more risks and has helped offset times when the nursery didn’t bring in as much money as other years.

Josh said he remembers working with the irrigation crew when he was 6 for 75 cents an hour to save up to buy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures at K-Mart.

After graduating from Pepperdine University and working at a large California nursery, Josh returned to Alpha to get back to the way a family nursery operates.

“It’s more fun working at a place like this,” he said. “We have a lot less employees so we get to know everyone personally.”

Doug Zeilinski said Josh is always out working with the grounds crew to get to know them and to get out of his office.

Tancredi joked that when he dies, his wife will have to sprinkle his ashes at the nursery because he’s put so much of his heart into it.

“I’m not a religious person but I have a lot of faith and this nursery is about as close to church it can get,” Tancredi said.

Online system helps ‘consortium nursery’ thrive Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:48:12 -0400 Janae Sargent Paul Bizon came across the idea of a “consortium nursery,” at which several growers share space and materials, while he was traveling in Germany in 2003.

When he returned to the United States, he partnered with the owners of Oregon Turf and Tree and started Garden World, a highly automated retail nursery that sells growers’ plants through an online management system.

PlantX, the operating system, links the inventory directly to the website so when someone buys a plant, it is taken off the website and the grower of that specific plant is notified.

Bizon also owns Bizon Nursery, a wholesale nursery that is known for its conifers and Japanese maples.

As a grower, he said he saw the potential and need for a system that would link growers and sell their materials together.

Instead of buying grower material upfront, growers bring their products to Garden World and get paid every seven days online for whatever they sell.

“It’s a place for growers to bring material and it’s kind of a balancing act of not letting growers build the nursery up, not selling too much and giving enough material to keep the inventory fresh,” Bizon said.

Located on the side of Interstate 5 just outside Woodburn, Ore., Garden World is the easiest nursery to see and the hardest nursery to find, Zach Peyton, the manager, said.

Because of its location — it’s not on an exit for the interstate — Peyton said the nursery is reliant on its online system to sell product.

When plants come in from individual growers, they are tagged with the grower’s information, which is immediately uploaded to the website. All of the employees and growers have access to the website on their phones so they can see how inventory is moving.

“A lot of people are saying the website made it so easy and that’s why they’re here,” said Peyton.

Bizon said the Willamette Valley is the perfect place for a nursery like Garden World because the growers are all so close they can easily monitor and control their sales.

Wayne Carstensen, a contractor, developed PlantX after Bizon came to him with the idea.

“No software system is out there that is more sophisticated or easy to use,” Bizon said. “There’s nothing like it in the nation.”

In addition to the website, Garden World’s operations are mostly automated. There are five employees at the 10-acre nursery and Peyton said most of the operations can run off of the app.

Before the housing market crash of 2008, Garden World had 15 employees. Peyton said the crash cut Garden World sales nearly in half. To cope, the nursery reduced its staff and stopped selling small plants and vegetables that required a lot of hand labor.

Peyton said landscapers, designers and homeowners drive the market at Garden World. The nursery delivers locally so a lot of sales come from nearby Portland, where people shop online and have their plants delivered to their house.

Carstenson started selling PlantX to growers across the United States as an online operating and management system after he developed it for Garden World.

“The success of the system has really fascinated me,” Bizon said. “Out of this little Garden World company grew this software company that is being used by people throughout the nation.”

Fessler Nursery branches out Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:48:25 -0400 Brenna Wiegand The modest azalea nursery Ken and Marie Fessler started on their Woodburn, Ore., farm in 1960 has grown to over 500,000 square feet of greenhouse space with 35-45 employees.

Though the azaleas upon which Fessler Nursery was founded will be cut from production this year, lush fuchsia plants and baskets are still a mainstay at the second-generation business. Some 20,000 fuchsia baskets leave the gates each year.

Ken and Marie’s sons Dale and Marvin run the nursery; sister Debbie Farrell heads propagation and Katy Fessler manages seasonal retail and special projects.

Though “retired,” Ken is there nearly every day planting, pruning or irrigating.

The linchpin of the nursery’s staying power is its diversification and mastery of four distinct markets — hanging baskets, bedding plants, houseplants and propagation.

In addition to their own vegetative cuttings, the nursery receives up to 100,000 cuttings in a day from Selecta One, a subsidiary of Ball Horticultural Co. and a world leader in breeding, producing and marketing vegetatively propagated ornamental plants. The cuttings come from all over the world.

“We stick over 3 million cuttings,” Katy Fessler said. “It’s hard to say how many plants and baskets we sell; Marv estimates around 700,000 4-inch pots and about 80,000 baskets a year.”

Like the hanging baskets, Fessler poinsettias are popular material for community fund-raisers and the nursery has become a wide area’s go-to place for plant sale fund-raisers, whether Mother’s Day hanging baskets or the Christmas poinsettias.

Last year the nursery added a new section of greenhouses dedicated to the spring fund-raiser baskets.

Poinsettias join the vast array of tropical plants the Fesslers propagate and grow in more than 30 greenhouses. The houseplants are shipped all over the Western United States.

April through June Fessler Nursery opens its doors to the public, where a brisk retail trade includes a crush for Mother’s Day baskets.

“Since we are the grower and reseller, we can charge less and sell in mass quantities,” Katy Fessler said. “It’s a Costco model: low margin, high quality, low price, self-service for the most part and a high volume of product. Where else can you go and find 10 full beds of geraniums?”

Retail season ended June 30 and with the premises clear staff is redoubling their improvement efforts, starting with replacing old greenhouse siding and roofing with more energy-efficient materials.

The nursery continues its five-year exploration and increasing use of beneficial soil microbes and predatory insects toward cleaner and more specific pest control.

“Our baskets are on drip and fertilizer injectors,” Katy Fessler said. “A new flat-filler sticking line improved efficiency in our cutting division and a programmable watering boom lets us custom water our cutting beds.

“Though managing labor, keeping up and putting up with government-mandated regulations and finding the family-work balance is a continual challenge,” Katy Fessler said, “But we love being able to provide a product people really enjoy. We also like being able to stay close to home — there’s no commute!”

Nursery thrives despite remote location Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:47:57 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Marlene Godfrey started Godfrey Nursery in 1981 with little more than a 50-foot greenhouse.

Located outside the small town of Aumsville in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the nursery is now owned by Godfrey’s daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Darren Schad. It operates on about 3 acres, with an expansion underway.

Godfrey Nursery produces annuals, perennials, vegetables, hanging baskets and containers, shrubs, trees and a full selection of hard goods including a gift shop and yard art by local crafters.

“We’re kind of unique in what we do here,” Darren said. “We’re like a wholesale nursery for retail; we grow almost everything ourselves. We’re propagating every other week from December to March, averaging 35,000 cuttings at a time.”

Their biggest trade is in hanging baskets. They produce more than 20,000 baskets annually from the thousands of flats of annual flowers they put out every year. The number goes up every year.

Also on the rise is the call for vegetable starts.

“The demand is crazy for vegetables now; a lot of people have their own little greenhouses,” Darren said. “The biggest pick-up has been among the younger people.”

The nursery is open daily March through September. In response to repeated customer requests, this year for the first time it will be open during the holidays. During the three weekends following Thanksgiving, they’ll sell greenery baskets, containers and other gift items.

