CRESWELL, Ore. — A lot of brotherly love is going into these two organic hazelnut orchards.
Brothers Taylor, Austin and Ben Larson and their parents, John and Debbie Larson, are partners in My Brothers’ Farm that includes a home orchard of 15 acres and the lease of the Honor Earth Farm’s 32-acre orchard a few miles away.
The Larson brothers created their farm business about five years ago on some of the 320 acres that was purchased by their grandparents, Chuck and Deb Larson, back in the 1980s. The land was leased through the years to a grass seed farmer, but now the brothers are doing some farming of their own on some of property. In addition to their young organic hazelnut orchard, they are also raising bison and pigs.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world,” Taylor, 32, said of working with his younger brothers. “I think we all recruited each other. So many people are estranged from their families or only see each other on holidays. I feel extremely lucky to see my brothers and parents almost every day.”
Austin, 29, said working with his brothers is “a lot of fun.” He admitted there can be challenges, but added the brothers get along most of the time.
Ben, 22, joined the farm business full-time last fall, but had previously helped during his breaks from college.
“There’s a lot more reliance on each other than I’ve seen at other work places,” Ben said of working with his brothers. “You know you share the same values, you’re on the same page, you trust each other to make the right decisions. Having that trust, we’re not insecure about the decisions each of us is making on the farm.”
All three brothers have part-time jobs off the farm. Taylor works for Rogue Farm Corps, a beginning farmer program; Austin is a self-employed carpenter; and Ben is an intern at Food for Lane County Youth Farm.
In starting their farm venture, it was Taylor’s idea to plant hazelnut trees. He had worked on Christmas tree farms as a youth and had worked in forestry during time in the Peace Corps so he had some experience with trees. He talked to his Creswell area farming neighbors about what was working for them and about what would be a good long-term project.
“Hazelnuts kept coming up as to what was working best,” Taylor said. “We knew we wanted to move away from annual tillage. There was a lot of support to go with hazelnuts.”
Austin explained that going organic “is a moral thing for us. All of our principles are organic and we wanted something that would make us more unique, something that would set us apart.”
They began planting hazelnuts five years ago and have gradually added more each year.
Then through the Oregon Organic Hazelnut Cooperative, Taylor met Linda Perrine, owner of Honor Earth Farm and its 32-acre organic hazelnut orchard. After 10 years in the nut business, Perrine was looking to bow out and at the same time the Larsons were looking to expand. The brothers are now in their second year of leasing that orchard.
“Because they’re close to my farm and because they were born and raised here, I feel they are deserving of the opportunity,” Perrine said of leasing her orchard to the brothers. “They’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of drive.
“They’re learning out there,” she added. “I’m trying to help them make good choices in the pruning of the trees, in learning about fertilization, what to use, how to apply, things like that. I appreciate their creativity, their energy, their new ideas.”
In addition to using organic methods in their orchards, the Larsons are actively engaged in restoring and enhancing the riparian habitat along the farm’s half mile frontage of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River and its tributary, Bear Creek. A partnership with the Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council has resulted in grants and funding that has financed the planting of 75,000 shrubs and trees within a 150-foot buffer along those waterways on farm property in the last two years.
The Larson brothers said their goal is to expand their organic hazelnut orchard and to start an organic apple orchard. Their dream is for the farm to entirely support all three of the brothers and their future families, although for now all three are still single.