Former Salem Professionals Put Down Roots in Farming
By Mary Stewart, OSU Extension Communications and Marketing Coordinator - West Central Region
Jeff Bramlett, 42, was a special education elementary school teacher in Salem; Carri Heisler, 34, was a GIS analyst for a computer software company. Both were successful young professionals in their vocations, yet they shared a dream of working together in a very different kind of field. Jeff and Carri wanted to farm, and they found the land, the training and the mentors to make their dream a reality. They now own and operate Pitchfork & Crow, a thriving 15-acre farm and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation along Santiam Highway just north of Lebanon.
“Becoming a farmer has been good,” says Carri. “It is hard, but it is so much better than what I was doing because I feel I have really done something by the end of the day,” she explains.
According to Jeff, the couple’s first step was to find some land to work, so in 2009 they rented an acre of ground in Stayton and worked on the small farm after their day jobs. They produced a small harvest of vegetables and sold their goods from a table and canopy in a South Salem parking lot.
To increase their profit in 2010, they leased additional land on Grand Island and in Lebanon and began to sell produce at the Salem Saturday Market. At the market, they built their base of loyal customers until they had enough business to begin a CSA. While the income was modest, their confidence grew and they began to envision a more permanent transition into full time farming. When the farmland they had been leasing in Lebanon went up for sale, the couple made the investment in the land and at the same time, made the lifestyle commitment to farming as their vocation.
To figure out the business plan and vision for their farm, Jeff and Carri enrolled in the Oregon State University Extension Service’s 2009 Growing Farms program, which is a series of workshops designed to provide beginning farmers with the tools and knowledge needed to manage the biological and financial risks of farming. “The Growing Farms class was the catalyst for us starting our farm,” says Carri.
“The Growing Farms course is intended for people in their first five years of farming, people seriously considering starting a farm business, and people considering major changes to their farm,” says Melissa Fery, an OSU Extension faculty member who co-manages the Small Farms program.
“The Growing Farms program showed us it wasn’t crazy to want to be farmers,” says Carri. “There were others taking the course with similar dreams.” Over the seven-part series, Carri and Jeff received practical ideas from the OSU Extension faculty and from experienced, successful farmers. They learned about the business aspect of farming, including budgeting and having employees. “Growing Farms showed us that if we were going to do it right, we needed to consider our farm a business – it isn’t just gardening,” says Jeff.
The OSU Extension Growing Farms series will be offered again in 2015 in the mid-to southern- Willamette Valley region. Contact 541-766-3553 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jeff and Carri’s Pitchfork & Crow farm produces apples and pears and many kinds of vegetables, “We grow the entire alphabet, from arugula to zucchini,” says Jeff with a smile. For information on how to join their year ‘round CSA, contact email@example.com.
No moss will grow under their feet this coming year. The farming couple will begin to plant a hedgerow buffer on the perimeter of their land to attract native pollinators, continue the restoration of older fruit trees, and harvest a wholesome bounty from five acres of vegetables for a growing number of CSA members. As Carri looks over the table full of seed packets they have ordered for this year’s planting she says, “I can’t imagine doing anything else that would be more fulfilling than farming.”
Carri and Jeff are growing their dream.
(Photos by Meaghin Kennedy)