“That’s kind of how we’ve driven the nursery for the past 30 years, people asking if we’ll do things,” Darren said. “It’s risky; you don’t want to go too crazy.”

They employ some social media for promotions but the bulk of their clientele comes through word-of-mouth.

Watching over the decades, a pattern has become evident: Regular customers being showing up as soon as the nursery opens for the season, peaking around May 1. June then brings an annual flood of new customers who’ve just heard about the place from those other customers.

“Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s last spring,” Jennifer said. “Sadly, this prevented her from enjoying the growth of the nursery through the past years.”

Since assuming ownership in 1997, Jennifer and Darren have learned who’s really in charge.

“Without a doubt, Mother Nature drives the bus,” Darren said. “When the weather’s good, sales are good. You’ve got to watch for severe cold, too. I do a lot of staying up at night to watch the greenhouses. Though we try to stay preventative there are always things like heaters that decide they don’t want to work.”

While their location off the beaten path has prevented even some locals from discovering Godfrey Nursery, it doesn’t deter visitors from as far away as Seattle, Idaho and Central Oregon, including landscapers, independent garden center owners and municipalities.

“They’ll bring a big trailer or truck and start filling it,” Darren said. “Some make monthly trips.”

Community college has plans to grow Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:47:13 -0400 Janae Sargent The Horticulture Department at Chemeketa Community College has plans for a new Agricultural Complex to help provide the education the nursery industry needs to thrive.

Holly Nelson, dean of agricultural sciences, said staff and faculty are working to tailor the program for the current demands of the horticulture industry and to better structure the degree for students who want to transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree.

Chemeketa now offers courses in nursery and greenhouse management and a two-year associate degree in horticulture.

“We feel we haven’t tapped in very well to the full potential of this program,” said Andrew Hone, Chemeketa vice president of governance and administration.

The program enrollment fluctuates between 60 and 100 students, depending on the season and courses offered.

The biggest part of the program’s growth plan is the proposed Agricultural Complex.

The proposal includes classrooms, organic garden areas, crop areas, nursery hoop houses, specialty garden areas and possibly an amphitheater. It will also include the existing community partnership food farm.

Greg Harris, Chemeketa’s public information officer, said the community college has submitted the plan to the state for funding.

He said the project is high on the priority list for the state but Chemeketa won’t get a decision until the legislative session concludes in spring 2017.

The first phase of the plan to grow the agriculture department will be the addition of a woody ornamental lab. The department was awarded a $10,000 grant from the J. Frank Schmidt Family Charitable Foundation to build the lab. Chemeketa matched the donation for the lab, which Nelson anticipates will be done this fall.

The lab will be on the Salem campus and dedicated to demonstrations about various woody ornamental grow systems such as pot-in-pot, baled and burlapped and field grown.

The department has also begun working closely with Oregon State University to develop a strong transfer degree in horticulture.

Harris said students are split evenly between people wanting a finished degree or certificate to go to work and students looking to transfer to a four-year college.

Nelson said OSU has been involved in designing courses that create a more seamless pathway to transfer.

Industry advisory committees helped spark another educational innovation. The college is designing five certificates for students who want education in a specific area without pursuing an associate degree.

Joleen Schilling, Horticulture faculty member, said Chemeketa will offer certificates focused on Landscape Design, Landscape Maintenance, Sustainable Practices, Small Farms and Integrated Pest Management.

Nursery industry rebounds from recession Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:56 -0400 Janae Sargent As the nursery industry continues to rebound from the housing market crash of 2008, those operations that survived the recession are sometimes struggling to meet the growing demands of landscapers and consumers.

Breanne Chavez, executive director of the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, said the landscaping industry is booming and sales are up at retail businesses but that the smaller number of nurseries sometimes struggle to meet the reinvigorated demand.

Approximately 30 percent of nurseries shut down during the recession in response to low demand and a lack of homes being landscaped, she said.

Josh Zeilinski, Oregon Association of Nurseries vice president, said the supply is being built back up to meet the renewed demand.

Zeilinski said the products that are in the highest demand right now are the ones growers decreased production of during the recession. Japanese maples, hedge material and landscaping products are rebounding with the renewed focus on homebuilding.

Chavez said annuals, flowers and hanging baskets stayed strong and continue to be consistently popular. She added that kitchen gardens, herb gardens and edibles kept the industry going when demand for large plant products was down.

The concept of an urban “farm” — backyards with chickens and vegetable gardens — has also gained popularity.

Alongside the concept of urban farms, sustainability and plants that attract pollinators such as honeybees have gained popularity.

“Edibles do really well with young people,” Zeilinski said. “I wouldn’t say they are increasing because they have held really steady.”

Zeilinski said he thinks the North American nursery industry will move toward the European model in the future — focusing on impulse-buy plants that peak when they are in the garden centers.

While he is concerned about the pressure that puts on growers who ship their plants to keep them fresh and peaking, he said it is a good bet to ensure the industry remains strong.

He also sees a future in plants as gifts.

“If young people don’t start buying houses, we need to push the mindset of plant buying toward gift-giving,” Zeilinski said. “We need to make people view plants in a different way.”

Zeilinski and Chavez agreed that it is exciting to have a strong nursery market again and that the industry will continue to generate innovative new ideas in the years to come.

Little Prince adds creative touches Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:55 -0400 Janae Sargent Little Prince of Oregon nursery strives to stand out in the industry.

Whether it’s sporting beards made out of succulents at the 2015 Oregon Farwest Show, developing different advertising strategies for each line of plants or painting a giant frog on the side of its delivery trucks, owner Ketch de Kanter and his managers encourage creativity.

Little Prince is a wholesale nursery in Aurora, Ore., that markets perennials, ground covers, ornamental grasses, ferns, native plants and succulents to landscapers and garden centers.

Kanter began the nursery in 1997 with no background in horticulture. Since then, it has grown from 5 to 25 acres and has 160,000 square feet of greenhouse space.

Mark Leichty, director of business development, said branding and product recognition have been huge factors in the nursery’s success and stability.

The nursery has 12 trademarked groupings of plants that the owner and managers brainstormed to be catchy and recognizable. They include such items as “Blades of Glory,” which refers to grasses that provide movement and texture.

When the nursery prepares to introduce a new product, the owner and managers gather for a week to brainstorm catchy names for it.

“If you could be a fly on the wall listening to us come up with new brand names, you would be impressed.” Leichty said. “We want people to be able to recognize us.”

The name and logo for the nursery follow Kanter’s theme of different and recognizable.

Leichty said the name “Little Prince of Oregon” comes from the children’s book “Little Prince” that Kanter’s father used to read to him as a bedtime story. His father used to call him the little prince of Oregon.

The nursery’s logo is a giant frog with a crown on its head. The nursery puts the frog logo on all of the plants, tags, publications and delivery trucks.

Leichty said his favorite part about driving the delivery trucks is seeing the reactions and smiles from other drivers on the highway when they see the giant cartoon frog.

Beyond brand recognition, Leichty said the nursery’s attention to detail has played a big role in bringing repeat customers back to the nursery.

