“I never mowed a lawn until I was 22, and now, here I am,” says Mark as he stands in the middle of Flying Onion Farm, a small, diversified farm dotted with do-it-yourself projects. Together, owners Mark and Karen strive to be as resourceful as possible. From logging and building their own barn, to sourcing everything from ducks to greenhouses on Craigslist (Karen claims that Mark is a “Craigslist whiz”), the couple cuts costs and minimizes their impact on the land.
The two acres that they use to grow food are part of the 65-acre Mahonia Land Trust Conservancy just outside of Oregon City. This land, featuring rolling hills and picturesque views of Mt. Hood, is protected from careless development and aims to promote outdoor education, sustainable agriculture, and community. Of the 65 acres, 55 of them remain wooded.
When Mark and Karen spent their first year on Flying Onion Farm building infrastructure, they knew they had to be exceptionally mindful. Mark explains, “We tried to carve out a little niche without disturbing the land.” Their plans included the removal of several trees to make space for a new orchard and the construction of a barn. So, what was their solution? The couple cleared the wooded area for the orchard and used that same timber to build a barn 20 feet away.
This mindfulness carries over to their farming methods, as well. With more than 23 years of organic farming experience between the two of them, Mark and Karen are dedicated to farming in a manner that benefits the environment, as well as the eater. They try to work with—instead of fight—natural systems. For example, they let their small flock of ducks roam the land and eat slugs. It’s a simple act that satisfies the ducks and benefits the plants.
While their past farming experience taught them a lot about what to do, it also showed them what not to do. Mark laughs as he explains that working on a 65-acre farm taught him to stay small. The size of Flying Onion Farm gives the farmers the opportunity to “baby” their plants. “A lot rides on everything,” Mark says as he explains how you have to be more detail-oriented when you’re working on a farm of this nature. They take good care of the soil and aim to produce a few high-quality crops without a lot of waste.
“We like to think of ourselves as large scale gardeners,” Mark announces, but he quickly adds, “Ok, occasionally we use a tractor.” Mark and Karen like to keep things interesting by growing a wide range of vegetables and a few unusual varieties. They are currently growing a trial plot of overwintering cauliflower for a British seed company. Nobody knows how they will fare in this country, but we’re about to find out. Flying Onion Farm also grows more familiar crops like parsnips, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and carrots (I had the privilege of munching on one of these straight from the ground!).
As my visit came to a close, Mark and Karen searched their minds for any details they left out. After a bit of reflection, Mark summed up by saying, “We knew how we wanted to do things, what we wanted, and what we needed.” The two of them gave it a little more thought, and Karen suddenly looked at Mark with realization: “We did good!”
They certainly did.
Portland Fall Food Warrior
For more photos and information, check out Flying Onion Farm on Real Time Farms!