Happiness is Organic-Shaped By Kelsey Sutton It is immediately apparent that Barbara Boyer, with her charcoal-colored hair, ‘UCONN’ sweatshirt and warm smile, is someone you want to get to know. Chances are, she wants to get to know you, too. Married to a fourth-generation farmer, this Connecticut girl thoroughly loves the farming lifestyle, which is a far cry from the corporate, white-collar background from which she hails. Organic farming isn't just an agricultural practice free from toxic chemicals, it's a lifestyle. And for Barbara that means living every minute with integrity, embodying the values and goals that come with the commitment. Barbara's farm is natural and fulfills every criteria to be considered organic, but she isn't certified USDA organic. And for good reason. The application process is rigorous, and according to the United States Department of Agriculture, certification costs range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. You must apply with an agent, write a completely laid out Organic System Plan, and pay for applications, inspections and renewal. Besides, the Boyers don’t need a USDA Certified Organic label to let their customers know what they stand for. “We’re just happy in our hearts and souls for doing it,” she said. “We don’t do it for any other reason.”
Beyond Organic Standards For Barbara, one of the the most important things about agriculture is that customers know who their farmer is. This way they can be sure of the quality and integrity of the food they consume, while also having the ability to connect with the people growing the food. With this direct communication in place, farmers are willing to show customers where and how they’re farming, what their techniques are, without a label to tell others how and what they’re doing. To encourage the farmer-consumer relationship in her community, Barbara launched McMinnville's first farmer's market in 2001, because she wanted to bring farmers into the city to meet their customers.
“The whole reason I started it was for the conversation to be just as important as the purchase,” she said. Barbara went into it with the right intentions, and for that she feels rewarded by the community. Because Yamhill County is such an agricultural-based area, she felt empowered to teach people about soil, plants, relationships. The McMinnville farmer’s market had been running for three months when September 11, 2001, shook the country, all the way to the West Coast. Barbara received numerous calls from people asking whether she’d open the market that Thursday. She confidently responded yes, knowing it was something the community needed. “And what an outpouring of love our community had that day,” Barbara said. Barbara has since given the market management over to someone new, and the transition has been smooth thanks to teamwork and communication. She has made it a rule to not even go to the market in order to allow her replacement the chance to forge her own relationships in the community. Among the perks of knowing your farmer is the opportunity to be part of Community Supported Agriculture. There are thousands of CSAs nationwide, providing fresh produce to community members with mutually beneficial consumer-farmer relationships. For 13 years, Barbara has run her CSA much differently than most. She doesn’t require members to come to the farm and help, as some CSAs do, and she delivers directly to the doorsteps of customers, whereas most traditional CSAs designate a pickup location. She also doesn’t require her customers’ money up front. She knows the profits would help with the upcoming season but wants the experience to be easy and focused on body-nourishing food. “I want to be known as a vegetable pusher, not a bill collector,” she said. At this point in the season, boxes include leeks, spinach, kale, radishes, fava beans, shervel. Soon customers can enjoy onions, beets, carrots, chard, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. In addition to providing the community with nutritious vegetables, the Boyers also run an organic grass hay business called Gourmet Hay, which is their primary form of income. With 450 customers, they produce, handle, and deliver about 15,000 ninety-pound bales a year. All the customers live within a 50-mile radius of the Boyers’ home, and they won't deliver any further than that because it wouldn’t be local anymore.
Gourmet Hay developed after Tom’s father passed away in 1998. His business had primarily been grass seed, but grass seed must be managed and marketed by a broker, and after being financially burned too many times, Tom and Barbara decided to be in charge of their own destiny. “It was a very conscious decision to go with uncomplicated, organic hay,” Barbara said. “We named it Gourmet Hay one night when we were sitting around the table with some friends and it just came out, and we loved it. It still makes me smile to say it.” The Boyers farm hay on 1,000 acres on and away from their property, but they’re narrowing down. Haymaking requires a lot of labor for tasks like strapping and bucking bales, but Barbara enjoys the hard work, if not just because it makes her sleep well at night. "What I’m most proud of is helping my husband carry on his family tradition. It's an honor and a privilege," she said. Barbara acknowledges that it is rare for a farm to supports both a husband and wife these days. Normally one person would work off the farm to bring extra income, but the Boyers have made it work. "We're clever, we're frugal," she said. “But we love it, we don't live a fancy lifestyle, but is our chosen way of life and we honor it."