While Leichty is looking at making the nursery more automated, he said it will continue to have the grounds crew hand-water each of the plants.

“We want to have eyes on every crop every day,” Leichty said.

Leichty will design the Little Prince of Oregon booth at the Oregon Farwest Show and said he is looking forward to pushing outside of box more than he did last year.

In 2015, Leichty and Michael Hicks, the head grower, sported long beards made out of succulents and moss. The booth won the “Most Outside the Box” award at the show.

Leichty is planning to take it further this year with an ’80s rock band theme complete with Van Halen-style moss wigs, colored lights and drums and guitars as planters.

When Leichty was hired in 2013, he said he wasn’t expecting the creative freedom he would get. He said he was also surprised at how close the managers and owner became over the years and called them his best friends.

“I love this job so much,” Leichty said. “I basically live and breathe Little Prince.”

Nurseries become destinations for customers Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:46 -0400 Janae Sargent Independent garden centers are adapting the idea of becoming “destination nurseries” and offering classes, events and community projects to set themselves apart and compete with box stores.

Breanne Chavez, executive director of the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, said nurseries are positioning themselves as a resource and community partner to bring in new customers and make shopping more of an experience than can be had at box stores.

By becoming a destination spot, garden centers have begun offering instructional classes, yoga classes, large-scale social events and cafés to engage community and get new customers in the nursery and interested in gardening.

Garland nursery in Corvallis, Ore., is a regarded Oregon destination nursery. Co-owners Brenda Powell, Lee Powell and Erica Powell-Kaminskas said people come to their nursery to be happy and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

Garland nursery offers rotating monthly class geared toward plant care, regular classes to engage children and teach them to plant and holds 4 to five large events each year that are open and free to the public.

“Our events and classes are intended to draw in people who might not be customers now but may want to in the future and when they do- they will think of us,” Lee Powell said.

Josh Zeilinski, Oregon Association of Nurseries executive committee vice president, said he thinks the idea of destination nurseries are a good idea.

Zeilinski said changing garden centers to destinations will take a big shift in mindset but that he sees a lot of value, especially in bringing in the millennial generation.

Chavez said one major debate in the nursery industry is how to bring young people in and get them engaged in gardening.

Brenda Powell said she hopes teaching young kids to plant when they are young will give them a love for gardening that will continue when they get older and start buying plants for their homes.

One of the challenges destination nurseries are trying to address is the change in what kinds of plants young people want to buy.

Aimee Damman, director of marketing and communications at Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle, said most young people live in urban areas so there is a shift from large landscaping plants to houseplants and edibles.

Damman said Swanson has positioned itself as a shopping experience with high quality experts to warrant higher prices and bring wealthier young people in looking for edibles and houseplants.

Swanson’s nursery has a café, gift shop, tables and areas to walk and sit and invites people to be there without buying plants.

“There is a sense of peacefulness and calm that comes over you when you are in the nursery,” Damman said. “It’s OK to just enjoy the moment where you are.”

Swanson’s president, Brian Swanson, said becoming a destination experience gives independent nurseries the ability to out compete the box stores.

Swanson said he is concerned that garden centers will go too far with becoming lifestyle centers and sacrificing square footage for plants to make room for classes and recreational space.

“A destination nursery creates fun and a feeling of friendship,” Erica Powell said. “It keeps a steady flow of customers for us and creates a unique experience for them.”

Diversification helps company weather changes Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:30 -0400 Janae Sargent When the housing market crash of 2008 cut the demand for sod in half, Tom DeArmond knew the only way to keep Oregon Turf and Tree successful would be to diversify.

In 2015, the company added 10 acres of hazelnut trees to its 700-acre farm to offset the stagnant sales of sod.

In addition to sod and hazelnuts, the farm grows grass seed, shade trees and pot-in-pot trees.

Oregon Turf and Tree serves the Interstate 5 corridor and southwestern Washington.

The company started growing sod in the 1973 after DeArmond, the company’s co-owner, said his father noticed new homeowners’ and builders’ need for instant lawn gratification.

DeArmond said that during the recession, new buildings were going up at half the rate they were before 2008. While the industry has begun to recover, he said it’s still not back to its previous level.

“We don’t see the industry getting bigger anytime soon,” DeArmond said. “I see (sod) becoming a smaller part of the farm.”

Working more efficiently allowed Oregon Turf and Tree to retain 90 percent of its employees after the crash. DeArmond said the business is split evenly into three parts — grass seed, shade trees and sod — so when sod wasn’t doing well he could count on the other products to provide year-round business.

DeArmond said he noticed a big demand for hazelnuts in Asia and invested in growing hazelnuts as a stable product that is a strong crop in the Willamette Valley.

The sod Oregon Turf and Tree has been focused on growing is ryegrass and tall fescue — a drought- and heat-resistant sod that needs less water.

Tall fescue requires less frequent irrigation and tolerates partial shade better than other sods, he said. DeArmond said there has been an evolution in drought-resistant sod over the last 30 years.

While DeArmond said the company is diversifying and may reduce sod production, he stressed the importance of grass and sod to families and their communities.

“Grass is sometimes regarded as non-essential because it doesn’t feed animals or produce water but there are a lot of benefits to it,” he said. “Two hundred feet of grass provides a family of four enough oxygen for a day.”

Oregon Turf and Tree is in its third generation of family owners. DeArmond co-owns the company with his siblings, Brett, Tom and Linda. DeArmond’s father is also still active in the company.

DeArmond is already getting the fourth generation around the company, bringing his 3- and 5-year-old children out to the farm.

“They just think it’s a big playground here,” he said.

DeArmond said he plans to continue to diversify and grow the hazelnut production in the future.

“Diversity has always been a focus of ours and will continue to be,” DeArmond said.

Nursery specializes in succulents Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:10 -0400 Janae Sargent After a career in the RV industry, Barbara Diamond’s son inspired her to start Dancing Lizard Gardens — one of only a few specialty succulent nurseries in Oregon.

Dancing Lizard Gardens is a 12-acre wholesale nursery in Junction City, Ore.

Diamond sells hardy succulent arrangements to homeowners, local garden centers and online gift catalog companies. Her succulents have been used as gifts, homes and for weddings.

Diamond was laid off from her 23-year career at RV maker Country Coach in 2005 and started looking for other sources of income.

While she was figuring out her next steps, she took a trip to Decker Nursery with her son, Jerry. Walking around the nursery, he begged her to buy succulents for him to take care of.

“He really got into them,” Diamond said. “He had them all over the place.”

When her son went to college in Ithaca, N.Y., and left his succulents at home, Diamond thought she would give a succulent nursery a try with her husband, David.

Diamond started out selling to Bi-Mart, Jerry’s Home Improvement and Market of Choice and expanded the business to do drop shipments for catalog companies.

Diamond said succulents are good plants to have because they are easy to care for and people are attracted to the vibrant colors.

In addition to selling potted plants, Diamond designs arrangements for specialty containers, wreaths, birdhouses and baskets. Her most popular items are specialty arrangements she designs in bunny, frog, cat, owl and seashell containers.

Diamond studied landscape horticulture at Oregon State University but had experience with succulents before Dancing Lizard Gardens.

Designing arrangements is Diamond’s favorite part of owning Dancing Lizard Gardens. She said she looks for complementing colors and interesting texture when designing her container gardens.

The nursery is managed and maintained by Diamond and her family.

Diamond’s busy season goes from Valentine’s Day through Mother’s Day with the majority of her plants selling as gifts but she is busy year-round shipping for catalogs and selling to garden centers.

Diamond said if she had started Dancing Lizard Gardens when she was younger, she would have expanded it to be a large operation but that she is happy with where it is for her.

“I’m not the kind of person to sit around and do nothing,” Diamond said. “There’s always something to do here and I really enjoy it.”

OAN’s Farwest Show keeps on growing Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:41:30 -0400 Janae Sargent The Oregon Association of Nurseries 2016 Farwest Trade Show will feature expanded programs that focus on navigating the challenges facing the industry today.

Growers, landscapers and wholesalers representing the horticulture industry will gather for the three-day show at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore. The show begins on Thursday, Aug. 25.

Last year, 386 exhibitors were at the show, attracting visitors from 47 states and 18 countries. Crystal Cady, the event and member services manager of the show, said the number of exhibitors signed up for the 2016 show has already passed 400, and she expects the floor to sell out.

Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, will give this year’s keynote address. Titled “Factors Affecting Short- and Long-Term Demand in the Future,” it will explore the major factors of the current horticulture industry.

Hall is a well-known speaker in regards to economics and the future of the industry. He presented at the Farwest Show about the recession in 2013.

This year’s New Varieties Showcase is themed “Plants with a Purpose: Pollinators.” The showcase will feature 55 plants, a record-breaking number for the Farwest Show.

The showcase and several of the breakout sessions such as “Marketing in the Digital Age: Reaching Today’s Time-Starved Consumers” and “Marketing to Generation Me” educate attendees about how to sell plants to the younger consumer.

Allison Pennell, event and program coordinator, said the idea of the “lifestyle gardener” is a growing trend in the industry, especially in the younger generation.

“People want to use their gardens to show their values,” Pennell said. “Restoration and pollinator support are ways people bring their values and lifestyles into their garden.”

Pennell ran an outreach program at Oregon colleges with horticulture programs to attract young people to the show. An annual favorite networking event for young professionals in horticulture will be at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 25 along with the networking event aimed at women in horticulture at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 26.

Farwest will also feature its annual pub-crawl and tours of nurseries and retailers.

Pennell said OAN has revamped its Farwest mobile application for attendees and exhibitors to download and get connected to the schedule and other attendees.

The app allows users to make appointments and set reminders for sessions, view the schedule and synopses of events, and share contact information with other attendees.

Cady said Farwest has been growing in numbers and attracting attendees from more parts of the globe.

“We are the largest show on the West Coast that is a green industry show,” Cady said. “The floor is getting bigger and bigger every year. No matter what you do in the industry, you’re going to find what you need at our show.”

Bonsai nursery owner thinks small Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:40:47 -0400 Janae Sargent Mirai Bonsai nursery, workshop and school in St. Helens, Ore., melds the 2,000-year-old Japanese tradition with a unique Americanized look to create living artworks.

Ryan Neil, owner of Mirai Bonsai, is one of the U.S. pioneers of bonsai as an art form. He created the nursery in 2010.

Bonsai is the practice of creating a miniature but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree.

Americanized bonsai uses the techniques and principals from traditional Japanese bonsai but portrays American landscapes using native materials.

Neil said using trees that people know makes the context easier to identify with and relate to.

Before starting Mirai Bonsai, Neil studied under Masahiko Kimura, a well-known bonsai master in Japan, for eight years.

“My breakthrough came when I realized there is a lack of connection in the Japanese model,” Neil said. “With our trees, people are saying ‘I’ve seen that before, I’ve been there.’ It helps them appreciate bonsai in a whole new way.”

Mirai Bonsai’s main flagship trees are Ponderosa pines, Rocky Mountain junipers, Sierra junipers, Douglas firs, Colorado spruces, Engelmann spruces and California junipers. Neil said the nursery is conifer specialized and focuses on native Western hearty species. Bonzai trees range in price from $800 up, according to Mirai’s website.

Neil said his company is paving a whole new direction for bonsai in America.

Last fall, Neil brought his living art to the Portland Art Museum in what curators said was the most highly attended private exhibit in their memory of the museum.

Neil and his wife, Chelsea, envisioned the exhibition, called the Artisans Cup, as an exhibition of American Bonsai featuring 70 trees from across North America.

“I’ve never seen anything like (The Artisans Cup),” Neil said. “We tapped into a new way of approaching bonsai in the way we presented the art form and allowed people to view and experience it.”

It also opened the door for Neil to exhibit his work at the Portland Japanese Gardens, the Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency and several artistic installations around the city and the country.

Neil studied horticultural science at California Polytechnic State University knowing he wanted to apply his studies to bonsai someday. While traveling through California learning from people who had bonsais, Neil met his future garden director, Troy Cardoza. When Neil returned from Japan and began his nursery in St. Helens, Troy was one of his first students.

“Bonsai was always a hobby of mine. Now it is my job and I love it,” Cardoza said. “I have a very personal connection to it.”

Neil said there is a big misconception about bonsai with many people believing a part of it is “torturing” trees.

He added that the materials used at Mirai Bonsai come from very harsh environments where they are considered garbage among the rest of the trees. When a tree comes to Mirai Bonsai, he said it is pampered with water and good conditions and encouraged to thrive.

Mirai Bonsai’s focus on Americanized bonsai is intentional. Neil said it is a vehicle to discuss what the origin of American culture is.

“To me, the origin of our culture is our landscapes. They can form people. Living in the Rocky Mountains formed who I was, what I did and what I aspired to be,” Neil said. “In this world where there is no limitation to what we can do or where we can go, losing our connection is like losing our foundations.”

Neil said his dream for Mirai Bonsai is to be considered at or above the level of a professional operation in Japan and to expand people’s knowledge and understanding of bonsai as an art form.

Dennis’ 7 Dees sets sights on growth Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:40:08 -0400 Janae Sargent David Snodgrass sees Dennis’ 7 Dees as a $50 million company and said its managers have developed a four-year plan to meet that goal.

Growth, sustainability and empowerment are the cornerstones of the fourth-generation family-owned landscaping, retail and maintenance company that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Owners of Dennis’ 7 Dees recently challenged managers to put together four-year plans that set goals for their divisions.

Snodgrass, the president, said the company is on track to meet the plan’s first-year goal.

Dennis’ 7 Dees is split into four divisions: retail, commercial bid build construction, residential design build and maintenance services.

Snodgrass said the bid build work has steadily increased and is doing well and that he would like to see the maintenance division experience more growth.

The retail division of the Portland-area company is still recovering from the drop in big projects after the housing market recession that began in 2008, but Snodgrass said he has seen a turnaround. He is also looking to expand retail in the future, too.

“I really like that we’re so diversified,” Snodgrass said. “I enjoy all aspects of this industry.”

Growth has been a priority for the company since it started as a wholesale rhododendron nursery in Portland in 1927.

