PHILOMATH, Ore. — Although he grew up on an Iowa soybean and seed farm, John Eveland never thought he’d be a farmer. It wasn’t until he started to work at a vegetarian restaurant in Corvallis, Ore., and his disappointment with the quality of its vegetables that he turned back to farm life.
“I started growing tomatoes and it segued into growing other vegetables,” he said. “I met Sally and she was a farmer, so we started farming together and it became a passion.”
Together Eveland and his wife, Sally Brewer, started Gathering Together Farm in 1987. It is an organic farm, one of the few in the nation with its own restaurant.
They were granted a conditional use permit from Benton County for commercial activity in support of a farming operation but still have “substantial hoops to go through,” he said.
“One thing I understand is if we were good enough they’d find a way to keep us alive, and that’s why we’re still here,” he said, adding that the definition of an activity to support a farming operation has expanded over the years. “I made the point of saying in my presentation that we’re a produce-tasting room.”
Originally, the farm started with a small market stand that sold directly to consumers through farmers' markets. Brewer then had the idea to start a CSA — Community-Supported Agriculture — which Eveland said was one of the first in the Willamette Valley. For that reason, they wanted to provide a wide variety of products to consumers, who paid upfront for weekly boxes of produce from the farm.
Showcasing their products in a restaurant also seemed like a natural fit.
The first year they offered soup and sandwiches, but when Eveland started holding a farm lunch for workers in the back of the farmstand, they curated a larger menu that includes pizza, salads and pasta.
“For me, there’s no other way,” chef Scott Willcokson said. “Once you work with ingredients like this, if you go back to working with other ingredients it would be impossible, at least for me. I couldn’t do it.
"That’s the goal with customers, too," he said. "Once you eat food like this it’s hard to go back and buy a tomato from Safeway.”
Along with the farming operation, Eveland is involved in hemp production with his partner, Josh Gulliver, and is one of the first in the country to produce and process organic hemp. That operation is J and J Organics and SunGold Botanicals.
“It’s exciting. John and I have both dabbled with cannabis for a long time,” Gulliver said. “To be able to walk through 30 acres is really rewarding for me.”
Gathering Together Farm prides itself on its collaborative nature, and Eveland said that the mission has always been to “grow good food and have a good time.”
Although they struggled with personnel issues last year, Eveland said recently he was given a photograph of the work crew together and they all looked happy, even though it was taken near the end of the work day. It was a reminder to him how rewarding this operation is.
“Just to see that picture, how we have come full circle to where I want us to be,” he said.