On Being Rooted

On Being Rooted – Pushing the Seasons at Turnip the Beet Farm

by Jennifer Burns Bright, EugeneMagazine,

As we snuggle by the fire eating smokey bean and root vegetable soup, there’s no better time to be thankful for our connection to a place and heritage: in other words, our roots.
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Farmers have long known that under the earth, carrots, potatoes, and beets acquire a sweetness and intensity as the ground cools, fortifying families through the winter, and that selling produce that keeps is the best idea for long rainy months. But the cold weather makes winter farming an unpleasant proposition for most, especially given the Willamette Valley’s long, bountiful summer harvest. New local microfarms like Turnip the Beet Farm – situated on the bend of the Siuslaw headwaters off the Lorane Highway as it veers away from King Estate Winery – are filling in the needed niche in the winter locavore marketplace.
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Turnip the Beet had already impressed me with their ozette potatoes, an indigenous and rare tuber no one else is growing, so I wound through the south hills and past the wineries in Lorane on a sunny day. There I found the 14-acre lease land where farmers John Ludwig and Lela Copeland are setting down literal and figurative roots.
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They’ve been here a year and a half, both of them motivated by a need to be outside and produce food, and they have about 3 acres cultivated for market produce. Like many young farmers, they are serious people. thinking of ways to situate themselves in a market already saturated with beautiful produce, and planning for the future. The couple moved from the peninsula in Washington State, Copeland says, to find ways to grow food year-round.
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“We don’t mean just in the warm seasons,” says Ludwig. “We have to challenge ourselves as farmers to make it happen.”
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And challenge themselves they do, with more than 100 varieties of crops. ALready the fields are filled with fat speckled red and green chicories, and cauliflower already big and leafy that heads up in January for sending to market in February. The crucifers and squash allow Turnip the Beet Farm to offer a CSA through Thanksgiving and return to the market in early spring, even as earl as February, But its the roots that fascinate, planted largely in beds that hug the curve of the river: turnips and beets, of course, plus parsnips, salsify, colorful red and purple potatoes, midnight blue carrots with orange interiors, and parsley roots.
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The couple was excited to talk about the new tractor-accessible greenhouse they plan to build in November after the close of the market and CSA. Thanks to a sucessful Kickstarter campaign, they will be able to overwinter leeks and cultivate quick-growing crops like mache, spinach, arugula, and radish in the colder months, then grow early cherry tomatoes, basil, and melons in the warm ones. We geeked out on the smooth rows made by the new-to-them tractor [implement], a Nolts RB448 Bed Shaper/Plastic Layer, that will allow them to do just this, designed for greenhouses and recommended by a seasoned farmer.
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Indeed, the local support for Turnip the Beet Farm has been on e of the greatest pleasures of moving to Lorane. “Farmers really get along here,” John says. “Old-timers here are curious about us and helpful in a pinch, in solidarity.”
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Copeland and Ludwig have their work cut out for them, but the greenhouses should yield more food for the spring. They also plan to break ground for another half-acre or more, and work toward purchasing the land they lease. In this, they share with many of our young farmers the hie of stewarding their own land someday, one of the biggest challenges facing theses hardworking families. They often rely on kind and helpful landowners for the first few years of self-training, but is is heartbreaking to lose the sweat equity of years of cultivating soil when a lease arrangement does not work out. The struggle with growing roots, sometimes, is rootedness.
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The investment in our valley’s future makes it worth buying root vegetables from any local farmers, but especially the microfarms that are expanding and innovating, so consider supporting them in your market planning […]