Oregon is known for its fruits especially berries. Strawberries. Marionberries. Haskaps. Aronias. Raspberries, Blackberries. Salmon Berries. This berry and that berry. It's not uncommon to find jams and jellies in abundance in Oregon.What is uncommon is to find a fruit spread that has half the sugar of most with twice the flavor. Its uncommon to find a young family taking on a multi-generational family farm with new farming adventures. Its uncommon to find the dedication and hard work that the Ellis family has put into their family farm. With as much love as they have for their children and extended family you will find an equal amount of love in every jar of fruit spread they sell.
We had the privilege of meeting the owners of Mt. Hope Farms, The Ellis Family, at the Salem Saturday Market a couple of years ago now. With our daughters named Faith and Charity, I had to find out what this Mt. HOPE Farms was all about. We were blessed with not only beautiful farm and working relationship but also a friendship. We are also proud to include their aronia berries in our Oregon Harvest Berry Tea.
Today we are sharing with you all, as part of our local farm/business features, Mt. Hope Farms and their beautiful fruit spreads. They were so gracious as to allow us to interview them and today we share that with you. We hope you enjoy!
Tell Us a little about Mt. Hope Farms.
We are a small, diversified farm in Molalla, Oregon and we grow unique fruits and berries that we sell fresh and use to make preserved foods. We have created a line of fruit spreads that are made with high quality and local ingredients and very low amounts of sugar. If we can’t grow all of our ingredients for our specialty foods, then we source it from other farmers that we know and trust (always organic if possible).
What did you do prior to farming?
Mike grew up on the farm and has worked with his parents and grandfather for most of his life. Mike and I both attended Eastern Oregon University in La Grande where we met. He studied crop and soil sciences and I studied history. Mike worked a manual labor job after college until returning back to Molalla to farm in 2012. I (Laura) worked as the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator in Union County prior to farming. We loved La Grande, but we knew it was time for a change when we found out we were expecting our son, Samuel.
What was the motivation behind starting your farm and fruit spreads?
Mike and I have always wanted to farm and raise our family in a rural area. That was a big motivation for moving back to where Mike grew up. The timing was right for us to come back and work alongside Mike’s parents on the farm, but we knew that we had to do something different in order to make a living farming smaller acreage and to keep up with the changing markets. As a family, we want to grow crops that have great flavor, are highly nutritious and are less common than many already found in the Willamette Valley. So, we decided to grow higher value crops, such as table grapes, aronia berries and haskap berries that we could sell to the fresh market.
We also wanted to sell our fruits and berries for a longer stretch of time and to create a product that brought in a more consistent income. We needed something that people could feel good about purchasing and consuming- a product that we felt good about feeding to our kids. I have always loved creating and cooking in the kitchen, so I began to come up with recipes for jam using our produce and berries. But, the jam had so much sugar! So, I began experimenting and came up with recipes that cut the amount of sugar by more than half….and that’s how our line of fruit spreads came to be! From there, I came up with recipes that not only had our farm ingredients, but local spices and spirits. Mike and I made it a goal to try and support other small business and farms through our business.
Our fruit spreads became popular with friends and family, then with farmers’ market customers and then they began to win awards. In 2016 and 2017, we received a Good Food Award for our Spiced Marionberry and Raspberry Marionberry Fruit Spreads and we just found out that we are finalists for three of our products in 2018!
Could you share a general day in the life of the farm with us?
Mike and his dad do all of the main farming work and are responsible for all of our crop production. He is normally out the door early in the morning where he works alongside his dad. They work until it is dark outside, which can be a long day, depending on the season. In the summers, they are busy harvesting whatever crops are ready to go- haskap berries in the spring, seed crops and berries in the summers, grapes and apples in the fall. In the fall and winter, they are constantly preparing for planting, growing, and harvest of the crops: repairing/modifying/building equipment, pruning grapes and the orchard crops, and getting seed and supplies on hand. As soon as the weather is right we go right back to work planting, growing and harvesting our crops. No day EVER looks the same!
