Farmers keep it cool in winter

Local growers offer certain produce — and Christmas trees — until after the holidays

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Winter farms

• Looking for some produce this winter? Both Kunze Farms and Joe's Place Farms are open for limited hours with a variety of products. Here's how to contact them:

• Kunze Farms, 6109 N.E. 53rd St, Vancouver. 360-693-5238

• Joe's Place Farms, 701 N.E. 112th Ave. 360-892-3974

Frost on the ground and crows in the crops are telltale signs that winter is rapidly approaching on Clark County farms, but that doesn't mean the work year is over after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Late fall marks the last big crop of the season for many farmers — although it's not something you'd find in today's feasts. Late November and early December are when farmers harvest their Christmas trees for the holiday season.

"In the wintertime we close, but just around Christmas (after the trees are sold)," said Joe Beaudoin, owner of Joe's Place Farms. "After Christmas, in January, once the trees are done, we'll start pruning."

Beaudoin cuts his work crew from 10 to five in winter, but there's plenty to keep them busy, like cutting fire wood with a hydraulic splitter, turning compost, maintaining equipment and pruning the farm's many fruit trees.

Farming is an age-old tradition in Clark County, but one that's being progressively phased out as roads and housing complexes sprout up to meet the needs of a growing population.

Urban populations often don't understand what life on the farm is like, but it's an important window not only into Clark County's past, but also into how people continue to have enough food to eat, Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin, 73, has been farming and gardening in the area since his family moved here in 1944, when he was a kid. And he's been growing and selling strawberries since he bought his first 5-acre plot as a sophomore at Evergreen High School.

Through the years, he expanded, either by leasing or buying plots around east Vancouver until his land grew to about 80 acres.

"I farmed over there where those apartments are, and across the street where the warehouses are," Beaudoin said, pointing to developments next to his main sales building. "Where Chuck's Produce is now? I was planting corn there when Mount St. Helens blew."

Francis Kunze, owner of Kunze Farms, also remembers well the forested land in east Vancouver before the land grew progressively more urbanized.

"I can remember when Joe used to sell things from his garage and there was nothing but trees out here for miles," Kunze said. "Now we're surrounded by subdivisions."

Kunze also keeps a work crew on through the winter to care for her bees and prune the berries, grapes and other fruit sold by the farm.

Kunze Farms also sells Christmas trees this time of year before switching into winter maintenance mode, she said.

"We have several tree farms — four of them — and on one of them, we grow Christmas trees," Kunze said. "After that, we don't really shut down, but we're only open when people call first. We can't keep the store open all the time for just one or two people to stop by."

Still, people do call and visit the farm all winter long to buy walnuts, hazelnuts, dried fruit, jam, syrup and honey, she said.

After a short shutdown for the holidays, Joe's Place reopens on Fridays and Saturdays in January to sell firewood, baked goods and a variety of other items.

"We have apples left over that we keep in cold storage," Beaudoin said. "We have jams, jellies, nuts, all that kind of stuff."

It's a quieter time of year than the chaos that starts once spring arrives, which means he can get a little time to work on the two race cars and selection of go-karts that he keeps in the barn, but it's still hard for Beaudoin to get away for long, he said.

"Vacations? Maybe for a little after the first of the year, but that's also when the farmers have all our meetings and shows," Beaudoin said, adding that he serves on several farm-related boards and groups in the area.

Kunze also gets a little bit of down time, which she uses to finish up on sewing and quilting, among other things, she said.

"I like to travel, and this is the only season that I can really get away for a little while," Kunze said.

As he gets older and some of his leased land gets repurposed for road and housing development, it gets harder to keep his farm going, Beaudoin said.

One day, maybe soon, he'll probably close up shop, he added. But for now, it's still something that he loves -- especially when he gets a chance to work with new or hard-to-grow varieties of pumpkins, strawberries and apples.

When he first got started, he remembered, Paul Wessler, a county agent, told him there was no way he could grow red delicious apples in Clark County.

Beaudoin did, and now he has stacks of them from his orchard in cold storage for the winter.

"I have one strawberry field that I've been getting maximum production from for 12 years," Beaudoin said.

After that drew a quizzical look from a urban journalist, he continued: "They generally only produce for maybe three seasons."

Even as the industry continues to get smaller, there's still a thrill and a joy at seeing new things grow, he said.

"I guess I've had a green thumb since I was a little kid," Beaudoin said. "Farming has always been challenging. But I like that. I like finding things that people can't make work and making them work."