Minto Island Growers was formed is 2008 when Elizabeth and Chris started converting several acres of the Salem farm, owned by the Miller family, to organic vegetable production. Elizabeth grew up working for the Miller family farm operation- Mt. Jefferson Farms, which encompasses many acres and projects, both in the Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon. The Salem farm where MIG operates, was purchased in the early 1970′s, mostly due to its industrial scale, operating mint still- a unique asset because at that time MJF grew extensive mint acreage for essential oil.
Native and hybrid poplars were planted in research blocks and other stoolbeds were cultivated to supply other poplar plantings. The native plants work, started in Scio/Shelburne at the mint farm, was also expanded into a native plants nursery specializing in large riparian restoration projects.
All the Miller family kids spent summers working at the Salem farm and nursery. When Minto Island Growers was formed, Elizabeth wanted to continue the many years of forestry, mint and riparian restoration work that had formed her early experiences with plants. Chris, who worked at Rana Creek- a green design, native nursery and restoration design company in Carmel Valley California, had the expertise to propel many of the existing projects forward and pursue nursery projects of our own. We are lucky to be able to work on these projects during the fall, winter and spring when there is less vegetable production. It keeps us and our crew busy year round!
We currently follow the NOP (National Organic Program) guidelines for all of our vegetable production and received our organic certification from Oregon Tilth in the spring of 2010. The organic standards are just a guideline for our decision making on the farm.
We hope in our long lives as farmers to perfect methods of soil stewardship, closed loop nutrient production, and biologically based methods of managing farm “pests” and diseases that go above and beyond the organic standards. We do feel organic certification is an important step along the way and a good way of showing accountability to our customers and our ecological surroundings.
Covercropping not only protects the soil while it’s resting and out of vegetable rotation, but the crop- often vetch, phacelia, clover, peas or buckwheat, is tilled back into the soil, breaking down into organic matter and feeding the millions of biological organisms living in the soil. A common philosophy in organic and ecological farming is to feed the soil, which in turn feeds the crops that are harvested.
Oh my are there lots of critters that like to eat our vegetables! Our biggest pest challenges thus far have been slugs, flea beetles and cucumber beetles. We’re trying lots of different methods to create an ecological balance on our farm- a balance that of course will always have “pests”, but will hopefully be less damaging to our crops than in the past.
Some of these practices include beneficial insect plantings- flowers, shrubs, and grasses- some permanent, some annuals alongside our veggies- that attract insects that prey on less desirable insects. Many of these flowering plants also attract and feed the beloved and invaluable pollinators like bees. We are lucky that our farm already has many plantings of native “stoolbeds”- dense, perennial plantings used for dormant cutting stock for our native plants projects. These, and an additional riparian restoration planting done with the help of Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District in the spring of 2009, add a huge amount of habitat to our farm for all kinds of critters. The stoolbeds also border many of our vegetable fields, adding beauty, wind protection and “human scale” feeling to the farm.
Rotating our crops, being vigilant and identifying potential diseases, and just plain good luck, have left us free of any major disease problems thus far. Biologically active soil helps keep plants healthy and able to resist disease.