As the company grew, so did the family. When David’s father, Robert Snodgrass, married into the Dennis family, took over the wholesale business and had seven children, all with names starting with a “D,” the business officially adopted the name “Dennis’ 7 Dees.”

David Snodgrass first bought into the landscape division. When he took over in 1977, it was doing approximately $70,000 annually. He said in 2005, revenues hit nearly $25 million.

In 2005 Snodgrass bought out the brothers he was partnered with and brought in his brothers, Dean and Drew, as partners.

Snodgrass said family is vital to the company’s success. That includes both the immediate family and the managers and staff, which he calls the extended family.

“We really encourage empowerment and growth from within here,” Snodgrass said. “We have people who have worked here for 40 years and family members of employees working here, and I’m very proud of that.”

Part of that empowerment plan is a new experiment for the company in which senior management teams hold meetings about decisions and the future of the company without the owners or other authority figures in the room.

Snodgrass said his hope is to make sure the managers think and act like an owner-operator and make decisions collaboratively.

Snodgrass said a big trend he sees in landscaping is moving toward hard surfaces such as patios and synthetic surfaces. He stressed the importance of having green landscaping.

“(Hardsurface) doesn’t invite kids to be outdoors,” Snodgrass said. “There’s so much green landscaping contributes to our environment and quality of life.”

Snodgrass said Dennis’ 7 Dees will also be focusing on developing habits to manage water more sustainably and design green installations with conservation in mind.

Business combines love of ag, sports Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:39:23 -0400 Janae Sargent When Mike Herbard received a master’s degree in health and physical education to become a teacher, he never would have guessed that by his 50th birthday he would become one of the most called-on athletic field landscapers and designers in Oregon.

Herbard owns and operates Athletic Field Design, a Portland-area maintenance and customized graphics service for sports fields at the local, collegiate and professional levels.

With the help of his son, Andy, Herbard has become a nationally recognized expert in field design.

Herbard got his first experience with athletic field landscaping when he was working at West Texas State University.

“The coach just asked if I wanted to work with the guy on the field and I never had before but I had hardly nothing to work with as far as equipment,” Herbard said. “The players treated me more like a teammate than the grounds guy.”

When Herbard’s dad asked him to move back to Oregon with his wife, he got his first job in agriculture, working with a grass seed salesman.

“I went through a career counselor and took a counseling test that said I was very high on agriculture, which surprised me,” Herbard said. “I knew I wanted to be in sports but I had thought I wanted to teach.”

While working with the grass seed company, Herbard said he learned the need to specialize to be successful. Ten years later, he started Athletic Field Design.

Herbard has installed fields at Oregon State University, Clackamas Community College, Madison High School, Oregon City High School and Clackamas High School.

He has maintained fields and painted logos for Little League games, at Nike headquarters and for professional teams.

In 2012, Herbard designed the Alpenrose Stadium for the Little League Softball World Series, which was selected as the Softball Field of the Year by Sports Turf Managers Association.

Herbard started bringing Andy with him to help on the fields when he was 5 years old. After college, Andy went on to work on the grounds crews for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Redskins before returning to Oregon to start his own athletic design company and help his dad with Athletic Field Design.

“I get therapy out of this work,” Herbard said. “It can be very tough but you have so much space and are surrounded by so much greenery it’s therapeutic.”

Going into its 23rd year of business, Herbard has expanded from just field maintenance to a major logo painting operation.

“It’s funny,” Herbard said. “I was originally just doing this on the weekends and working Monday through Friday. I quit my other job to put more time toward this and I still work weekends because I’m just so busy.”

Herbard said his passion is the baseball fields and that his business has allowed him to be close to the sports he loves.

Water lilies, koi add tranquility to gardens Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:38:28 -0400 Janae Sargent Ann Spieran sits back in her lawn chair and watches the koi fish circle each other in a pond they share with water lilies.

“I enjoy the sound of the water and watching the fish,” Spieran said. “It’s very tranquil.”

Spieran has worked with water lily ponds and koi since she was 20. Previously located in Silverton, she has been doing business in the Willamette Valley since 1976. She moved to her Salem location in 1990.

Her business, Willamette Koi and Water Lilies, is a specialty nursery that offers a variety of water lilies, water plants, perennials, bamboo and koi.

In addition to being a retailer of fish, Spieran sells koi food, nets, medications, pumps, filters and other pond equipment.

When she started her business, it was one of the few retailers in the area that sold koi. Spieran said there has since been a big increase in the popularity of koi and more retailers are selling them.

However, but she has a loyal customer base and keeps busy. She sells primarily to individuals and to some landscape companies.

The property is dotted with ponds where Spieran grows water lilies and other water plants.

Spieran’s interest in water lilies came from their aesthetic. She said they are “almost too perfect.”

That aesthetic attraction carried over into caring for koi fish. Spieran said she loves the complex colors of the fish.

“You could spend a lifetime just studying the color patterns on these fish,” Spieran said.

Originally, she didn’t go into the industry planning on working with koi but said she knew she wanted to work with animals since she was young.

“My mom says she remembers me being two and laying on the ground watching ants go by,” Spieran said. “I guess animals have always been my thing.”

Spieran said her nursery almost didn’t survive the housing market crash but that last year was really good for her — and so far 2016 has been, too.

At 107, Tillamook Cheese still growing Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:42:47 -0400 Gail Oberst TILLAMOOK, Ore. — In 1853, three dairies were operating in the area, according to “The Tillamook Way,” a history of the Tillamook County Creamery Association by Northwest author and journalist Archie Satterfield.

By 1856, Indian Agent William R. Raymond recorded making the first vat of cheese in Tillamook County. Thus began a tradition in the region now famous for its dairies.

Coincidentally, Patrick Criteser, president and CEO of Tillamook County Creamery Association and Tillamook Cheese, has traced his ancestry in Oregon back seven generations. Although his ancestors settled in the Willamette Valley, Criteser said he took the Tillamook job nearly four years ago because he wanted to work in his home state, Oregon.

The association board recruited Criteser after he had worked in administrative posts for brands including Nike, Disney and Proctor & Gamble and, more recently, as CEO at Coffee Bean International. Criteser is the eighth CEO of the 107-year-old farmer-owned Tillamook County Creamery Association.

The association is one of the Northwest’s largest dairy cooperatives, but unlike many others, Tillamook develops and distributes branded consumer products from almost all of the milk it gets from its Tillamook County owners.

Those products are marketed under the Tillamook brand, and 95 percent of them are sold west of the Rockies, although some non-branded milk byproducts such as powdered whey and lactose are sold internationally.

Criteser joined the company during a volatile period in the milk prices, from highs in 2014 to recent lows. Added to market, environmental and political challenges are those of running an operation that purchases milk from its 97 dairy owners, then manufactures, distributes and promotes Tillamook dairy products to make a profit for its owners.

When market prices for milk are low, the challenge is to increase profits for farmer-owners at the sales end. When prices for milk are high, the challenge is to increase sales or reduce other costs to maintain profits.

Tillamook’s revenues have grown by about 45 percent in the past four years, with profit growth exceeding that pace, Criteser said. The expanded earnings have come with expanded employment, up from about 650 four years ago to 850 this year in Tillamook and in Boardman.

In 2014, the company completed a 64,000-square-foot expansion at its production facility in Boardman allowing it to increase whey processing — a $95 million investment.

In addition, more than 1.3 million people visited the Tillamook Cheese factory in Tillamook — “About as many as the Space Needle,” Criteser said.

He said his goal has been to spread the power of the Tillamook brand beyond its cheeses to its ice cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt and other products. Already, products are now made with fewer artificial ingredients — notice the mint chocolate chip isn’t green anymore? — and new products, including Greek yogurts and ice cream bars are seeing success.

A new line of super-premium ice creams, gelatos and frozen custards was released this year.

“We think we can be strong in anything dairy, as long as we can bring something the consumer doesn’t already have,” Criteser said.

Farm produces milk from start to finish Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:39:08 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Third-generation dairy farmer Garry Hansen has found a clear niche selling milk in glass bottles.

In 2000 Hansen purchased a dairy farm near Mulino, Ore., a stone’s throw from the farm where he grew up. He has raised and managed cows since childhood and is dedicated to his herd of registered Jersey cows and the Jersey breed.

Like his family before him, Hansen sold his milk to the Darigold co-op but grew weary of government-regulated prices and other limitations. When financial troubles hit the dairy in 2003 he decided to go it alone and set out to build Garry’s Meadow Fresh brand.

He purchased processing equipment from a retired milk producer-processor and spent five years putting the infrastructure in place that would allow him to produce milk from start to finish.

The going was slow; for two years Hansen and his team raced around to five Portland farmers’ markets every weekend.

Hansen bottles his milk in both glass bottles and plastic jugs. One Saturday in 2009 he brought an equal number of plastic and glass containers to Beaverton’s Farmers’ Market. The glass-bottled milk sold out within the first two hours.

“That kind of unclouded our vision and put us on the right path,” Hansen said. Over the next year they worked in earnest to build the brand and get it on local store shelves. Hansen said his training and experience as an auctioneer proved helpful in his marketing.

Another pivotal point came in 2010 when Garry’s Meadow Fresh got the nod from New Seasons Market, an upscale Portland-based chain. Hansen finally withdrew from the co-op.

“New Seasons is good about giving local people a try and they’re really growing,” said Hansen. At this time, 60 percent of the dairy’s milk goes to New Seasons.

In 2009 Hansen was milking about 50 cows; he now milks 85, bottling about 300 gallons of milk a day in glass half-gallon, quart and pint-size bottles.

Beyond the glass, the milk appeals to customers because it’s fresh, locally grown and processed differently from the norm.

The milk is vat pasteurized — heated to 145 degrees and held there for 30 minutes. Most milk is ultra pasteurized — brought to 280 degrees for two seconds.

“It doesn’t have as long a shelf life — ours is 18 days to three weeks,” Hansen said, “but it preserves far more active enzymes and the flavor is better.”

Another difference is that Hansen doesn’t homogenize to break down the milkfat and blend it into the milk.

“Except for the fat-free, the cream will be on top, just the way it came from the cow,” he said, adding that many older folks claim its taste hearkens back to the milk of their youth.

Running a dairy and processing plant, finding a niche, building a brand and staying on top of supply and demand is hard work.

“The price points may look high — whole milk averages $4.50 a half gallon with a $2 bottle deposit — but you’ve got to put heart and soul into all aspects of the business,” Hansen said.

Happy June Dairy Month Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:41:46 -0400 Lee Mielke Here we are at another June Dairy Month and most consumers don’t give it a second thought. They have never seen a day that they walked into their local grocery store and found the dairy case empty. And, probably never will.

Like so many things in this country, we take it for granted and we assume there’ll always be rows and rows of gallon jugs of milk sitting there, as well as the numerous varieties of cheese proudly displayed, and the awesome selection of premium ice creams in flavors we may never have even heard of.

But, while consumers are never really concerned about the future of the dairy industry “because they get their milk at the grocery store,” dairy farmers walk a very fine financial line every day, especially considering where milk prices are today compared to the record highs of just two years ago.

Plus, they face an ever-increasing threat from so-called environmental activists, many of whom have a vegetarian agenda.

June Dairy Month 2014 saw U.S. dairy farmers in a position they hadn’t been in many years, with on-farm milk prices that actually paid the bills, but they were short-lived.

Those prices set record highs and provided badly needed relief from the last painful lows, which occurred in 2009 and put many operations out of business.

There are bright spots for dairy farmers today and dairy products are as popular as ever.

Butter has been exonerated and is replacing margarine as the spread of choice at home and in fast food chains, which now proudly boast of their use of butter in today’s menus.

Whole milk sales have also seen positive growth as new health studies show that dairy fat is not the demon it was once made out to be.

Unfortunately, fluid milk consumption overall is still slipping but there have been some promising powerful new efforts even by non-dairy companies to stem the tide and bring consumers back to the milk beverage category so fluid milk consumption has not been surrendered.

Cheese consumption remains strong in the United States but we still have a ways to catch up to many other countries in the world in per capita consumption. New product innovations will hopefully boost that category even more.

The song many years ago said, “The times, they are a-changing,” and they are. A very small percentage of the U.S. population today is involved in agriculture or even has ties with it, a huge contrast to what it was not that long ago.

But consumers still have an affinity for the farm, and farmers, for the most part, are held in high regard.

Consumers also have a new zeal to know more about their food, where their food is coming from and how it is produced. Dairy has an excellent story to tell and is doing so.

As I have said before, to fully appreciate the availability and wholesomeness of today’s dairy case, today’s consumer needs to know what’s on the other side of the dairy case, especially the long hard hours and dedication that dairy producers throughout the country put into their product. June Dairy Month tells that story.

Dairy products continue to offer consumers a wonderful nutrient package for newborns to seniors and, thanks to this dedicated industry, they will always be available any day of the week at any time of the day because, even as you read this, there’s most likely a dairy farmer somewhere at work on your behalf.

Growing dairy heifers on pasture a plus Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:40:12 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Studies are showing that dairy heifers raised on pasture are healthier, cost less to raise and ultimately give more milk.

Jennifer Blazek, a University of Wisconsin Dane County dairy and livestock educator, began a project last year to encourage more dairies to raise their heifers on pasture.

“We have a lot of large farms that raise heifers in confinement,” she said.

Grazing heifers is a cultural adjustment for many dairy farmers.

“They have invested in facilities for heifers and feel they would be going backward to raise them on pasture, because that’s what small farms do,” she said. “The big dairies feel they can do it better and more efficiently in modern facilities.”

She first did a survey of every dairy in the watershed. The idea was to reduce phosphorus and runoff from the barnyards and confinement facilities. The survey sought to see who might be interested in cost-sharing to help cover taking some land out of crop production and putting it into pasture, and to assess perceptions about grazing heifers.

“In September we had a field day and pasture walk on a farm with a custom heifer grower. He has been custom-raising heifers on grass for many years,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for people to see how it works, and for other farmers to hear why the owner decided to do this.”

He addressed issues they were concerned about.

“Some thought the heifers would be more skittish and harder to handle when they come into the milk parlor for the first time,” she said.

The heifers were actually much calmer and friendlier. They also had much better muscle tone and calved easier, for their first calf, than heifers raised in confinement, she said.

