The Williams Brothers of the WW Valley
NPR's Tappet Brothers aka Click and Clack (Tom and Ray Magliozzi) have nothing on Tom and Ray Williams who, along with their spouses Penny Hawkins and Melinda Eden, own and operate Williams Hudson Bay Farm located just south of Stateline Road in Umapine, Oregon. At this week's Blue Mountain Land Trust's "Learning on the Land" event, participants were entertained and enlightened with humorous and fact-filled stories about operating this third-generation, 3000+ acre sustainable, organically certified, Salmon-Safe farmland.
As siblings often do, Ray and Tom tease, joke, and interrupt each other while finishing each other's sentences as they present an overview of their operation which includes organically grown wheat, alfalfa hay, alfalfa seed, sweet corn, grain corn, popcorn, pumpkins, and a first this year, watermelons. They also maintain a large dairy replacement livestock feeding operation as part of their nutrient recycling program that is a mainstay of their organic farming objective. In short, what goes in a cow comes out and can be used to build the soil. And maintaining healthy soil is what organic farming is all about.
It's one thing to grow organic crops, but the Williams brothers haven't stopped there. Over the years they have developed strong long-term business relationships with distributors and customers who buy and use in their own businesses what the Williams' grow on their farm.
The list is as diverse as the crops Hudson Bay Farm produces.
Organic food vendor Bob Moore of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods of Milwaukie, Oregon was skeptical at first that Eastern Washington wheat could be as good as the hard red spring wheat he was used to buying from Montana. But the organic high-protein wheat grown by the Willliams' brothers far exceeded Bob's Red Mill standards, and they are now an exclusive vendor partner and featured in Bob's Red Mill marketing campaign.
Organic soft white wheat from Hudson Bay Farm is also used in the award-winning Bainbridge Legacy Organic vodka. As noted in their website, "Bainbridge Organic Distillers is Washington's first and only USDA-certified organic distillery and works alongside local family famers to select grain varieties that pull the unique earthy flavors unique to Washington State soil and growing conditions." Take a bow, Tom and Ray Williams!
Dark Northern Spring wheat (DNS) is typically used in bread, and Hudson Bay Farm supplies Washington-based Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill in Burlington, WA, with their wheat as one of the "dedicated organic grain growers throughout the Northwest. By milling only organically-grown grains, Fairhaven Mill supports healthy farmlands and a sustainable, ecologically-responsible agriculture." Kudos to you, Hudson Bay Farm!
After the overview at the offices of Hudson Bay Farm, participants car-pooled to see different parts of the Williams' diverse operation. Here a combine cuts the standing organic wheat, separating the wheat kernels from the wheat straw, the latter to be used as bedding for their herd of organic dairy replacement cows. As Ray pointed out, organic cows need organic straw bedding because cows nibble at the straw. Obviously, everything is
well-planned and used up.
Just across the road from the wheat combine, a tractor and bailer pick up the straw from a recently cut organic wheat field. Each bale measures 3x4x8 feet and will be stacked for use later. Ray also pointed out the use of rubber tracks on the tractor rather than conventional tires. The reason is that conventional tires compact the soil more than continuous tracks, and since organic farmers work hard at maintaining optimum soil health, compaction is avoided even in the use of tractor tires.
According to Tom and Ray, crop rotation is critical in organic farming. So in any given year one third of their land is planted in wheat, one third in alfalfa or forages such as corn, and one third in high value crops such as pumpkins, winter squash, and watermelons. Here the Williams brothers explain the ins and outs of growing organic pumpkins which has a four-year rotation for pest control. As Ray explained, there is no organic method to rid infected pumpkin plants of insect pests other than hand-pulling the yellowed plants (an indicator of poor plant health) and carting them away in a burlap bag.
As for the healthy plants that produce pumpkins, Hudson Bay Farm has contracted with Stahlbush Island Farms to harvest and process the fruits. Stahlbush Farms of Corvallis, Oregon, are premium processors of fruit and vegetable purees and quick frozen foods.
It was at this point that BMLT participants were regaled with another Williams Brothers' story about their venture into a new-to-them "high value" crop--catnip. Wanting to be known in the industry as the world's largest producer of catnip (most catnip was grown on 15 acres or less), their inaugural attempt at growing the kitty aphrodisiac resulted in the world's largest "failed producer" but with a hilarious story to tell. Above, Tom is holding a bouquet of catnip which he sheepishly admits, neither of them knew what it looked like until they grew it themselves, at which point they realized they had been growing it all along in the wetter parts of their acreage.
A new high-value crop this year is watermelons. A specialized tractor attachment mounds the soil, covers it in black plastic mulch, and installs the drip line in one pass. Then the young starts, having been seeded in Sunnyside, WA, are transplanted by hand along the rows. Every fourth plant is a pollinator plant, which is an essential in growing fruit. The ripe red fruit in these 4-10 lb. personal-size seedless watermelons are destined for Charlie's Produce of Spokane, Seattle and Portland.
Further down the road, Melinda Eden, Ray's wife, takes the portable mic to explain her part of Hudson Bay Farm's diversity--raising organic Katahdin Hair Sheep for meat. Contrary to what the name implies, Katahdin sheep have short, un-spinnable wool which means they do not have to be sheared annually making them low-maintenance, easy care sheep that also do well in the Eastern Oregon heat. As naturally-raised, grass-fed sheep, they exclusively eat alfalfa, wheat stubble, and forages all grown on other parts of Williams Hudson Bay Farm.
In the above pen, one and two-year-old sheep await being sold directly to individual customers for custom-processing or to Anderson Ranches in the Willamette Valley for processing in their Kalapooia Valley Grass Fed Processing LLC.. Reed Anderson supplies grass-fed, humanely grown and processed lamb for the upscale restaurant market throughout the U.S.
In a neighboring field this year's new-mama sheep and their baby lambs congregate in the shade while in a third field, the un-bred ewes congregate with their Maremma guardian dog, Jack.
This is Lulu, a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog, which is a totally different job than a herding dog. She and her partner Jack protect the sheep from predators which include coyotes or roaming, aggressive dogs. As guardians, they bark and alert the owner that something is amiss in the herd.
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The history of the area is inscribed on this rock at the fork of two roads in the center of Williams' farmland--Umapine Road and Hudson Bay Road--where the Hudson Bay Company Farm was established in 1821-1856 with 500 head of horses and 100 cattle. With good soil, mild winters and the availability of water this land proved ideal for farming and ranching, and hence became the name of the Williams' family farm. As inscribed on the commemorative plaque, "The farm was bounded by the Snake River on the north, the Blue Mountains on the east, the Umatilla River on the south, and the Columbia River on the west."
Not a bad place to call home.
The future of Williams Hudson Bay Farm will continue as in 2011, PCC Farmland Trust, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP), acquired an organic agricultural conservation easement on 300 acres of the Williams' farm.