The Story of a Farmer Turned Foodie: Andrea Bemis
Andrea Bemis lives each day farm-to-table. She came upon a career in farming when searching for more meaningful work that made her feel more connected to the environment. Today, she runs a successful six acre organic farm alongside her husband, Taylor, in Parkdale, Oregon. She’s able to share the fruits (or vegetables!) of her labor with people across the country, thanks to the success of her blog and upcoming cookbook, Dishing Up the Dirt. Here’s Andrea’s story in her own words:
Where does your story begin? How did you get into farming?
My story began on a hike with my husband (then boyfriend) Taylor in Central Oregon in the summer of 2007. We were both working minimum wage jobs and living just to have fun. We loved central Oregon and all of the outdoor recreation right at our fingertips. However, we were starting to yearn to do something a bit more meaningful with our lives. Luckily, about halfway through that hike we dipped into a bag of fresh blueberries that Taylor’s folks had sent us overnight from their organic farm in Massachusetts. Sinking my teeth into those juicy berries triggered something inside of me. I wanted to go where those berries were being grown and learn how to live a different kind of life. Taylor grew up on his family’s 60 acre organic vegetable farm, Hutchins Farm, so he was so happy that I wanted to give farming a go. We pretty much packed our bags that night! We feel lucky that we had a connection to an operating farm — I count my blessings all the time for that. I know many folks don’t have that opportunity to just show up and have a farm job at the drop of a hat.
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Tell us about the transition to becoming a farmer.
At Hutchins Farm, life wasn’t as dreamy and romantic as I thought it would be. We were a farm crew of 12 folks and the work was absolutely brutal. I had imagined a slow pace of life that was full of leisurely days plucking carrots from the earth and selling at local markets. The reality was different: there was never enough time in the day. Time is money, and we were always racing against daylight. However, soon the tasks became a little easier and I began to appreciate how the hard labor allowed us to eat and sleep better than we ever had in our lives. Instead of focusing on the drudgery of harvesting hundreds of pounds of beets, I would start to fantasize about how we’d cook them up for dinner once we were done with farm chores for the day.
After three years on a large operation, we began to crave the West Coast and wanted to start something on our own. We now run and operate Tumbleweed Farm — our 6 acre organic vegetable operation in Parkdale, Oregon. Having learned so many valuable skills at Hutchins Farm, we were able to apply that knowledge and skill set into cultivating Tumbleweed. We’ve also been able to establish ourselves within our community through our CSA program, and through selling portions of our produce to the farmers markets and local restaurants in our area.
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What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Some of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced since starting Tumbleweed Farm are the unexpected expenses that crop up during the season. We’ve battled hungry deer over the years and had to build a deer fence that ended up being more expensive than we thought. Gophers once decimated over 1/3 of our potato crop, causing us to place a panicked last minute order of potato seed to make up for the loss. Working through droughts has been incredibly challenging, and dealing with clogged irrigation pipes is never fun. However, one thing we’ve learned over the years is that each year will be different. No matter how much planning or special care we put into the farm, things will never run as smoothly as we want them to — but this is what makes farming so magical. Sometimes I feel crazy choosing Mother Nature to be my boss, but I wouldn’t trade this life for anything else.
No matter how much planning or special care we put into the farm, things will never run as smoothly as we want them to — but this is what makes farming so magical.
What are some of the biggest obstacles for women hoping to become farmers?
I think women face the same challenges as most young farmers when it comes to the issue of finding access to affordable land. I don’t think it’s a gender issue. Finding affordable land that is in close proximity to lucrative markets is really tricky. Thankfully, there are programs like Oregon Farm Link that help place growers on affordable land that isn’t being used. That’s how we started on our own farm in Oregon before we were able to find the spot that we now own.
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You have a cookbook coming out in mid-March highlighting eating through the seasons. Why is eating seasonally important?
Through farming, my appreciation for seasonal and local food has grown deeper. Knowing where our food comes from and how it was grown totally changes the experience. Also, you don’t need to be a farmer to know that food, at the peak of ripeness, simply tastes better. In my debut cookbook Dishing Up the Dirt, I focus on vegetables and ingredients that are readily available at the farmers’ market or likely to be found in your weekly CSA share to encourage seasonal cooking.
…food, at the peak of ripeness, simply tastes better.
In what ways do you hope that your work inspires others?
My biggest hope is that my work and recipes inspire folks to eat with the seasons and support their local communities before outsourcing ingredients. Sitting down to dinner and clinking glasses with my favorite people in the word is one of my greatest joys. It’s an added bonus when the majority of the food and drinks we consume are grown by us, our neighbors and often times good friends.
Keep up with Andrea! Follow her on Instagram & visit her blog:
Header photograph by Kate Schwager.