“They had more exercise, were healthier and outperformed confinement heifers,” Blazek said.

The heifers were on pasture in the morning and afternoon, and at mid-day were brought into a shed and fed a little grain to encourage them to come in for breeding and health checks.

“They were handled a lot and were not wild. When we did the pasture walk they all came over to check us out,” she said.

One of the farmers who decided to try pasturing heifers has a 250-cow dairy and is interested in heifer health.

“We want to follow up on these projects to find out how long these heifers last in the herd compared with their confinement-raised counterparts,” Blazek said.

Many dairymen are hesitant to try it, thinking they don’t have enough land and don’t want to take any crop land out of production.

“They don’t realize there is equal feed value in pasture, and less labor. Heifers feed themselves; you only have to move the temporary fence,” she said.

“I recently gave a presentation with Adam Able, an NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) conservationist,” she said. “He had statistics showing it is 50 cents cheaper per head per day to raise heifers on grass than in confinement.”

Abel also cited a University of Minnesota study that showed pastured heifers have 50 percent fewer displaced abomasums, 60 percent less calving difficulty and 33 percent fewer cases of milk fever. Also, there were no skeletal injuries compared with 10 percent of confined heifers that suffered injuries.

Pastured heifers also are more fertile and have fewer respiratory problems.

“These things affect profit and also sets the tone for the rest of their lactation and their productive life,” Blazek said.

She wants to get data from several counties and extend the research that has already been done.

“Studies from Minnesota and from our research stations on heifer health are from 2007 and outdated. We need something more recent and timely,” she said. “We need some good demonstration farms to show that it works. Then the neighbors pay more attention.”

If custom heifer raisers make a case for it because it’s cheaper, and if owners get over their fear of what they’ll get back, it will catch on, she said.

“Owners are the challenge; most custom heifer raisers already want to do it,” she said. “There is plenty of experience and knowledge out there about how to do it, but the heifer owners have to take that step.”

With improved pasture and good management, you can get just as much yield as from an alfalfa field, with less investment.

“The heifers harvest and fertilize it,” she said. “Instead of storing manure in the dairy facility, the heifers are spreading it out on the field.”

Azores transplants take root in California Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:37:37 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER The path Marlene Silveira and her family took to fulfill their dream of owning a dairy in California was a long one.

“I was born into the dairy business,” she said. “My family still has dairies in the Azores Islands (off the coast of Portugal), where I was born. As far back as I can go, my family has always milked cows.”

In 1999, she married Victor, whose parents also came from the Azores and had started a California dairy in 1987.

At first, Marlene and Victor leased a dairy farm. Then in 2001, another dream came true — the couple bought a dairy between Sacramento and Redding, Calif.

“In 2006 we reached a new chapter for Silveira Farms and became an organic dairy,” she said. “We wanted to get the cows on pasture and off of concrete. We went back to the way our family dairies in the Azores.”

The dairy milks around 600 cows. Most are Holsteins but there are a few Jerseys and cross-breeds.

A couple of years ago they also decided to plant trees and now have almond and walnut orchards.

The Silveiras sell their milk to Organic West, a milk broker that sells it to processors.

“I always say that you are born into the dairy business or you marry into it,” she said. “It is truly a 7/24-hour job and most people do not want this lifestyle. But most dairymen will tell you that this is the most rewarding job and we would not trade it for the world. I personally cannot imagine not milking cows.”

Although it is an ideal life for her family, she acknowledges there are bumps in the road.

“There are many challenges for a dairy farmer in California,” she said. “The milk price the California dairy farmer receives is about 10 percent lower than the rest of the nation. The reason is that California is not in the federal order.”

She hopes that will change next year, when farmers will vote on a federal order.

“The operating costs — land, labor, electricity, feed costs and fuel in California are also high,” she said. “These are some of the reasons many dairies are going out of business or moving out of state.”

She also thought about moving.

“There was a time we also considered moving out of California for these reasons, but we love California,” he said. “This is where family lives and where we want to raise our two kids.”

Silveira is a member of the California Milk Advisory Board.

Third generation takes over family dairy Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:23:15 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Nathan Gilbert’s grandparents moved near Othello, Wash., in the early 1960s from Roosevelt, Utah, when the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project began.

“Our dairy and milk plant is at Warden and the main farm — where we live — is near Othello, about 20 minutes down the road from the dairy,” he said.

“My grandfather and his brother raised potatoes, beans and corn. My uncle came back into the family business in the early 1970s and my father in the late 1970s. They decided to expand and in 1981 a small dairy came up for sale nearby,” he said.

Those 300 cows were the start.

“About 6 months after we purchased the dairy there was an opportunity to lease a milk-processing plant just around the corner, so we began bottling milk as well,” Gilbert said.

“At that time we were selling milk to Darigold. As we grew, we leased several other dairy facilities, and in 1995 purchased the dairy we’re operating today.”

Then in 2002 their milk processing plant burned.

“We shipped milk to Montana, to Meadow Gold, while we started construction on the plant we’re in today in Warden. In 2004 we started processing again,” Gilbert said. “We are still adding animals, and by this time next year we hope to be milking about 2,500.”

The cows are all Holsteins, and the Gilberts raise their own heifers in a heifer-developing facility at the dairy.

“It’s a self-contained unit, and a closed herd. We normally produce more heifers than we need, and sell about 20 percent, along with all the bull calves,” he said.

“We breed them, calve them out, sell them as fresh cows and keep the heifer calves. Currently, we are not selling any, because we are growing the herd,” he said.

Once they reach the 2,500 mark they will probably sell about 50 fresh cows per month.

They raise about 80 percent of their forage — hay, corn silage and earlage.

“We farm about 2,000 acres. When feed prices are high, this makes our feed cheaper. When prices are low we could probably purchase feed cheaper than we can raise it, but it’s nice to not have to haul it in.”

The herd has an 85-pound daily average milk production per cow.

“Milk from our plant goes to grocery stores and to customers who manufacture milk products, including a cheese plant. We haul milk locally and to Seattle and Portland,” he said.

Nathan and his brother, Kevin, came back to the dairy after wearing different hats.

“Keven came back in the fall of 2013 and I came back in the spring of 2014. Our other brother, Jason, is planning to come back in 2017. We are the third generation in the dairy. The fourth generation is still very young; my oldest son is 7.”

Nathan and his brothers left the farm for college.

“We all went to college, got our degrees and went into the work force. Kevin was a CPA and did accounting. I was a banker for Northwest Farm Credit in Twin Falls, Idaho, for five years,” Nathan said. “Jason is an astrophysicist and does research for the University of Michigan. We started talking and thinking about the family business and decided it would be fun to come back and grow it.”

But he said family is also a big part of the picture.

“It’s nice to get the family back together so the cousins can be together,” he said. “A farm is a great place for kids to grow up.”

There are now 13 cousins living on the farm, he said.

“We went out into the world, learned something different and hopefully bring back new knowledge and skills,” he said.

Dairy family adds cheesemaking to its menu Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:21:38 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Ansally Stuyt, co-owner of Stuyt Dairy, really knows the business. It is part of her family history.

“My husband, Rick, and I both grew up on a dairy,” she said. “Our great-grandfathers had a dairy and then our grandfathers, then down to our parents.”

