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.
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