• Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Expanding Crop Diversity on Oregon Farms

By Mitch Lies for Growing Oregon Magazine

This is not your father’s farm. Father-and-son team Tom and Jason Hunton have created a farm that does everything from grow and clean grass seed to produce beans for soup mixes that help feed the hungry. Their Junction City operation is in contrast to the commodity-based operations that once dominated Oregon agriculture, and it provides a glimpse into the depth and variety of the state’s farm production.

Tom and son Jason on Camas Country Mill Farms

From the Ground Up

Diversification on Hunton’s Farm started innocently enough when Tom’s father, Everett Hunton, built a seed-cleaning facility in the 1960s. The idea was to take more control of the farm’s grass seed production and to custom clean seed for neighbors, Tom says.

In the 1980s, the farm launched Sure Crop Farm Services, which provides crop production services to farmers, such as tissue analysis for determining fertility needs and custom application of crop inputs.

In 2008, the farm branched out again, this time with an eye on the local food movement. “We started looking at what we could do to get us out of strictly a commodities play,” Tom says.

After some research, the Huntons found that a plethora of fruits and vegetables were available at the local farmers markets, but high-protein grains and legumes were in short supply. Two of the first crops they produced for the local food movement were hard red spring wheat, used for making bread, and teff, a gluten-free fine grain used in baking.

Until then, incidentally, most farmers and researchers believed hard red spring wheat couldn’t be grown successfully in the Willamette Valley. The Huntons have since proven otherwise.

They’ve done the same with pinto beans, which they are growing for the local food bank.

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“Growing pinto beans in the Willamette Valley is unheard of,” says Ron Detwiler, director of operations of Food for Lane County. “That is something that, until a couple of years ago, no one even thought was possible. But the Huntons are saying, ‘Let’s not say it’s impossible. Let’s try some different things.’”

In 2010, the Huntons branched out again, this time building Camas Country Mill to process wheat into flour.

Today the Huntons produce a wide array of crops, including triticale, rye, garbanzo beans, spelt, grass seed, clover seed, meadowfoam and radish seed.

Their crops are used for livestock forage, turf, as cover crops helping revitalize soil in Midwest corn and soybean acreage, and, in the case of lentil beans and barley, for dry soup mixes that the local food bank purchases to help feed the hungry.

“For a long time, I thought that what we do is raise three kinds of crops,” Tom says. “We raise food for humans. We raise forage grasses, so food for animals. And we raise cover crops, so food for the soil. Now we have a fourth kind, and that is food for the soul.

“There is real satisfaction in knowing that we are able to feed a lot of people,” Tom says

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