Her family has farmed at the current location in Escalon, Calif., for more than 50 years.

She grew up involved in 4-H and FFA, and he grew up in the Netherlands and came to California for an internship. Rick had become interested in making cheese and in California he started by making it for friends and family.

“After we were married 31 years ago, we both worked for my parents,” she said. “Growing up, our three children helped with the chores on the dairy, feeding calves, milking, driving tractors and more. They were also in 4-H and FFA and the two girls — Anastasia and Michelle — were District 5 dairy princesses.”

They bought out her parents’ ownership of the farm in 2005, and today the business is family-operated. The herd consists of 500 Holsteins. The dairy is Stuyt Dairy and the cheese plant, adjacent to the farm, goes by Stuyt Dairy Farmstead Cheese Co. LLC.

The dairy crafts farmstead cheese in small batches. Anastasia works full-time in the cheese plant as a cheesemaker. Her father, Rick taught her the cheesemaking process from start to finish.

Michelle is working at California State University-Monterey Bay and will come home the end of the year in a marketing, technical and distribution role.

Son Nicholas is an assistant agriculture instructor at Modesto Junior College and helps out on the farm.

“We made our first batch of cheese in September 2015 and sold it in late December of that year,” Ansally said.

The cheese is a raw milk farmstead Gouda sold with several different flavors: smoked, cumin, garlic herb, onion parsley, crushed red pepper, jalapeno and chipotle.

“We age it over 60 days and up to 18 months,” she said.

The cheese is sold through local stores in the area, where it retails for $11 to $12 a pound.

The company is expanding, but Ansally acknowledges the California dairy industry faces major challenges.

“The two main factors are low milk prices and the pricing system,” she said. “Also, California is no longer an ag-friendly state with all the rules and regulations: water and air board fees along with all the paperwork.”

She also said that the state has “other small, hidden fees, that you could call taxes, because they will never go away. These factors, plus the fact that the state has lost many dairies, make it a challenge to dairy in California.”

Farmer finds niche with organic milk at his robotic dairy Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:20:23 -0400 Dianna Troyer Cows were not alone in their need of training at southeastern Idaho’s first robotic dairy.

“It takes about three days to train 90 percent of your cows to get milked automatically, about three weeks for the reluctant cows to learn to come in to be milked, and about three months for the farmer to realize he can sleep in,” says Heber Loughmiller, who opened Hillside Dairy near Connor Creek in June 2015.

The dairy’s automated milking system allows his 100 cows with Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red bloodlines to voluntarily walk into a parlor to be milked. When done, they meander back to their grassy pasture to graze.

“Production won’t be as high as at a traditional dairy, about five gallons per cow a day, but that’s OK,” Loughmiller says. “The cows are content, we’re providing a quality product, and the land isn’t overgrazed and has healthy organic content.”

He sells the organic milk to Sorrento Lactalis Inc. in Nampa, where it is made into string cheese.

As a cow comes into a stanchion, an overhead computer scanner reads its tag. An individualized amount of alfalfa pellets is dispensed, based on the cow’s condition and milk production.

While the cow is eating, a mechanical arm with water and rotating brushes gently washes the teats. Once the teats are clean, the brushes retract and a milking machine extends to the udder.

“It locates the teats with an optical laser,” Loughmiller says. “Each cow takes about 5 to 7 minutes to milk.”

In his office, Loughmiller logs onto his computer to read vital information about the day’s milking. The software tracks nearly a dozen factors, including average milking times and fat content.

Loughmiller became interested in running an organic dairy after buying a ranch at Connor Creek eight years ago.

“We ran beef cattle but were looking for a different grazing program that would best suit the land, which is hilly and a little rocky. We have about 200 acres that can be grazed.”

After doing research, he decided to start an organic dairy with cows grazing on grass pastures instead of being confined to a lot.

“Years ago, dairy cows grazed on pastures, so this really is nothing new,” Loughmiller says.

His parents, Bill and Colleen Loughmiller, invested in the dairy.

“My dad has always been an entrepreneur, so when I told him about this idea, he said it sounded crazy enough to work and told me to go for it.”

Running a robotic dairy allows Loughmiller the flexibility to still sell crop insurance for Sloan-Leavitt Insurance Agency, a job he has had for several years.

“I have some great customers and want to continue serving them, which I’ll be able to do with this type of dairy. It’s been exciting so far. We hope one day to pass along the business to one of our kids.”

Small niche dairy has steady demand for products Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:19:01 -0400 Dianna Troyer Despite rejections from lenders, Phil and Stephanie Christensen never gave up hope of running a small niche dairy in southeastern Idaho.

“Lenders told us our business model wasn’t a proven market, and it was too risky for them financially,” says Phil, while milking Dinner Belle and 10 other cows at the dairy where his wife, Stephanie, grew up near Almo, Idaho.

“We had to come up with the initial investment ourselves,” says Phil, “so we farmed a year with Stephanie’s dad when hay prices were strong and put some of that profit into the dairy.”

They invested about $50,000 to expand the farm’s original milk parlor. They also bought cows with Jersey and Holstein bloodlines, a new stainless steel storage vat, returnable half-gallon glass bottles and other equipment.

Since opening the Old Almo Creamery in August 2012 they have cultivated loyal customers. With a yield of 400 gallons of milk per week, the Christensens make and sell cheeses, ice cream, pasteurized milk and raw milk at farmers’ markets, restaurants, grocery stores and health food stores.

“We’ve proven the bankers wrong because there’s a steady demand for our products,” Phil says. “We won’t get rich doing this, but it’s gratifying to provide quality food and to be able to raise our family here.”

Justin Kay, manager at Papa Kelsey’s in Burley, buys the dairy’s mozzarella, cheddar, provolone blend and pepper jack cheeses.

“Phil’s cheeses have a dense texture and rich taste that gives our sandwiches and pizza a distinctive flavor,” Kay says. “We like to support local farmers who give us great fresh products.”

The Christensens also sell raw milk to health food stores NourishMe in Ketchum and Nature’s Pantry in Salmon.

“To me, the raw milk tastes richer and more robust than what’s sold in a grocery store,” says Amber Pace, an employee at Nature’s Pantry. “Customers say they like the nutritive value and cream layer because it’s not homogenized.”

Besides selling their dairy products, the Christensens give tours of their business for field trips, family reunions and Boy Scout troops.

“People tell us they want their kids to know where their food comes from and want them to see the food production process from the cow to the final product,” Phil says.

As they talk about their dairy, milk streams steadily into glass containers that were once used by Stephanie’s father, Kent Durfee.

“They’re original containers and so are the stainless steel pipes, although we put in new hoses when we opened,” Stephanie says.

For 30 years, Durfee ran a small dairy with about 60 cows until 2005 when he found it no longer profitable to compete with larger dairies.

“It was sad when my dad sold the cows,” Stephanie says. “They were always a part of our lives.”

Besides running their dairy, the Christensens help Durfee run the 200-acre family farm.

“We wanted to raise our family here,” Stephanie says. “Our kids are the fifth generation to live in the valley. You always dream about coming back but wonder how it can be financially possible. The dairy has helped us to make that dream come true.”