How’s everyone doing? Wowza! We have been deep watering our family tree and getting real with our feelings of purpose, compassion for one another, and dedication to our farm and family mission statement. It’s not really about where you are, it’s about who you’re with and ways to love up your loved ones even if they are far away. For us, that includes our local food producers as well because without a local network of families willing to commit themselves to growing excess food, we might not have the high-vibe, fresh, quality foods that keeps us nourished and healthy.
We have been gearing up for a great bee year for a while now, and this year might be the year! It’s our 20th year in beekeeping! Since some of you are new to our Apiary emails, I’ll share with you some of our career highlights. Eric and I started beekeeping together outside of Corvallis and moved to Southern Oregon in search of abundant clean air, clean water, and fellow earth warriors. We originally started our farm growing vegetables and shetland sheep with just a few beehives, but we gradually veered towards keeping honeybees possibly because there was so much to learn from them. We enjoyed the interplay of watching the bees interact with both native forage and domesticated habitats. Over the years, it's been an interesting course of population genetics inside a relatively closed system here in rural Illinois Valley, and yet open as we follow the bloom throughout the landscape of Southern Oregon. We’ve learned that beekeeping is about caring for the bees, but a whole lot of effort goes into getting rid of the mites. We’ve used organic solutions since the start and now we mostly practice integrated pest management techniques for combating the varroa mites. We’ve designed our own style of beekeeping hive bodies that meet biodynamic and organic standards called Natural Nest. To go with the boxes is a whole methodology and procedures which include naturally-reared queens, a biodynamic standard, and we call that Natural Nest beekeeping. Currently we steward about 600 honeybee colonies from the Applegate Valley to the West, and down the Smith River drainage west to the coast. Last summer, Oregon State University Honeybee lab came out to the farm to film our operation for their Graduate program course in organic apiculture. There are 6 videos for the course, here's the first one:
We did years of farmers markets in Grants Pass, Medford, and Ashland. We didn’t enjoy the commute especially with our young family, so we decided to set up shop in the heart of Cave Junction near our farm. That proved to be immensely difficult. We continued to get bigger hoping for a larger customer base. Our saving grace has been our excellent staff whom we love, and many of whom have been with us for over 5 years. Despite its challenges, we continue to give and receive love, connection, and community through our downtown store, Diggin’ Livin’ Natural Foods, Farm, and Cafe. One of the truly wonderful prospects of our store is that we sell a lot of our farm products there including our jun kombucha, bee hives, beeswax candles, honey, oxymels, energy balls, propolis tincture, and bee pollen. We even have a cute little stage for musicians, displaying art, and beekeeping talks. Perhaps the strangest part was that in developing the store and the store systems, Joy had to leave the farm and daily farm life, get the kids into regular schools instead of homeschooling, and that felt like we were getting off course. Slowly we are steading ourselves and making decisions so that the whole farm family can be working together again. Fern is now 16 years old and a sophomore at Grants Pass high school. Sage and Tulsi are in 6th grade and 3rd grade, respectively, and both going to Woodland Waldorf Charter School in Murphy.
Some of the things we love about our store is the ability to showcase some of our favorite family farmers and farm-based products from the area, many of whom we pollinate! Alexandre Family farms from Crescent City, Plaisance Ranch from Williams, and Sun Spirit Farm from Murphy all supply our store with organic milk, organic eggs, organic ground beef, organic steaks, organic wine, organic vegetables, organic ground lamb and organic ground goat. It feels really meaningful to us to be able to connect farmers to eaters in our watershed, knowing that our bees and beekeeping contributed to its productivity. If you are located in Southern Oregon and interested in learning more about our weekly catering and in-house cafe featuring many local farm’s produce and farm-to-store events, we have another email sign up at www.digginlivin.com/kitchen Currently we have pick up and delivery available in the Grants Pass and Cave Junction areas.
Here’s a funny story….last week the whole family went down to California to work with our bees. The whole time we really didn’t interact with another human besides the grower who invited us to stay in his trailer so that we didn’t have to stay in a hotel. The ranch where our bees are staying is at a 2400-acre organic cattle farm. Everyday, we cooked and slept in the trailer and then by day worked the bees on the ranch. Not one human interaction except… a guy rolls up on a 4 wheeler on the unmaintained road next to the bee yard. He said he was friends with the ranchers and was going to check out the reservoir nearby. Then he says he’s a professional photographer who specializes in portraits. Our family has never had our photos taken professionally; it seems like as good a time as any, so 5 days into the trip without any warning for special outfits or showers, we went for it. Here we are!
Lastly, what a time for the foodpreneur! We’re all getting creative and trying our best to come up with solutions for these uncharted times. More than ever, so many people are growing gardens and cooking at home. It’s all very complicated when we are also learning that people are lining up waiting for food, as well as, dumping milk on the fields that they can no longer sell. It is time to be of concern for every American farmer. Our food systems are fragile and unfortunately so corporatized that it makes it very difficult for small family farmers to make a living wage. The antiquated saying of USDA Secretary Earl Butz under President Nixon was to ‘get big or get out’. Now we are experiencing that those systems are not sustainable and instead we hope for ‘get small and find your niche’. Well, current times are making it difficult for many agriculturalists whose niche is dependent on restaurants, farmers markets, and small groceries. The topic of food storages is directly linked to the lack of small farmers in your area. For if we all had an agrarian system set up, one in which most of our inputs were from our neighbors and extended neighbors, we would be better able to accomodate the health of the whole hive. We need programs for more young farmers and affordable land for anyone willing to brace themselves for the commitment needed to be a family farm.
In solidarity from our home to yours,
It’s good to be alive today!
Bee well, friends!
Blog post header painting of Bee Well is credited to Joy McEwen.