I stay at home with our two young children, Samuel and Mason, during the day. I also do all of the paperwork, sales, marketing and recipe development for our value added products and fresh fruit sales. I often deliver our products to stores with kids in tow and work on social media and paperwork after bedtime. A day for me is full of wearing lots of different hats and trying to grow our business.
The burning question: What is a fruit spread?
To comply with FDA labeling regulations, each batch of our fruit spreads and preserves is measured with a Brix Meter. This tool tests the soluable solids (which is an indicator of sugar level) in our products and indicates what number they are on the brix scale (which goes from 1-100). To be legally defined as a jam or jelly it must have a brix reading of 65 or above. Often, these traditional products have very high amounts of added sugars and sweeteners that contribute to this reading. Because we use very low amounts of Organic cane sugar and no artificial sweeteners, many of our products are fruit spreads and are below 65 on the Brix scale. Because of our low sugar levels we cannot legally be labeled as a jam or jelly.
How do you go about deciding which fruit spreads make it to market?
Mike and I do a lot of test recipes…. A LOT. Many of them don’t make the cut. We let friends and family try them first. If they like them, then we often make micro batches and see how farmers’ market customers like them. If they prove popular, gain good feedback and sell well, then we consider them as a product we will offer for wholesale. It takes a long stretch of time to go through this whole process!
What makes your fruit spreads different from other jams and jellies?
The fact that we know exactly what goes into the jar and we know that they are the best ingredients that we can source and grow makes our fruit spreads different. We spend time making sure our berries and fruits are grown to the highest standards. Our product quality is higher, our ingredients are Organic whenever possible, our ingredients are fresher (we don’t include any artificial flavors or preservatives), our recipes are original to our farm and this is our sole living. When you purchase from us, you are directly supporting our family and other small businesses in the community that supply some of our ingredients.
Do you have a favorite fruit spread and how do you use it?
My favorite is Autumn Apple. I love using it on pork chops and on waffles. It is made from the apples in our family orchard, local rum (4 Spirits Distillery) and Oregon sea salt (Jacobsen’s Sea Salt) - seriously amazing! Mike’s favorite is the Spiced Marionberry. He puts this on his toast, on bagels and cream cheese and mixes it into yogurt.
Where can our readers find your fruit spreads?
You can order them on our farm website and we now have free shipping on all orders! You can also find us at many cheese counters at Oregon grocers and specialty shops which are found here on our "About Us" page. For recipes using our fruit spread check out our Farm Fresh Blog.
Thank you for joining us for this weeks Farm/Business feature. If you missed the first one in our series make sure you check out The Engineer and School Teacher that Quit to Farm Lavender.
Hidden away in every small town are little treasures. Families and businesses plugging away at a love they have to make a living. Little hobby shops of crafters with talent. Small food producers with flavorful products. Farms with beautiful abundance. We are excited to introduce a series featuring these makers, crafters, farmers. Every week we will bring to you a new small business/product/family!
A little peek into their lives and their work. First on our interview list is Eagle Creek Lavender Farm. This beautiful farm is situated on 20 acres of beautiful country in Eagle Creek, Oregon. Bill and Mary Jabs are the owners of this beautiful farm. I first came to meet Bill and Mary through another lavender farm during our search for local lavender.
Loving to support local it just seemed wrong that our lavender in our teas was coming from France. France is a lovely place, don't get me wrong, but it certainly doesn't support our local economy and there is something to be said for quality as well. Lavender that comes from that kind of a distance just can't be as fresh as the lovely lavender we have been getting from Bill and Mary's farm in Eagle Creek, Oregon!
We have enjoyed getting to know Bill and Mary so much ourselves that we decided to share about them and their hidden treasure of a farm with you all. We interviwed them both so we could share with you.
Could you tell our readers a little bit about your farm and antique cars?
Bill’s passion for antique cars goes back to his teenage years, although he didn’t pursue it much until the past 15 years. The collection now consists of about 30 cars of many makes and models, with Model A Fords and Packard’s the most prevalent. Bill restores cars year around, and is constantly looking for that next gem.
