Belgian draft horses are used to cultivate and harvest crops on the Mader farm north of Halfway. David Mader guides a 3-year-old Belgian, Red, while an apprentice on the farm handles the single-horse cultivator. (Baker City Herald
Horsepower Organics, Baker County's first, and so far only, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program
Deborah Mader hollers a hearty "hello" from the strawberry patch, then
directs her visitors to the garden gate back down the lane.
"Garden gate," in this instance, is a bit misleading.
A wide break in the fence gives access to a two-lane rutted road, which
runs down a hill beside the three-acre garden bursting with the bounty
of late summer.
This is Horsepower Organics, Baker County's first, and so far only, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
A CSA works like this: Members buy a share in the farm, which helps the
farmers know how many plants to grow and also ensures a stable market
for their produce. In return, members receive fresh, in-season produce
every week and also support a local farm.
The Maders moved to this 155-acre farm in 1983, and were certified organic in 1993.
Horsepower Organics is located outside of Halfway, about 200 feet above the valley floor.
Up here, Deborah says, the growing season is about six weeks longer, which means her CSA subscribers should have fresh produce into October.
The operation at Horsepower Organics includes Deborah and David Mader, plus three apprentices - Lisa Baubock from Massachusetts, Willa Thorpe from New Mexico and Patrick Kelley from New Hampshire, who is in his third summer at the farm.
The Maders have offered an apprentice program for 12 years.
"These are all young people interested in organic farming, and how to work horses in a farm setting," Deborah said.
The Maders use Belgian draft horses for everything from plowing to planting to harvesting. They own 45 - 10 are trained for farm work - and have been selling trained teams for years.
The Maders are also using horses to cultivate the garden with new equipment built just for that use.
Well, "new" might not be the best description.
"A lot of our equipment is dragged out of the fence row and refurbished," David said.
The equipment is Amish-made for a single horse - and it takes a special animal to navigate those narrow rows.
"They have to be a horse that pays attention," Deborah said.
Three-year-old Red did just that - and munched only one corn leaf while cultivating the rows of sweet corn.
The Mader farm is in full production these days between the alfalfa crop and the garden.
"Sun up to sun down, with a nice gap in the middle of the day," Thorpe said.
The garden is harvested on Mondays for local delivery, and on Thursdays for Baker-area members.
The current crop includes: sweet corn, carrots, beets, garlic, potatoes, strawberries, squash, cucumbers, green beans, kale, swiss chard, parsley, basil, zinnias and gladiolas.
Coming up are fall plantings of peas, lettuce, cauliflower and cabbage.
"We do succession plantings," Deborah said. "When we get a crop harvested, we take out the residue and prepare the soil for another crop."
They have, for instance, staggered five plantings of corn so that crop will keep producing into the fall.
In the past, Horsepower Organics has supplied fresh produce to Bella and the Baker Food Co-op, but this year the focus has changed.
"We take care of the CSA first," Deborah said.
They have 30 members for the inaugural year, and are already making plans for next season.
Anyone interested in becoming a member for the 2009 season may call the Maders at 541-742-4887 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .