by Sally Colby
Hoffman Farms is located in the small farming community of Scholls, OR, but there’s nothing small about the farm.
Siblings Jayson and Melissa Hoffman are two of the family members currently operating the farm. Melissa explained how the farm started: “Our dad Jay left home right out of high school, worked on a potato farm and eventually became a partner on that farm. He and my mom Kelly got married in the early 1980s and bought a piece of property down the road. In the early 1990s, dad started planting blueberries on a whim, and blueberries have since become the main crop.”
Part of the original potato operation included a packing facility for their own potatoes as well as potatoes from neighboring farms. The family continued to operate the packing facility as they transitioned to blueberry growing and packing. The Hoffmans’ last potato crop was harvested in 2010, but they continued packing as they transitioned the operation.
Today, with 185 acres of blueberries, Hoffman Farms is one of the largest growers in the area. Varieties include Legacy, Liberty, Elliot, Aurora, Brigitta, Duke and Draper. Two fairly new varieties include Calypso and Last Call.
Planting and variety decisions are based on marketability – whether the plant is producing berries suitable for the market or hitting the right window for sale. “That’s when we look at varieties and how they fit in the program,” said Jayson. “We choose varieties that ripen mid to late season. We keep our crews picking throughout the whole season. Last year we picked 119 days straight. We’re pruning old growth and regenerating every three to five years.” Jayson added that varieties are also selected for longevity – those that will continue to bear as long as possible.
Plants are irrigated with an overhead system, and drip irrigation allows fertigation. Jayson said part of current plan includes removing several acres of blueberries and establishing new varieties.
A significant portion of the blueberry crop is sold wholesale, but a lot is sold at the family’s Hoffman Farms Store and as U-pick. “It’s a fun family activity to come here and pick blueberries,” said Melissa. “Picking berries in general is fun, but picking blueberries is the easiest. The season is longer and they’re less messy than other berries.”
While strawberries will continue to produce for several years, declining yields after the first harvest make it more economical to start from scratch. Rows are mowed down in August, and strawberries are rotated every three to four years with other crops including sweet corn, pumpkins and raspberries. Biomass such as straw, along with soil amendments, build organic matter to maximize production.
In addition to blueberries and strawberries, the Hoffmans grow raspberries, marionberries, blackberries and tayberries. All are available for U-pick and harvested for pies. The bakery was started by Melissa’s aunt, who baked pies while she was operating an agritourism venture. “She used an old family piecrust recipe, and people love the farm-fresh, out of the oven pies,” said Melissa. “My dad worked with my aunt and grandpa to streamline the process and to get the recipe just right.”
The Hoffmans’ mixed berry pie, which includes blueberries, blackberries and boysenberries, is a customer favorite. Other pies include sour cream blueberry with a lemon finish, marionberry, sour cream marionberry, tayberry and strawberry-rhubarb. Pies made with locally grown fruit include apple, peach and cherry. The family plans to move the pie-baking operation to the farm store property so customers can watch as pies are made.
Melissa said the majority of pies are baked and sold between the end of May and the end of October; customers can also order pies for the holidays. Online ordering and designated pickup days help streamline the process. Several hundred pounds of each fruit are frozen throughout the season to ensure a good supply for pies year-round, and a local processor makes jam with excess fruit.
While some farms have added agritourism fairly recently, Jay Hoffman was always interested in the concept. “My dad is always looking for ways to expand our operation,” said Melissa. “He loves the agritourism part of our business, and finds a lot of joy in watching families come out and enjoy our farm. He’s always looking for new ways to meet their needs.”
Jayson said agritourism has become a more important aspect of the business. “The consistent approach for a U-pick farm years ago was to give people a bucket and they go out to pick,” he said. “People go away with something they can eat, and know they picked something that’s healthy. They were entertained by just picking berries. With a pumpkin patch, it’s different. It’s a fun product, but people don’t have to spend a lot of time picking out one pumpkin. To keep them on the farm, we have to entertain and provide an experience.”
The Hoffmans have found that the longer season brings people to the farm at different times of the year, which ultimately sells more berries. A popular draw is the farm’s one-third-scale train, an attraction the family plans to expand. A playground area, corn maze, pumpkin cannon and other attractions keep customers entertained.
More activities and customers’ longer stays at the farm brought the question of whether or not to offer food, so the Hoffmans added a food truck. They own and operate the truck that’s for on-farm use only, which gives them complete control over the concessions. The truck is branded as a “farmhouse kitchen,” so the offerings are homestyle meals such as barbecue and ribs. Guests are also welcome to bring their own lunch and have a picnic on the grounds.
Melissa said the family’s goal is to “do fall well” and offer a memorable experience that leaves a positive impression on guests. “We always have someone from our family on site at the farm store,” she said. “People love to talk to the family and get that personal touch. In fall, our entire family is there every day on weekends. We all wear matching sweatshirts so people know who we are. We talk with people about how glad we are they’re here.” Melissa added that time spent talking with guests in autumn provides an opportunity to suggest coming back the following June for berries.
When it comes to explaining farm practices, the Hoffmans believe it’s important to develop a relationship of trust with customers. “It isn’t my job to tell them one product is better than another,” said Jayson. “In most conversations, people have a preconceived notion about what they believe. It isn’t our job to convince them otherwise – it’s our job to have a conversation about their beliefs and us being as honest as possible.”
Visit Hoffman Farms Store at www.hoffmanfarmstore.com.