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Deborah Collins always had a love for growing her own food — even doing so while she lived in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, while working in a lab as an environmental scientist for the state.
Eventually that love blossomed into a passion and Deborah wanted to expand her home gardening into market gardening, where she could grow produce as cash crops. The only problem was, that wasn’t feasible in a city of over 650,000 people. So she left her job with the state and began searching for a suitable property.
“It was a job I really enjoyed but I could not find affordable farmland anywhere near downtown Portland,” Deborah said.
Deborah and her husband Chris found their spot three years ago just south of Chehalis off Jackson Highway near Mary’s Corner, a 20-acre plot with mostly woods and a little pasture.
Chris was able to keep his job as a contractor while Deborah and their adult daughter, Shannon ‘Red’ Kirby, ran their new Buckleberry Farm.
The farm currently has about an acre in production with row crops and Deborah dedicates about a half-acre for the chickens to pasture. There are also goats and ducks but they are primarily pets.
The farm grows a wide variety of vegetables to sell at markets around Lewis County. Vegetables include anything one would normally find at a farmers market: tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, onions, garlic, potatoes, greens; basically a little bit of everything.
Deborah also has 65 laying hens currently and sells eggs for $6 per dozen. They are bred and raised on the farm and eat only organic feed, including leftover produce from the farm. Deborah breeds for eggshell color, so each carton will have light brown, chocolate brown, greens, blues and all kinds of colors. They are equally as nutritious as they are beautiful, Deborah said.
“My daughter likes to say, after she goes and visits different farms, ‘We baby our chickens,’” Deborah said. “They are totally babied. They have names, they come running when they see me coming.”
While the farm is not organically certified, everything is grown from all-organic seeds and Deborah uses natural practices, so there are no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Chicken and goat manure is used to fertilize the garden beds, along with seaweed extract and fish fertilizer for the tomato plants.
“We do everything as naturally as possible,” Deborah said. “In fact, we usually exceed organic requirements in the way we grow our vegetables. Being an environmentalist and well-versed in the science of it, I try to be very cognizant of what I’m doing to the soil. If you take care of the soil you can grow fabulous, nutritious vegetables.”
Buckleberry Farm sells its produce and eggs at the Toledo Thursday Market from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Thursday. It will also be at the Chehalis Community Farmers Market starting this week, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays.
The farm’s products can also be purchased online from both market’s websites through Local Line, an online ordering system. A prospective customer can search by either product or farm/vendor, place the order and then pick up their items at the respective market. The Toledo Thursday Market debuted its online marketplace in March, while the Chehalis Community Farmers Market launched its online ordering in June.
“If you’re social distancing, you don’t want to spend a lot of time at the market or you just have a very limited amount of time, it’s a really easy way to order your stuff ahead of time and just stop by and pick it up,” Deborah said.
The farm also offers a community-supported agriculture (CSA) membership. It has four CSA seasons, spring, summer, fall and late winter. Each membership is $180 for nine weeks of produce, which comes out to $20 a week, but Deborah said members are guaranteed to receive $25-$30 worth of produce in their bag every week.
“It’s a good savings for the consumer and I try to stick with very user-friendly vegetables,” Deborah said. “You’re not going to pull something out of the bag and go, ‘What is this?’ I’m really conscious of keeping the bag full of things that everybody is going to like and know how to use.”
Members also receive weekly emails that describe everything that’s going to be in that upcoming week’s bag, tips on how to store the vegetables and recipe ideas.
Signups for the fall CSA membership are available right now, which begins just after Labor Day in the second week of September and runs through the beginning of November. Some of the fall items will include squashes and potatoes.
Signups can be made through the Toledo Thursday Market or Chehalis Community Farmers Market websites, by emailing Deborah at firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging Buckleberry Farm’s Facebook page at facebook.com/buckleberryfarmnw. Deborah's phone number is 503-998-1821.