What did you do prior to farming lavender? Mary was a high school teacher specializing in health sciences and Bill was a civil engineer.
What got your started in farming lavender? Bill wanted to be a farmer all is life, and Mary has a passion for landscaping and flowers, so we came together on the decision to grow lavender.
Share the process from planting to harvest, cleaning and the products you make. Lavender plants have a life span of 15 years, and take about 3 years to mature. All of our plants are on drip irrigation, so we are able to get optimal growth. If the plant is harvested for oil, it is hand harvested, put into a steel container and steam distilled to produce essential oil and lavender water, also known as hydrosol. Both are marketable products. Our Buena Vista variety yields two cuttings per year if irrigated, normally cut in July and September. Lavender cut for culinary and other dried product uses, is hand harvested in 1” bundles, hung upside down to dry for about one week, debudded and then cleaned. We have a unique debudding machine that came from Canada, and an old fashion seed cleaning machine which has been adapted for use in cleaning lavender. Cleaning consists of removing stems and leaves from the lavender buds. Future plans include developing a lavender harvesting machine to reduce dependency on labor, which is becoming more difficult to obtain.
Could you tell a us a little about what a day in the life of a lavender farmer looks like? Lavender farming is like any other farming, intensive in the spring and summer and less intensive in the late fall and winter. As soon as weather permits in the spring, we are preparing the ground for new plantings. Lavender starts usually arrive in April and are immediately planted. Once planted, we try to get the rows mulched with wood waste products and plant grass in between the rows. Weeding and mowing become extensive activities throughout the growing season. In our case, we have a lavender festival in late June, so we have lots of preparation to do to prepare our farm for guests. In 2017, we had about 1000 attendees in two days. Then in July and September, we harvest, distill, dry and process the lavender. We also have a winter open house and do some events away from the farm, so are constantly preparing product and filling orders. Farming also continues in the fall, with ground preparation and planting of a cover crop where lavender is to be planted the following spring.
How do you tell the different varieties of lavender apart? How many varieties do you plant? Are there different uses for different varieties? We have 12 varieties and some are easily distinguished by stem length and color, but we mark all rows to make sure we don’t get the varieties mixed up. Some varieties only produce one cutting, while others can produce up to three times per year. We have several blue and purple varieties, along with white and pink. Certain varieties are best for oil, dried bouquets, and/or culinary purposes. Our intent is to keep a balance, depending on what our clientele are looking for.
What type of growing conditions does lavender prefer? Lavender is a fairly hardy plant and can grow in varied conditions. It likes sunshine, free draining soil and needs to have the soil pH neutral or slightly basic. We use lots of lime to our soil to keep it “sweet”. Lavender also needs to be cut back each fall, or the plants will get “woody” and “floppy”. We trim each plant in the fall.
What type of products do you sell and where are they available? Eagle Creek Lavender has about 30 products, ranging from essential oil, to a line of bath and body products, dried lavender sachets and bundles, culinary lavender buds, neck and eye pillows and other products using our raw lavender products. We also sell honey from bees housed on our property. We sell both wholesale and retail during our festival, farm tour, holiday open house, various local market events and by individual appointments. We just opened our first retail outlet at Birch and Crow Vintage Market in Battleground, Washington, and are in the planning stages of online sales.
Thank you Bill and Mary! We enjoyed chatting and sharing a bit about Eagle Creek Lavender! We are so excited to have found such a lovely farm dedicated to high quality lavender. We were impressed with the fresh fragrance, the very very clean product and the flavor surpasses any other lavender that we have experienced.
To get more of Eagle Creek Lavender Farm and meet Bill and Mary make sure you hop on over to their website Eagle Creek Lavender or check out their lavender shoppe located at 27525 SE Starr Rd, Eagle Creek, Oregon 97022.
Want to snag some of our tea with this lovely lavender? Check out our Rose City Repose tea and Cascade Earl Grey blends.
Until next week, keep steeping it local!
Living Healthy with Tea
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