Stewards of the Land Another tenet, and arguably the most important, to the organic lifestyle is the farmer's responsibility to take care of the environment and give back to the earth by enriching the soil and leaving it usable for future farmers. Wary of labels, Barbara doesn't consider herself an environmentalist, just a good steward of the land, a temporary caretaker of the soil and river. The Boyers’ property rests along four miles of the world's third most fluctuating river, the South Yamhill River. Every summer, the river dries up and then floods in the winter. The steep riverbank, about 30 feet deep, is quite vulnerable to the swift water, and the Boyers were losing soil to the flooded river every winter. To keep the river healthy and avoid further erosion, Barbara and Tom decided to enter into the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and install a riparian buffer on the bank.
A riparian buffer is a stretch of trees, bushes or other foliage along a waterfront that provides cooling shade, keeps soil intact and improves the overall water quality of the waterway. Agriculture and other land uses can be especially taxing to a naked riverbank, as pesticides and other chemical runoff can easily pollute rivers. The program reimburses farmers for time and trees purchased, as well as pays the rent on the land taken out for planting. The Boyers decided the health of the river was far more valuable than the potential profit of farming that land anyway. In three years, and with the help of family, youth groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and football players from nearby Linfield College, they planted 10,000 trees along the riverfront. Now ten years into the fifteen-year program, Barbara says they’ve noticed a significant difference in the river’s health, and the riverbank is staying stable thanks to the roots’ hold on the soil. “We call ourselves the keepers of a newly planted forest,” she said. The program requires trees be within a six-foot radius of one another, but because the Boyers don’t spray herbicides they chose twelve feet so they could fit a lawn mower through the trees. “It was a new way of thinking for them,” Barbara said. “It had not occurred to them to just mow and not spray. It gave them a new kind of program to think about.” In order to be self sustaining, the Boyers also make their own compost, which nourishes the soil and aids in waste reduction. They use horse manure from a hay customer and grape pomace that they haul from wineries every fall. Throw in extra straw and kitchen scraps, mix it in the auger and you have rich, natural compost to use in the garden, no fertilizer required.
Hope for the Future Farming gives Barbara hope for future generations and the problems they face. With each intern who gardens next to her and young farmer she helps with a start-up, Barbara is confident people will find success and happiness in organic farming. “I am pretty nervous for the next generation and what we're leaving them,” she said. “So I’m trying really hard to engage them in the sort of fights that are gonna come up.” Barbara senses a sort of upsurge of concern and awareness, a movement she feels encouraged by. This feeling is especially fostered by the young people from all over the states whom she and Tom host on their farm.
The Boyers participate in Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which is a program that provides farm experience to unpaid interns who work on a farm in exchange for room and board. Over the last six years, the Boyers have hosted 127 “woofers” from all over the country who stay for two weeks at a time, working six hours a day, six days a week. She feeds them three meals a day, often inviting them to cook with her, and they get to exchange ideas, stories, dreams. "They have a great impact on the farm and we hope to have an impact on their lives," Barbara said. “We get to hear their views of the world, and it’s giving me hope for their generation.” Last summer, Barbara and Tom also hosted interns during the summer through Linfield College. Approached last minute by the internship coordinator, Duncan Reid, Barbara was eager to give it a shot. With no schedule or agenda, Barbara let the interns guide themselves through the 13-week program. The two interns, seniors Jake Baker and Conner Varnell, took on a hightunnel greenhouse as their project. They did the research, tested soil and experimented with companion plants to figure out which ones work well with each other and what doesn't. The greenhouse is spacious and warm, an incubator for plants in raised beds made from hay bales packed with compost soil and peat moss. Barbara says the greenhouse is a learning opportunity for her and others working on it, and they aren’t sure what will make it or not. One of the interns came into the program wanting to be a farmer, but after doing the internship he realized that was in fact not the case. But he does know he wants to raise his own food. Which is exactly the message Barbara wanted to convey to the young adults. “That was really fun for me- I want to engage the youth in raising food, not so much on a large scale, I just want them to raise their own food,” she said.
For the Love of Dirt Barbara’s love of dirt goes back a long way. Born 5th of 12 children in 1966 in West Hartford, Conn., Barbara spent much of her time as a child outdoors. The sometimes chaotic family life included their mother continuously shooing them outside, because she couldn't stand to have them all indoors.
