Fifth-Generation Oregon Family Farmer Revives Sustainable Efforts of Her Ancestors
June 27, 2013 | Hana Lurie
Amy Love is an educated and well-seasoned fifth-generation farmer, as well as a mother of two. She and her husband run Love Farm Organics, a CSA operation located in the Willamette Valley just outside of Portland, Oregon. This land has been farmed by the Love family for over 100 years. Love is passionate about genetic diversity, the well-being of the land and delivering quality food to her community on a modest scale.
I recently spoke with Amy about how her interest in farming developed, the sustainable methods she employs, and the future goals for Love Farm Organics.
Q: What is the story of how your farm came to be?
Love: It was a bit of me being a fifth-generation Oregon family farmer – having opportunities on the family homestead land helped a lot – and a bit of my own personal interest in wanting to try organics. After I studied botany and horticulture in college, I knew that I wanted to do some organic farming. I was part of the first of the organic growers club at Oregon State. When I got done with college I didn’t have any hands on experience, so I WWOOFed in New Zealand and Hawaii. When I came home I decided to start my own thing.
My family homesteaded this land in the late 1880s and the farm was established in 1905. They were hop farmers and eventually came into berries – some of the first berry farmers in Oregon. My father has always farmed sustainably the best he can, but conventionally. I knew I wanted to get away with less chemicals and more organic methods like my great-grandfather. My husband and I quit our other jobs a couple of years ago, then I got pregnant and had two small children which is when my husband took the reins for quite a bit. He’s been great, and had a horticulture green thumb as well. We started with about 30 members – just family and friends – and now we’re up to about 180. When we have the opportunity, we get take some of the crews from my dad’s farm and have them help with planting and big jobs. For the most part it’s my husband and I as well as three other employees that are hired for summer.
Q: How did you find the money to lease/buy the farm?
Love: That’s how I am incredibly fortunate and blessed; this land is my family land. I do pay a small rent to my father, but for the most part it’s already owned. There’s no money to pay off except for annual taxes. We have water rights on all of it, and the whole farm is about 600 acres. My husband and I farm a little chunk with a natural buffer of the woods. We are pretty lucky. Our organic operation is on about 20 acres farming. There’s another 18 or so that is wetlands and the barn part of the field.
Q: What do you grow on the farm?
Love: Because we’re a CSA, we strive to grow everything that we possibly can in our season. We offer A to Z: right now our strawberries are on, we have the peas and fava beans coming on, all of the lettuces: kale, chard, mustard greens, endives, all of those special greens, carrots, beets, onions, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. We grow everything. I think we have a couple hundred different crops and varieties.
Q: Is the farm certified organic?
Love: We are actually not certified, but we constantly grapple with that possibility. Often, throughout the years, we’ve thought about doing farmers markets, but to have organics in your name you have to be certified. We have a lot of returning members over the years, but they don’t really need us to be certified – they understand our values and what we stand for. We are pretty comfortable just providing for our CSA families at this point.
Q: When and why did you decide to embrace sustainable agriculture?
Love: In the 80s I was kind of a deadhead and a hippy; I really didn’t believe in chemicals or any sort of environmental degradation. We really want to encourage wildlife and insects, and we keep bees and hives. I just want to support the whole cycle of diversity in nature, and I don’t want to do anything that’s going to destroy that. It was mainly because of school and seeing the way big ag spoke to the chemical companies, setting a system that kept creating more need for chemicals. That cycle in general is a losing cycle and it isn’t life giving, but life destroying.
Q: What are some unique, sustainable practices that you employ on the farm?
Love: We do the buffer zones and a lot of flowers – there’s a lot of diversity. We do cover cropping with green grass and clover that we till back into the soil and help to create nitrogen that plants need. We try to put as much biomedicine as we can back into the field. The bees help with pollination hugely. We don’t like to use a ton of tractors and stuff – we use hoes and a lot of hard work. I would love to have biodiesel at some point, but for now we’re using some diesel engines. It’s kind of like my great-grandfather’s days: a big garden that gets a lot of love.
Q: How does the farm make money?
Love: It’s mainly our CSA members. We do, every now and again, supply a couple of restaurants. There is a chef that was a CSA member, and then he opened his own restaurant. He still likes to get our food. There’s a new restaurant over in Forest Grove that we’re excited about, and they like to buy from local farmers, too.
Q: Is the farm profitable, or self-sustaining?
Love: I think it’s self-sustaining. Sometimes it feels like we’re making a profit, but then we will reinvest in our infrastructure somehow: either we need a new greenhouse put up or we need to redo our drip irrigation system. That’s been a big expense, but that’s another way of incorporating sustainability. We are able to take care of our family – that’s all that we really strive for. Maybe on a small level we’re profitable.
Q: What are some challenges that the farm faces?
Love: Organization is always a challenge, but my husband is far better at it than I am. When our toddlers came along, I was out of comission for a bit and it was difficult. Now they’re at that age where I can get a lot more work done and it’s nice to have them with us. I also took on the books for the farm, so there’s this new office side that was really hard for me initially. I think we’re adapting well and we make a pretty good team. Weeds are always a challenge, too.
Q: What are the future goals for the farm?
Love: To continue to feed people. I don’t want to break the 250-member mark; I think that if we continue to grow a small percent as we have been each year, it would be really nice. At that point we could hire somebody year-round and make it more of a machine working throughout the year rather than seasonal. Right now we don’t have a lot of greenhouses and we aren’t able to grow a lot in the winter, but all of our members have requested winter shares, so that’s a goal. There are ways that we can store our squash and roots for the winter. That whole model was something I’ve always looked at as desirable. We are slowly evolving every year, working towards something like that.