JEWELL, Ore. — When Daniel Kuhnly was a high school freshman, he thought maybe he’d be an engineer. It was, he said, a kind of random choice, but at the time it worked as a fill-in-the-blank to the question of what he was going to do with his life.
He has a more concrete answer now: He wants to go into farming, specifically viticulture. Grapes, winemaking, vineyards.
When the 17-year-old senior at Jewell School graduates in June, his next move is to attend Chemeketa Community College’s Northwest Wine Studies Center in Salem.
Someday, he hopes to have his own vineyard and organic farm. He is intrigued by the mechanics and aesthetics of vineyards — but, more, he is fascinated by transformation.
“A raw fruit can transform into wine, and there’s that whole process of fermentation,” he said. Then there is farming: Dry, gnarled little seeds become plants that can feed and heal people.
“I think it just comes partially from genetics,” Kuhnly said of farming, “and I just like nature. I’ve always liked being outdoors.”
His great-grandfather was a farmer. Kuhnly didn’t know him well. His grandmother in Svensen has had more of a direct influence, with her greenhouse and her yard full of plants and flowers.
Kuhnly spent a lot of time with her last year when he started working at Blackberry Bog Farms in Svensen. The farm grows fruit and vegetables and maintains a plant nursery, Scottish Highland cattle, poultry and a hop yard.
For Kuhnly, what began as an after-school and summer job became a realization. He kept wanting to learn more. He has since gone through training offered by the Clatsop County Master Gardeners. A $1,000 scholarship he was awarded by the group for students going into agriculture and horticulture will help pay for his college classes.
His senior project was to work in the school greenhouse in Jewell. At home, he constructed his own greenhouse using a former chicken coop and goat enclosure.
Neat rows of young plants line the interior of the greenhouse at his family’s home. Kuhnly’s favorite plants to grow are tomatoes, but he’s still figuring out the challenges of growing in different places, different environments.
In the forest-encircled hollow where he lives, soil quality and light are both tricky factors.
In farming, generally, “there’s so many different variables and things that can happen,” he said. “It’s always a mystery.”
The mysteries — even when they are frustrating — are what keep him interested. As he looked across the many plants he’s grown himself or has been given by other gardeners in his life, he said, “I think I’ve learned more in a year than all my years in high school.”