by Sally Colby
In the center of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is an expanse of land that is being carefully farmed by Barb and Rick Bauman and their family. Elizabeth Bauman, who started the farm in 1894, grew apples, peaches and vegetables to supply food to people in the area. Rick’s dad Clyde continued the farming tradition and grew seed crops for Oregon State University and other growers. Today, Bauman’s Farm and Garden is a one-stop shop for people seeking fresh fruits and vegetables, but the family has also distinguished themselves as a destination for all ages.
Barb Bauman says annuals for spring sales are started in December in greenhouses.“The best we’ve found are the regular hoop houses,”said Barb, adding that the greenhouses include 16 — 150’ long structures. “They let in the most light and require less maintenance than houses with automatic curtains. Several of the houses are heated with natural gas for early-season crops. We put up two new houses just to grow early fruits and vegetables. This is the first year we’ve grown strawberries in the greenhouse. It was a great experiment, and we had strawberries a month before everyone else did; even though the regular season strawberries were three weeks early.”
They tried to grow crops with practices that don’t require any sprays.“Our strawberries didn’t require any and our lettuces have never had spray,”said Barb.“And growing early-season produce (in the greenhouse) pays off. Our customers know we have the product earlier and they start coming back earlier for the other vegetables.”
Bauman’s grows a variety of cane berries along with row crop vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. Vegetables are all drip-irrigated.“If the crop is there for at least a whole season, we grow on plastic and drip it,”said Barb.“Even though we start corn with transplants, we irrigate it overhead.”
Last year, they debuted Obsidian, a trailing-type blackberry that has exceptionally large berries and high yields.“It comes on before the Marionberries and lasts longer,”said Barb, adding that it takes some effort to promote new produce offerings. “We have events and specials. For Father’s Day weekend, we promoted a $19.99 special on Obsidian berries, and they really sold. We have samples ready for people when they walk in the door. Several other blackberry species, including tayberries, are popular among customers.
“Those came from Jim’s parents,” said Barb, describing the history of tayberries on the farm. “He sent away for them years ago and put in one row. They were thorny and hard to pick, but mom made jam and it was the best-tasting jam we had ever had. Today, Bauman’s sells tayberries fresh, and also uses them for jam and pies.
An in-store bakery to make apple cider donuts was established 20 years ago.“We were already making cider, and heard about a donut machine,” said Barb.“I found one in an old, run-down place. It worked, and I started making donuts. It was the only item we made, and we made them only in the fall. People started asking about having donuts more often, then asked for apple pies. We listened to the customers and started making what they asked for. Now we create pies and baked goods using fruit grown on the farm. Marionberry is our top-selling pie.”
This year is the third year for Bauman’s GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification. All employees must attend training to learn proper food handling procedures, and continual training ensures safe practices. Barb says that GAP isn’t really hard to initiate and stick with, and that regular meetings with employees ensure compliance.
Although Bauman’s is popular in summer, customers flock to the farm in fall.“We hold a Harvest Festival from the last weekend in September to October 31,”said Barb.“On a busy weekend, more than 10,000 people will show up. The first weekend in October is the giant pumpkin weigh-off, which is the only contest held here in Oregon.”
Pumpkins and other fall crops are directed seeded into cultivated ground and are rotated on three plots with clover or wheat.“We grow wheat, harvest it and bale the straw then use it for the parking lot,”said Barb.“Or we use the clover for rotation and use that area for parking.”
Bauman’s handles the fall activities with a ticket system that makes the trip to Bauman’s a family-oriented bargain. Although there are more than 18 different activities, it’s hard for small child to do all of the activities. Through a ticket plan, guests can purchase an all-inclusive, unlimited activity wristband or individual tickets. This allows guests of all ages to enjoy age-appropriate activities with their families.
Fall activities include a corn maze along with a selection of unique activities; several of which are designed for small children.“Sometimes the big kids are overwhelming, so we have to think of something for all ages so they can have fun without being run over,”said Barb as she described the corn tunnel.“The big kids want to do activities like the zip line, but their favorite is the dark maze.”
Baumans’ greenhouses do double duty every fall. “In October, we clean all of the greenhouses and use them for fall activities,”said Barb.“We have a pedal car track, the dark maze, an obstacle course, and a little kids’ maze in another greenhouse. If we have rain in October, everybody can still have a great time.” Barb says many of their fall activity ideas are the result of participating in tours offered by NAFDMA, the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association.
Rick likes to design children’s activities that will entice them away from their electronic devices. “He likes farm-related activities,”said Barb, referencing the gopher hole activity.“He dug a hole, mounded it up and put a drain tube as a slide. Kids can crawl under the gopher hole or slide down through it.”
Small children also enjoy the corn bin and nut house, which is filled with meatless hazelnuts. “We get the blanks when we have our hazelnuts processed,”Barb explained.“Kids love it and have a good time.” Other activities include hoppy horses, a slide tower, sock hop, tire pyramid, obstacle course, apple cannon and sling shot. Bauman’s incorporates technology with an interactive QR code game.“We’ll have a poster with a QR code that has a question about the area they’re in,” said Barb.“It might ask how many black goats are in the animal barn, or how many cars are on the ladybug or bee train. It gets people to go to each of the activities all over the farm.”
Fall visitors to the pumpkin patch can’t miss a carefully placed sign reminding them to come back for a Christmas tree. Customers can choose and cut a tree themselves or purchase a cut tree. “We make s’mores while people are waiting for their hay ride to the Christmas tree field,” said Barb. “We bring the trees in, shake them, bale and put it on their car. Then they can shop in the store to buy gift packs for their families. We use our berries to make jams and jellies, and we make gift packs that we ship all over the United States.
Bauman’s started as a family business and continues the farm in that tradition. Rick manages the farm side of the operation, and son Brian manages the retail greenhouse and helps Barb manage the farm store. Daughter Sarah handles social media for the farm and creates signage, and Sarah’s husband Ryan Farrell is the grower and works closely with Brian to coordinate greenhouse activities.
Because seasonal labor is hard to find and retain, Bauman’s tries to keep employees year-round by using their talents at different times of the year. “That way we don’t have to lay anyone off and we can keep the staff that work so well for us,” said Barb. “We send employees to training whenever possible – it makes them feel like they’re part of our family.” A recent Facebook posts announced that Bauman’s is seeking craft vendors, entertainment acts and more than 80 staff members for the Fall Harvest Festival – a sure sign that business is thriving.
Creating memorable experiences for children and adults
by Sally Colby