The kids entertained themselves with activities like baseball and kickball, and they also helped in the garden. Her family spent every summer at their beach house an hour from home in Niantic, Connecticut, where they were allowed to run free and enjoy the water. Busy with tennis and swimming lessons, the kids never ran out of things to do. “Mom made us breakfast and we were out the door,” she said. “It was fancy free in the summer.” She fondly remembers Thanksgivings spent at the beach with her family, walking around the neighborhood and reminiscing about the summer events before the community closed up for the season. Self-described as playful and gregarious, Barbara considered her teenage-self a rebel as typical as any other. She was also an avid gymnast, a talent that took her all the way to the University of Connecticut on a scholarship. In fact, she was so wrapped up in the routine of college gymnastics that she was almost forced to put school back into perspective. One day, college officials came to see her while working out in the gym and told her if she didn’t choose a major they would take her scholarship away. She knew she had to get serious, and having practically grown up in a garden, she chose something close to home, something that felt right--Plant Sciences. “I just stuck with plants,” she said. “It seemed natural.”
Spreading Soil and Planting Roots Barbara comes from a very loving, yet privileged and well-known family, which she says is the whole reason she left. “I wanted to know who I was,” she said. “I didn’t want to be known for my family name.” She moved to Oregon in 1989 after graduating, hoping to reinvent herself. Nursery stock was booming in Oregon at the time, and Barbara wanted to be a part of it and continued in the nursery business for five years. On a fateful day in 1994, Barbara attended a barbecue, where she met her future husband, Tom- and they hit it off immediately. She was about to move back to Connecticut when they met, had given notice at her job and apartment and even rented a Uhaul.
“We met on a Sunday,” she said. “And we didn't exchange numbers, but on Tuesday he came to find me in Portland.” He told her she could stay on his farm, and a week after their meeting she moved into her own house on his property. There they got to know each other, and a month later, Tom asked Barbara to marry him. She married him seven years later, and they have been happily farming side by side ever since. Now that she’s been here twenty-five years, Barbara has grown to love Oregon for its people and communities. The easygoing people and slow pace have taught her to unravel the formal East Coast side of herself. “When I first moved here I was overdressed for everything. Oregon has made me more casual, and slow down a bit.” she said. As for the dreary Pacific Northwest weather, Barbara loves it. Despite the possibility that it might damage crops, she views it as a refreshing drink. Plus, it’s her chance to retreat indoors and catch up on work missed to sunny weather. “The rain gives me permission to be inside,” she said. “Plus it’s like watering the crops for free!” Her morning routine is something she looks forward to with each sunrise; she savors that opportunity to have time for herself. “I am a sunrise girl,” she said. “I love the anticipation of the day. Every new day is different and I love that. It's not monotonous, and you can't know what any day is going to bring.” Barbara is involved in so many things, she has to find some way to keep it together. She finds balance in it all through daily meditation and yoga four times a week. She takes fifteen minutes each day for herself to sit and meditate, which is a fairly new concept. “I think I've always been doing it, but I just never labeled it,” she said. “Now I'm a little more conscious and go a little deeper. For years I just sat for 10 minutes, but now I try to vacate everything and be more conscious about it.” "I am such an optimist, I don't view anything as hard, just challenges,” she said. A typical day has lots of office work, as she tends to be in the office in the morning returning phone calls, doing computer work. But she soon gets stir-crazy and usually dedicates afternoons to being outside in the garden.
“I have to have it,” she said. “I gotta get my fingers dirty. Inside I feel like the air isn't clean, and that’s when I feel dirty.” “Plants feed my soul and body," she said. "They nurture me."
Community-Oriented, Globally-Minded Barbara is dedicated to getting to know her community and the people in it. For seven weeks, the Boyers and a group of friends met up for breakfast in a different town each Sunday and walked around towns like Amity, Yamhill-Carlton, Dayton, Lafayette, Newberg and Sheridan in order to really learn Yamhill County. She brings her community wisdom and environmental practice to the Soil and Water Conservation Commission. As chair of the commission and representative of the districts in the lower Willamette area, elected by her community, she assists the Oregon Department of Agriculture in making policies relating to conservation of natural resources. One project she invests in through Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District is Miller Woods, a 130-acre conservation forest where people can learn about forestry, wildlife, watershed health and more. This summer she is hosting an educational thinning to educate the public on what proper logging practices look like. The Boyers also provide the community with opportunities to get involved in agriculture. David Kellner-Rode, a young farmer who the Boyers helped get started, says it is a valuable opportunity to work on a fourth generation farm run by a function couple. “They are great role models for people in our community,” said David Kellner-Rode, a young farmer the Boyers mentor. “McMinnville and Yamhill County are lucky to have good people like them around.” Barbara is deeply committed to her community, but she has begun to experience Oregon more broadly after being appointed by the governor to the State Board of Agriculture, where she gets to see the issues affecting other regions of the state, like water and land usage. “It’s been mind-expanding for me and eye-opening about agriculture,” she said. “We’re so west-centric because that’s where the population is. So it’s been interesting to see what’s happening politics-wise in Eastern Oregon.” Barbara likes to keep it local but says traveling is what nurtures her soul.
The collection of places she and Tom have traveled to is extensive and still growing. Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Canada, all over Mexico-down the Baja Peninsula, working down from Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Peru and the list will go on and on. This affinity for traversing the world and exploring other cultures has set her up nicely to help the World Affairs Council in Oregon. The organization calls her every time it has international visitors related to agriculture. She puts together their tour program and itineraries, sometimes related to green building, agro-tourism and viticulture. She is trying to convince her husband to live in a foreign city for a year, but she says she wants to stay planted in Yamhill County for good. Through meeting and hosting people from all over the world, as in the WWOOF program, she and Tom have discovered a philosophy for life they embrace and uphold. “It’s wise for us to see how other people live,” she said. “We'd have a much less hostile world if we understood other cultures and how other people live.”
Farm 2 School Initiative -sidebar Barbara Boyer is concerned that the younger generation is not getting the quality of food they need to succeed. And it is important that schools encourage healthy eating, because children learn behaviors and habits in school that will last their entire lives. “I don't think we've given them the proper nutrition to help fuel them for the issues that are coming,” she said. According to Yamhill County Health and Human Services, “The health of young people is strongly linked to their academic success [and vice versa]... After all, schools cannot achieve their primary mission of education if students and staff are not healthy.”
In meetings held by interest group Nourish Yamhill Valley, it was found that 70 percent of community members want to see more local, fresh food in schools, rather than genetically modified, mass-produced food shipped hundreds of miles to the cafeteria. This is where the Yamhill Farm to School Council comes in. Barbara and others on the ten-person council are trying to persuade the schools of Yamhill County to buy local produce, rather than ordering processed and prepackaged lunches. Barbara is working on educating the public about food policy and encouraging local fruits and veggies in schools. The food schools purchase could also be value added, meaning it doesn’t have to be fresh. It could freshly canned salsa for the kitchen, or jam or pickles. “I want them to buy local, close the loop, instead of trucking everything in,” she said. The council wrote an assessment tool for all the school systems in Yamhill County to find out what schools purchase, where they purchase and how much they pay for school lunch food. Members on the council are spreading out and going into schools to talk with nutritionists to define where the gaps are and figure out how the council can help. Out of the 29 schools in Yamhill County, Barbara’s goal is to implement local purchases in six schools by September. It’s a small number, but she says she is happy with any progress, and hopefully all 29 schools will soon participate.
Finding Success in Farming- sidebar 26-year-old David Kellner-Rode was living out his dream of being a farmer, when he was blindsided by the farm landowner’s decision that it was no longer an option. Already into the season, he knew he had to regroup quickly and inquired with different people in the McMinnville community. Within a week Barbara found out he was looking for land and offered use of her space. Of a one and a half acre garden, Barbara gave Kellner-Rode about 80 percent of it so he could continue providing produce to CSA families. “She’s got her hands in a lot of pots,” he said, “but she wanted someone to keep using the land.”
The Boyers not only provided him with space to farm, but also use of farming equipment. He says having that access has made it all possible for him. Without the upfront costs of leasing or buying land and equipment, Kellner-Rode is able to farm freely. “I love connecting people and seeing them get excited about projects they're interested in,” Barbara said of her motivational skills. “I love to encourage them to keep going on the path of their passion." After graduating from Linfield College, David cultivated a garden with some friends and realized the other jobs he was working weren’t fulfilling. He just wanted to grow food for his community, and that’s exactly what he does. David recently started a CSA program from his multi-location farm, Walnut City Homestead, with produce grown in his house’s large backyard (an urban farm) and on the Boyer’s farm. On his blog he provides information and updates on his CSA, storing tips and recipes for specific produce in the week’s CSA box. He and other farmers involved also host frequent work parties and workshops on fermenting and gardening for customers. He also co-owns a business called Home Grown Food Products that sells fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles, as well as ketchup, chutney, salsa and more. He says the biggest reward of doing a CSA is directly growing nutrient-dense food for his friends and neighbors. The large garden on the Boyer farm is like an office for David, whose passion for farming has grown out of the desire to do something with his hands and be outside. Yes, David’s farm is organic, but to him it is so much more than those standards. It’s about taking care of the environment and building healthy soil. Growing good food is just a byproduct of that. David’s biggest concern is the health of the soil that our produce comes from, and the subsequent health of said food. Most Americans, he says, who shop at large-scale grocery stores are consuming food with virtually no no nutrients. “Growing vegetables in healthy soil is what is important to me,” he said. “I want to provide food to ny community that has nutrients.”