by Jackie Varriano, Register-Guard
The morning air is crisp — the day’s heat has yet to fully come to fruition. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing and there’s an intermittent scream coming from across the street.
“Our neighbors have peacocks. You get used to the sound,” says Lela Copeland with a smile.
Copeland, along with her partner in life and farming, John Ludwig, are known at the Saturday Lane County Farmers Market as Turnip the Beet.
The couple are leasing 14 acres off Territorial Highway outside of Lorane, of which three are in full production, burgeoning with everything from nasturtium flowers, basil and dill to melons, leeks and celery.
“We love growing celery,” Ludwig says.
It’s the first full growing year the pair has been through on this land. They moved to Eugene from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington in 2011, and worked for Creative Growers Farm (which has since relocated to Portland) while tending to a leased half-acre patch of their own.
The half-acre was leased specifically to grow out the copious amounts of potato seed they brought with them from Washington, including a delectable heirloom variety brought to the Olympic Peninsula from the Andes by Spanish colonists called the ozette. Shaped like a bumpy fingerling, the spud has been called a “russet on steroids” by Eugene-based food blog Culinaria Eugenius.
“Potatoes are kind of what started our farming venture here,” Copeland says.
Now, in addition to all those beautiful potatoes, they currently grow more than 100 varieties of roughly 40 crops.
While they’re still working on becoming certified as an organic farm, currently all of the produce is organic and the couple use inventive practices to get the most out of their crops. For example: infra-red ground cover that intensifies infra-red light from the sun to heat the ground where heat-loving tomatoes are planted.
They have yet to hire any help, instead relying on friends, family and volunteers on occasion to help with big projects.
Sunday, Monday and Thursday are days designated for transplanting and weeding — they’ve still got quite a bit of land to open up. Harvest days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: Tuesdays for their restaurant accounts; Wednesdays for their 20-family strong CSA share; and Fridays to prepare for the Saturday farmers’ market.
“I would say we’re the smallest farm (at the farmers’ market) that’s doing it with restaurant sales, having a CSA, going every Saturday with an abundance and sustaining ourselves full time without having outside income on the acreage that we’re doing,” Copeland says.
They’ve also got plans to grow in the form of a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $14,000. If fully funded, the money will be used to purchase and erect greenhouses large enough to drive a tractor through.
Like a family
On the other end of the spectrum is Winter Green Farm, located in Noti. In place of shrieking peacocks, Winter Green is abuzz with the sounds of CSA boxes being packed.
“The farm is right around 100 acres and then we lease another 71 down the road,” says Chris Overbaugh, co-owner and production manager at the farm.
Started in 1980 by Jack Gray and Mary Jo Wade, Winter Green became certified organic by Oregon Tilth in 1984. Wali and Jabrila Via joined ownership in 1985 and Overbaugh has been working here since 1995. His wife Shannon visited the farm on a field trip while working at Horton Road Organics. They met, married and she came to work at Winter Green in 2001. They joined ownership in 2009.
While none of the owner-couples are related, Shannon Overbaugh says, “We’re like family.”
They’ve got a little more than 30 employees to help keep the farm machine running. Overbaugh unfolds a well-worn print out of his weekly spreadsheet, detailing each employee and what their job is for each day.
“I even schedule the tractors,” he says.
They’ve got 510 CSA members from as far south as Coos Bay and north to Portland, and appear at seven farmers’ markets around the area per week. Monday and Thursday are harvest days for CSA boxes while Tuesday and Wednesday are delivery days for CSA members living in Eugene and Portland. Friday is CSA pack day for members living in Eugene and at the coast while Saturday and Sunday are spent at various markets.
In addition to being certified organic, the farm is biodynamic.
“We do a six-year rotation where ground is in vegetables for three and then either forage crop or pasture for cattle for three,” Overbaugh says.
The cattle are the main component of their fertility system, and each year between 30 and 40 cows are butchered and sold to local families in a meat CSA program.
“Our cows are born on the farm and they die on the farm,” Shannon Overbaugh says.
Of the close to 200 acres, Winter Green uses roughly 22 for food production between their CSA program and farmers’ markets, growing beans, tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries, carrots and much more.
“People come to us looking for our carrots,” Shannon Overbaugh says, as she displays a beautifully detailed carrot tattoo on her forearm.
“ ‘When are you going to have those carrots?; I need more carrots; those are the best carrots I’ve ever had.’ We hear that all the time,” she says with a laugh.
Luckily for carrot fiends, Winter Green has the ability to grow and store literally tons of carrots.
“We have an old 1960s harvester that we can pull behind a tractor that can harvest the carrots for us. We can harvest a ton of carrots in about seven minutes … well, we can do 320 row feet in seven minutes,” Chris Overbaugh says with a smile.
Winter Green also plays host to school field trips — occasionally up to five days per week during the school year. Kids get tours of the working farm, help harvest and learn more about biodynamic farming.
One of their goals for the future is to grow their market presence enough in Eugene and the immediate area to where they can stop traveling to Portland for markets.
“That’s where we want to be. We have employees that live in the area and we want to be supporting our local food system” says Chris Overbaugh.
No matter how they differ — in size or specialty — the things these two farms have in common are a love for farming, food and a deep appreciation for the land.
“We love this community, we love farming here. And (farming is) always going to be hard, but having that community support just makes it,” Ludwig says.
The next time you’re filling up your basket at a farmers’ market, take a few minutes, meet your farmer and help to celebrate our local food system.
In the words of Shannon Overbaugh, “It’s our culture, it’s our heritage, it’s really important.”
Find Turnip the Beet produce at Lane County Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in downtown Eugene, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Local restaurants: Belly, Marché, Eugene Country Club, Grit, Party Downtown, Noisette, Falling Sky, Ox and Fin, Membrillo, Tacovore.
For CSA and Kickstarter info: turnipthebeetfarm.com.
Harvesting through August: green beans, sweet onions, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, garlic, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, fennel, lettuce, scallions, basil, new potatoes, corn, peppers, summer squash, melons and more.