Farm couple

Carri Heisler and her husband Jeff Bramlett pose with their dog on the farm on March 14.

A married couple both quit their jobs so they could start and run a small organic farm.

The 15-acre organic farm, Pitchfork & Crow, is owned by Carri Heisler and her husband Jeff Bramlett. It’s a farm just north of Lebanon that provides year-round crops for members of their CSA.

Before they were farmers, they both worked indoors in jobs they were unsatisfied with.

Heisler worked as a geographic information systems analyst, where she made maps for a software company.

Bramlett was a special education teacher.

Heisler didn’t enjoy her office job, she said.

“It’s hard to be inside so much, and at the end of the day it’s hard to know what you did with your time and how you really did anything good,” Heisler said. “(Now) even when the work is super monotonous, you know you’re working towards a really great goal of feeding your community.”

Heisler said she enjoys working within natural systems, being outside more, and knowing where her food comes from.

In 2011, Bramlett started working full time at the farm, and in January of 2013 Heisler quit her job to work on the the farm full time.

Bramlett also was unhappy with his education job, he said.

“I didn’t like being inside,” Bramlett said. “I was a special ed teacher, and, we’re labeling all these kids with ADHD, and I was like, ‘I’m ADHD, I got to get out of here.’”

The couple first started farming on a leased one acre of farmland in Stayton while taking an Oregon State University Extension class about farming.

They leased the land just to learn about farming, Heisler said.

“We had friends who were farming, and we were really intrigued with what they were doing,” Heisler said. “They were able to live on their farm and make a living doing it.”

They then leased the farm they are currently running, before purchasing the entirety of the 15-acre farm in 2012.

Because they started farming in Stayton they have been delivering their produce to the Salem area, Heisler said. This year they will add a Lebanon pick-up at their farm.

The farmers currently don’t attend any farmers markets because they decided to focus on selling their food through their community supported agriculture membership program, Heisler said.

The farm’s CSA program is where people may purchase a membership at the beginning of the growing season, and membership allows people pick up a weekly supply of fruits and vegetables.

Winter difficulties

Although they lost many winter crops due to recent cold weather, Bramlett and Heisler were able to provide fruits and vegetable for customers.

This winter, several crop varieties (mainly greens) were destroyed from two winter snow and ice storms, Heisler said. Kale, which can usually survive a Willamette Valley winter, died.

Right now, purple sprouting broccoli usually would be emerging from the ground and be ready in a week, but it all died because of the cold weather, Bramlett said. The only leafy green to survive the winter on a large scale were collard greens.

“It’s been a hard winter,” Heisler said.

Despite all the crops they lost, they still were able to harvest garlic, shallots, rutabaga and pea micro-greens, Ozette fingerling Potatoes and dried apples and popcorn, and ship them out for their CSA.

To provide food throughout the winter, the couple dries a lot of their crops, Heisler.

Another problem with the snow was that many green houses in the area collapsed from the weight on top of them, Bramlett said.

To prevent this, the couple spent time clearing snow from their greenhouses, even knocking the snow off with brooms to ensure their structures didn’t collapse, Bramlett said. They were able to prevent any damage to their greenhouses.

Succession planting

Because of the weekly membership program, they have to create a continues supply of produce, Bramlett said. They create that constant supply by succession planting, which means once a crop is harvested, that type of crop is planted again.

Succession planting is the biggest difference between gardening food at home and producing food on a small-farm scale, she said.

“Everything’s done on a bigger scale,” Heisler said. “I think often if you’re gardening at home, in the spring, you put your garden in, and that’s kind of it, but we do a lot of succession (planting) throughout the year. People often don’t think of successions, and then they run out of lettuce. That’s alright because (then) they have to find people like us.”

The farmers are looking forward to the summer growing season, which is looking more promising than the winter growing season, she said.

“Things are looking up,” Heisler said. “I’m optimistic.”

Heisler and Bramlett have started spring crops that include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, spinach, lettuce, peas, bok choy, kohlrabi, fennel, parsley, celeriac, celery, cauliflower, and beets.

The Lebanon on-farm CSA pick up will be held on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m., 34073 Santiam Highway SE.

The summer CSA program will run 27 weeks, from May 27 until Nov. 25.

Membership to the CSA is $620 and there are two payment options: a single-payment is $620 due by April 1. A two-payment option is $310 by April 1 and another $310 by Aug. 1.

To sign up for the CSA, visit http://pitchforkandcrow.com/community-supported-agriculture/csa-sign-up.

Contact reporter Matt DeBow at 541-259-3126, or via email at Matt.DeBow@lee.net.

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