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WINLOCK — When Burke Deming’s grandparents were searching for a farm to buy in Lewis County in the early 1970s, he can remember playing on Big Jack, the old 1920 steam locomotive, that sat in Fort Borst Park for 51 years. He was 7 years old at the time.
His grandparents finally found their farm in 1974 after four years of searching, right at the confluence of Snow and Olequa creeks, halfway between Winlock and Vader. They named it Olequa Farm.
It sparked a farming interest in Deming that never left. Growing up in Portland, Deming went on to study agriculture at Oregon State University.
“I was a city boy that wanted to be a farmer,” Burke said.
And when he came up to his grandparents one summer near the end of his college career to help out on the farm, he never went back to school to finish his degree. He would end up buying the farm from his grandmother in 1986 and now runs the place with his wife, Laura, and the two live in the farmhouse that’s over 100 years old.
Their first crop was marionberries, 16 rows that were 160 feet long. They were wiped out within a few years by disease. He soon began planting and harvesting salad greens that he’d sell to stores and restaurants in the early 1990s. He switched to Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) eight years ago, where people buy a subscription in winter or spring to help the farmer pay for the costs, and then they receive either weekly or biweekly shipments of vegetables throughout the summer.
It has become a popular way for households to purchase local, seasonal produce directly from farmers.
It’s basically buying temporary stock in the farm. If the harvest is bountiful, the members will more than get their money’s worth. If insects or any other natural factors affect the crops, then customers will obviously get less veggies.
“They don’t know what’s coming and I don’t really know what I’m going to find out there to pick until I get it picked, cleaned up and delivered,” Burke said.
But this summer has been abundant, both in members and vegetables.
Olequa Farm has built its CSA base primarily through word-of-mouth and Facebook. The farm had to cap its CSA members this spring for the first time ever as people were flooding in to buy a subscription. Burke and Laura currently have 31 members, more than double the amount during the previous eight years. They had to turn away people for the first time ever.
“I think because of the checks that went out for COVID-19 that my business just exploded,” Burke said. “I had to shut it down and say no more. I had to turn away two people.”
The farm used to be certified organic, but Burke doesn’t do that anymore. He does not spray any pesticides but does use diatomaceous earth sparingly. He figures he’d rather take the risk of losing crops than spray pesticides. Instead, he uses a floating row cover as a barrier to protect against insects.
Burke has two 100-foot-long by 30-foot-wide greenhouses that he grows in, and a full-acre of vegetables that is surrounded by an 8-foot fence to keep deer and elk out. Burke prides himself in putting out a CSA box that’s usable in the kitchen, and not just stuff that’s easy to grow. He currently has orange bell peppers in the greenhouse that cost him over $1 per seed.
“I grew up in a catering business in Portland, so food and food presentation is really important,” Burke said. “I get colors and really good flavors in my box.”
With all the different variations, Burke has 100 different types of vegetables, beans and peppers available this summer. He has 585 tomato plants, three different types of carrots and corn, radishes, sprouting broccoli and 18 varieties of peppers, including bull’s horn peppers and shishito peppers.
“They shishito are really popular,’ Burke said. “Sesame oil and you grill them a little bit and they are just to die for. People have a blast with them. The green beans out of the greenhouse, people have really been enjoying. They’re super tasty.”
Burke is about halfway through the growing season right now. He is just starting to add summer squash to his CSA boxes this week, which is about two weeks behind previous years.
The CSA membership runs from about the third week in May to the third week in September, and he delivers from Longview to Centralia. Olequa Farm’s weekly shipment of 20 total deliveries goes for $435 and biweekly, with 10 total deliveries, is $250.
Anyone interested in becoming a CSA member for next summer can do so by either calling the farm at 360-785-4576 or visiting the website at olequafarm.com.
Reporter Eric Trent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit chronline.com/business for more coverage of local businesses.