When I tell people that our 300-acre farm has seven active family members involved in making management decisions, I always see the same smirk creep across their face followed by a comment along the lines of “that must be hard”. I am not going to argue that any farming operation is “easy”, but for us, agroforestry provides a framework for managing our farm as a whole system and, allows each of us to find roles best suited to our skillset and interests.
We call our farm “My Brothers’ Farm”, and aside from creating confusion in the surrounding community, the name reflects our philosophy of collaborative land management. We raise hazelnuts, apples, alder, bison, and pigs in mixed orchard and silvopasture systems. I manage the trees and shrubs, my brother manages the animals, my third brother process our products and works with my fiancé to market and sell what we produce. The beauty of these agroforestry systems is that we are able to stack distinct enterprises on a single land base and spend our time collaborating instead of trying to boss each other around.
In addition to our mixed orchard and silvopasture systems, we also manage nearly a mile of multifunctional hedge rows that we have worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQUIP program to install. We have been experimenting using willow, dogwood, and cottonwood as fodder and biomass plantings in some of the wetter areas of our farm. We are hopeful that these plantings will provide our animals with summer forage and our orchards with a steady supply of nutrient-rich woody biomass. In our hedgerows, we also grow Oregon grape, a great early flower that we’re planning to manage for its root production, which is a widely used medicinal.
Our farm sits along the banks of the Willamette River, and we believe clean water and healthy habitat are some of the most important things we can produce as a farm. Over the past two years, we have been working on expanding and enhancing our Riparian Forest Buffers. This year, we are collaborating with our local watershed council and the Farm Services Agency to install and enhance over 40 acres of riparian forest along almost a mile of river and streams that flow through our farm.
Because of the diversity of crops we produce on a single land base and the common language agroforestry provides, we are able to collaborate with many other organizations and farms in our surrounding community. We work with a friend who has a beekeeping business, and as a result, we have 30 hives of honeybees on our farm nearly all year round. We are working with our local Organic Hazelnut Association to develop a joint processing facility and support for new and transitional growers. We are active members of the Northwest Bison Association and our local watershed council. We lease a small hop yard on our farm to another local producer who markets to local breweries. We also lease land to a grass-seed farmer who has been farming on our farm for longer than I have been alive. In one of our most recent collaborations, we have begun working with the Pacific Northwest Agroforestry Working Group to explore the potential of setting up research and demonstration projects throughout the region that have the potential to bring even more farms into collaboration through agroforestry. We are excited to see what avenues for collaborative land management agroforestry opens up for our farm and others in the future!