Thursday, May 31, 2018

Queener Farm: Restoring an Orchard, Sharing It Through a CSA

Community supported agriculture, or CSA, is a relationship between a buyer and a local, family farm. Most people think of a CSA subscription as a box of assorted seasonal vegetables that arrives on your doorstep or that is dropped off at designated site every week during the growing season. And there are plenty of those traditional types of CSAs here in Oregon, but we also have CSAs where you can essentially shop for your produce from a list that the farm provides. There are even CSAs for specific types of products, like flowers, meat, fish and fruit.

Jeannie Berg of Queener Farm in Scio.

Jeannie Berg, owner of Queener Farm in Scio, has an innovative CSA called the Heirloom Apple Club where subscribers choose between a sampler box, three to five pounds of several apple varieties grown at the farm and delivered in eight installments over the season, or a family box of a whopping 40 varieties in 15-pound increments over seven installments.

It all started when Berg, who'd worked as a political consultant and staff aide for many years in Oregon, decided that all those years in the trenches in Salem led her "to develop a strong desire to dig into the real dirt."

Ready for harvest.

Following that instinct, Berg leased land on a farm in the Willamette Valley near Salem in 2009 and began her education in the soil, learning about the critical role that biodiversity plays both in the soil and on the land, and how to bring that land back to productivity after it's been exhausted from the use of chemical inputs.

After five years growing vegetables and running a CSA on that property, she began looking for a farm of her own, eventually meeting the owners of a hundred-year-old orchard in Scio. On its 40 acres grew more than 2,000 trees producing 100 different types of apples, and while the owners had only used chemicals in moderation, according to Berg, "the trees still depended on them to fight off disease." Not only that, but "the insect life on the farm was short of beneficial insects and had a population of codling moths just waiting for the chance to multiply."

Applying what she'd learned at her first farm, Berg knew the only way to really understand which apple varieties would thrive in an organic system in the Willamette Valley was to remove the chemical inputs and see how each variety responded. Despite losing some trees, she persevered, bringing the land back to the way the original homesteaders had envisioned it in the 1880s, long before pesticides had even been imagined.

Now four years in, she and her farm partners have transitioned the orchard using organic practices, and they are expecting to receive their official organic certification this year.

"We’re seeing all the right insects return, the diseases almost completely disappear and the pests drastically diminish," Berg reports. "The orchard appears to be thanking us with a robust kind of health that makes friends wonder what sort of miracle fertilizer we sprayed. It’s amazing and wonderful to watch. The most exciting part is watching the trees as they bloom, leaf out and now begin to grow their abundant set of fruit. They are green and lush, they thrum with pollinators and predator insects. It all adds up to an orchard that feels vibrantly alive.”

Watch the amazing process of grafting one variety of apple onto a different variety.

No comments: