Organic farms can be archetypally beautiful, with a blend of crops and fallow fields that reminds us of idyllic farms pictured in books we read as children. Winter Green is one of these farms that offer a glimpse of what the Platonic ideal of agriculture might look like: woods, wetlands, riparian areas, crops and lush pasture which please the eye as well as provide varied habitat for wildlife.
It was a beautiful day this April for a farm tour–sunny and unseasonably warm–when we took the scenic drive to Noti to visit Winter Green Farm. Our first impressions as we rolled down the drive were of tidy buildings and machines, solar panels, and an expansive vista of fields and pastures.
Chris Overbaugh was waiting to greet us. We paused for a few minutes in the bright sunlight looking down over this pleasant view while Chris cheerily gave us some farm stats.
Winter Green is a long-established farm, owned by three families: it was started in 1980 by Jack Gray and Mary Jo Wade. Wali and Jabrila Via joined as co-owners in 1985, and Chris and Shannon Overbaugh, long-time employees, became partners in 2009. All three families live on the property (a prospect that seems enviable to this city girl).
Their mission statement is “A productive farm in harmony with the earth, humanity, and ourselves.” In keeping with this philosophy of stewardship, Winter Green has been certified organic since 1984, among the first growers certified in Oregon, and has used biodynamic farming practices since 1986. Their cattle production, a separate but integral part of the operation, was certified organic in 2004.
Winter Green owns 100 acres and leases an additional 70 acres, 20 to 25 of which are planted with vegetables. The rest are pasture, grass, and other forage. This allows for the long rotation–ideally six years, Chris says–that helps keep food plants, notably brassicas (the cabbage family that contains kale, turnips, broccoli, collards, and other food plants), disease-free, as well as providing grazing and balage for the cattle.
These 100% grass-fed cattle are kept separate from riparian areas and fields used for vegetable production. They are moved frequently from pasture to pasture in order to let the grasses recover and keep the land in good shape.
We started our tour with a visit to the spacious greenhouses, full of beautiful plants in varying stages of growth, from seedling to blown. There are ten greenhouses, six of which are in use the year around. We saw different plantings of peas of differing heights, heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, Swiss chard, and more thriving under the protection of the greenhouse walls.
We stopped to admire a heap of the silky, chocolate-colored compost, produced on the farm, of which Chris is justifiably proud. This well-ripened compost looks rich, and feels and smells clean and sweet.
One thing that differentiates Winter Green is their goal is to use as little offland input as possible. Some nutrients do need to be added to the soil from outside sources, but for the most part the farm operates as its own ecosystem, providing fertility for its crops as well as feed for its cattle and potting soil to give its new crops a start. Water for irrigation is sourced entirely from two local creeks which run through the property, and solar panels provide 25% of the energy needs of the operation.
We walked past fields where young plants were sprouting under the sun. Some were under row cover for protection from pests and the elements. Chris explained that the farm uses Sudan grass as a cover crop and a mulch for fallow fields, which reduces the need for black plastic.
We saw several people at work in the buildings an in the fields. Chris says that Winter Green employs thirty to thirty-five workers at the height of the season, mostly full time. “They get weekends,” he adds.
Some of this labor is spent in taking the produce to market. Winter Green’s goal is to serve Lane County and the Coast, rather than to ship large quantities of produce out of state. Up to 85% of their business now comes from direct sales at a number of area farmer’s markets, CSA, restaurants, and stores.
The Kiva is one of those stores. Over time we’ve carried quite a few produce items from Winter Green–burdock root, kale, cauliflower, mesclun, leeks, radishes, turnips, et al–as well as their prepared organic pesto sauce, a delicious time-saver for harried but wholesome cooks.
Winter Green is a beautiful farm with beautiful ideals, and we’re glad to be in partnership with them. Thanks to Chris and the rest of the Winter Green team for a fun and informative visit, and a great walk in the sun. (If you’d like to experience the farm for yourself, there’s some information here!)
Check out the rest of the photos below. . .And keep an eye on this space for more visits to our wonderful local suppliers!