by RYAN MOEGGENBERG
Meeting farmers with cool stories is one of the favorite parts of my job. I met Jack and Amy Rooper at their farm and they gave me a grand tour while they told me their story. The Rooper Ranch that most of us know is a ten-acre farm north of Redmond a few miles west of the Oneil Junction, but the history of Jack’s family Rooper Ranch started in the 1880’s when Jack’s great-grandfather owned a 10,000 acre ranch around the town of Antelope. At one point he was even the mayor. They primarily raised sheep and moved them from Antelope to the top of Santiam Pass for grazing every year. The Rooper family is even on the cover of a book titled Antelope Story. Additionally, if you walk along the Deschutes River in the Old Mill and notice the plaques about the mill, the images were donated by Jack’s dad, Don.
Amy was born in Colorado and moved to Bend in 2001. She has been a part-time groomer up at Mount Bachelor for many years, giving her something to do in the offseason when the farm is not as productive. Jack was born and raised in Bend, he remembers selling spinach from his backyard to Paradise Produce when he was 16 years old. Jack has been in many farm internships in Washington DC; Roanoke, Virginia; Seattle and Carnation, Washington and Good Earth in Bend. He also spent some time WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in Australia, spending a week or two at four or five different farms. Then he found a place he liked and did a three-month stint at a 68,000 acre cattle ranch where he learned to love working with draft horses. They used a sled to haul trees and made lumber. They also used the horses to haul rocks, put in fence posts and till for cover crops.
Jack and Amy began their journey at the current Rooper Ranch a few years ago when they bought their ten acres. Jack was working with Good Earth Farms in their greenhouses when the land was sold. Jack and Amy jumped at the chance to purchase the infrastructure at a steep discount and began the search for property. They passed a property with a for sale sign and went right in to talk to the owner and made a deal.
In two years they’ve turned a pasture into about a half-acre of outdoor production and another half-acre or so under greenhouses. With the manure from the dairy farmer across the street and soil amendments from Down to Earth in Eugene, they’ve created very productive soil.
When they started the farm, Jack was looking for a tractor with a bucket but couldn’t find anything in his price range that he liked. They ended up purchasing a BCS two-wheeled tractor from Stark Street Lawn & Garden in Bend on Greenwood Avenue. Along with the BCS itself, they purchased four separate attachments: a flail mower for mowing down any plants left in the rows, a tiller to break up the ground and till in organic matter, a power harrow for minimum-till situations and a rotary plow which is great at digging trenches to plant potatoes and cleaning up irrigation ditches. Jack actually prefers the BCS over a tractor now because they can clean up and till a single row at a time whereas a tractor would take out two or three rows in the garden. They can also run it up and down through the greenhouses where a tractor wouldn’t fit.
One of the other additions they’ve made to the farm is an eight-foot by ten-foot cold room. They built it into their small shop by framing in the two inner walls, insulating with four-inch sheets of insulation and added an air conditioner and a CoolBot. When we walked in it was only 42 degrees and the temperature outside was 92! Amy said that this was one of the greatest additions to their farm the second year. Having a cold room meant they could pick their greens and produce the day before, stack them in the cold room and go to the farmers market the next day without any wilting.
Over the next few years, they hope to build a large shop with a commercial kitchen so that they can turn their produce into finished products for their customers. They also have plans to add fruit trees with integrated grazing for their animals using permaculture techniques.
Jack and Amy agreed that there is enough demand for local produce they could easily sell twice as much as they are currently able to grow. Because of that, they are planning on doubling production next year, but said that there is plenty of room for more farmers in Central Oregon.
If you are part of their CSA you can expect Hopi blue corn, zucchini, squash, pickling cucumbers, four different varieties of potatoes, six different varieties of lettuces, turnips, carrots, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, four different kinds of onions and three different kinds of beets. They do have about 30 baby chicks that they hope will produce some eggs for the CSA and have plans to expand into lamb and beef eventually. If you are not a part of their CSA yet you will have another opportunity to join in April!
Be on the lookout for their 1947 Ford delivery truck at the farmers market. It didn’t run but, with new fuel lines, water pump and starter Jack has been moving hay around the farm with it and they hope to be using it for farmers markets soon.
photos courtesy of Rooper Ranch and by HomeSpun Magazine