Wolf Gulch Farm
Wolf Gulch Farm, operated by, Tom and Maud Powell, is nestled in Southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains, in an isolated valley at 2,500 feet. The climate features hot summers with a dry period at the end of summer when vegetable seed crops are maturing. The climate and isolation make it a fantastic place to produce radish, onion, eggplant, peppers, leeks, tomatoes, lettuce, and beet seed crops. Seed crops work well in balance with the fresh market vegetable production and fruit orchards that dominate the majority of the 10 acres they farm. One of their motivations to try seed crops was a lack of water. In particular seed crops that are overwintered did well at Wolf Gulch, as they received needed rain in the early spring and were in less need of water mid-summer as the seed was setting and maturing. As such seed crops filled an important ecological niche for a farm that is designed on permaculture principles around the flow of naturally available resources.
Tom and Maud experienced the challenges and benefits of working cooperatively with other farmers before joining the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative. The Powells were founding members of the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative in 2003, and in 2005 took over coordination of the group’s CSA. This included facilitation of marketing and production planning for the 10 farms supplying 140 families with weekly shares of fresh food. Early in the process the Powell’s realized that quality control would be a challenge, and that the cooperatives long term success would rise or fall on a collaborative and consensual approach to quality assurance.
They were drawn to FFSC because they recognized in it a group of very experienced seed producers who would be committed to setting a higher standard in the varietal improvements and overall seed quality. Maud says, “So much of the approach to quality control depends on the culture of the group. It’s a challenge that can be addressed if you are all aware that there are quality control needs and you have a commitment to each other. Cooperative group gives people the chance to bring their own responsibilities and values to a system and create an administrative body that works for them…it doesn’t have to be a top down, heavy rule-based coop. If you make sure you are a ‘good neighbor’ then the issues are few.”
hey see FFSC as a vehicle for seed farmers to share information on production and harvest techniques, and a way to work collaboratively on crop improvement projects. They’ve worked with commercial seed companies and other farms in their area on improving stock seed in radishes, and found great satisfaction in knowing that their work would result in higher quality seed that would improve the success of organic farmers all around the country.
Producing seed also gives them a sense of empowerment. Their concern about the direction the seed industry is headed motivated them to get involved in seed production. Tom says, “I’m concerned about what is happening in the world of seed, with consolidation of seed into a few large companies, patenting of seeds. I want to see the seed stay in the control of the farmer. It’s an inherent right to have access to seeds and food. I’m completely against any sort of patenting or policy that would take control of the seed out of the people’s hands and put it in the control of a large company where it’s another input you have to buy for your farm.
Maud and Tom Powell
Wolf Gulch Farm
Jacksonville, OR 97530
Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth, under the US National Organic Program.