It's easy to spot Deep Roots at the farmer's markets. At both PSU and Hillsdale they are on the northwest corner as you walk in, and there's always a line of people waiting to buy their produce. Since 1998, Kimberly and Aaron Bolster have carved out a niche in the hearts and stomachs of Portland area veggie lovers.
As the produce buyer for Food Front, and as a fan of our local farmers markets, I am always on the lookout for the freshest and tastiest produce in the area. My wife and I have been buying our greens, berries, tomatoes, and other vegetables from Deep Roots for several years.
Last year we had the opportunity to offer Deep Roots fresh-harvested fruit and veggies to the produce shelves at Food Front. Currently, we are the exclusive retail grocer outside of St. Johns to carry their produce.
Each week for the past 14 years, they load up their truck with fresh pickings from their 25-acre vegetable farm and bring it up to the weekend farmer's markets in the Portland metro area. They have been a staple ever since, drawing a huge following of fresh produce lovers each Saturday at the Portland, Beaverton, and Hollywood, and Hillsdale every Sunday.
We've been with the Hillsdale Farmer's Market since the week it opened. It's been a lot of fun watching this market grow. When asked if it was her favorite market, she smiled and replied "I really like them all so much. It's really just an opportunity to chat with all of our customer friends about our life's work and passion."
The Bolsters pride themselves on practicing environmentally responsible agriculture and sustainable production. Situated near the Willamette River on the outskirts of Albany, they have been among several families that farm the fertile soil of the upper Willamette Valley. In 1998 Aaron started Deep Roots farm. With just a couple of acres near Albany, he began growing vegetables and started his own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. Soon he, with Kimberly's help, began to bring their vegetables to the Portland Farmer's Markets every Wednesday and Saturday. Within 18 months, Kimberly began working on the farm full time and they then bought their current property and expanded to 15 acres. They lease an additional 10 acres east of Albany to supplement the growing demand for their produce.
Aaron grew up in rural Buffalo, NY, with farming in his blood. His great grandfather and his fatherís uncle owned a potato farm in upstate New York. After school his first stop west was in Kansas, doing an outreach study for the Land Institute, involving local farmers and tall-grass prairie. In 1996, Aaron traveled to Oregon to visit recently transplanted friends, and 6 months later moved out to Corvallis with the intention of working on an organic farm.
Kimberly, a native Oregonian who grew up in Newberg, recently shared her thoughts on farming, farmer's markets, and organic standards.
Josh: What do you currently grow?
Kimberly: We specialize in strawberries (Seascapes), bunched cooking greens like chard and kale, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and Yukon gold potatoes, but also grow (I'm sure I'm leaving something out): shallots, basil, parsley, cucumbers, zucchini, butternut squash, delicate squash, eggplant, jack-o-lanterns, sweet corn, broccoli, green cabbage, baby bok choy, beets, poblano peppers, cubanelle peppers, cantaloupe, rhubarb, marionberries, raspberries, and blackberries, and boysenberries.
We also farm about 150 acres of wheat and seed plants, mostly rye grass, which is a high protein grain primarily used by livestock owners for animal forage. Rye grass is also commonly used as a cover crop with clover for weed and erosion control.
J:Those Seascape strawberries were amazing this year! How did you decide on the Seascape variety to grow?
K:We started with them back in 1998, and it's been a really good berry. A few years we didn't grow strawberries at all, and a few other years we tried growing several different varieties. We just keep coming back to the Seascapes. They grow well and yield better than other varieties. They have a nice complexity, great taste and are firmer, which allows them to freeze well.
J: How do you decide what to grow?
K: Aaron and I constantly talking about what's next, we're constantly planting and planning. Right now we're planning for spring. There are so many factors. We feel like it's healthy for the soil to rotate crops and we do that often. Plus, so much hinges on the weather and every year is different, trying to get the timing down. Otherwise we just see what fits well with the mix at the markets, what sells well, and what customers are looking for.
K: It can be tough to decide, because if we go a while without growing something, we always forget about the little things about that crop. Like carrots. Did I mention carrots on the list? I knew I left something out! Our bunched carrots were so good this year. There's nothing like a freshly-dug carrot. We hadn't grown them for a couple of years, and when we tried last year we couldn't beat the weeds. Then we get them and forget how time consuming they are, washing them and having to clean up all the greens at the markets.
J: Did you always want to be a farmer?
K: No, I don't think so. In college I studied ethno-botany and chemistry. But early on I decided I didnít want to be in the lab and spend that much time inside. So I switched to environmental science. After graduation I spent time doing agri-forestry work in Cameroon for the Peace Corps. When I came home in 1998, I got a job working at the Corvallis Farmer's Market for Denison Farm, a Certified Organic farm in Corvallis.
That's where I met Aaron. He came up and asked me what variety of tomatoes we had, and I told him the tall kind. He thought that was funny. We started talking after that and the rest is history.
J: How long is your growing season?
K: It can go year-round, though most often the weather gets bad enough that we have to take a break for most of December and January.
K: A lot of our winter greens can handle the cold weather, so having produce in winter is more a function of when, and for how long the ice/snow events occur. Spring crops are a bit trickier as we have to wait for the ground to dry out before we can plant many outdoor crops. So our greenhouses really help to ensure we have produce to offer in April and May.
J: Have you ever been a Certified Organic farm?
Deep Roots Farm
K:We were registered organic through the state of Oregon when that was an option, back before the National Organic Program (NOP). Our decision not to pursue certification was deeply emotional and political. And we really want to try to keep politics out of our food. We want to grow food the best we can with the lightest hand and smallest footprint. The heart and soul of our business is in nourishment, not politics. That said, we feel people need to understand that the NOP is a Marketing program; a label. Organic doesn't imply sustainable, nor environmentally responsible, it simply means the crops and/or products were grown and produced following the NOP guidelines. These guidelines allow for the use of synthetics, and naturally derived products that are un-sustainably produced, like mined rock phosphate, or fertilizers shipped from Europe, and China. The short and sweet of it is because we don't sell our produce through a middle-man distributor, with the exception of Food Front and Proper Eats (located in St. Johns), we sell all our produce directly to the people who prepare it, and therefore we are able to them tell our story.
J: Describe the personal satisfaction you receive from your life's work on the farm.
K: We've spent lots of years honing the craft of farming, and we have so much passion for the fields and what we do. There's so much to be proud of. The personal reward when someone says our food is the best. And really just watching our plants come out of the soil. They're all kind of like our babies; it's a pride of parenthood. That's why it's frustrating when we fail, because we care so much about what we do.
J: What are some of the biggest challenges of farming?
K: Simply put, making sure to not give into stress and frustration. It can be easy to get bogged down by all the things that go wrong: crop loss, bad weather, poor sales at the market. That's why it's so important for Aaron and me to keep the fun in farming.
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