After some 45 years of pursuing environmentally responsible construction and development practices, it became apparent that the limits of contemporary economic practices constantly constrain real transformative progress. Our desire in our retirement years was to do something more restorative. Several years ago, when Jean and I were vacationing in the Marche in Italy, I shared with Jean the fantasy of a small olive orchard on a quaint hillside. With nearly 50 years of experience with my fantasies, Jean said yah, sure … and forgot about it. Nearly five years later, I surprised her by suggesting that we do the same thing closer to home. She surprised me by saying sure, let’s do it.
Thus began our search for a place to undertake our experiment at doing something truly restorative–something sustainable, self sufficient, healthy and a potential legacy for our children, grand children and future generations.
After months of research, we settled on the Umpqua Valley as the best place in Oregon to grow olives. It has the same latitude as Siena, Italy and more Mediterranean climate than any other place in Oregon. While there are several others in Oregon attempting to commercially grow olives, we think our effort may be unique in a few ways. One, we want it to be completely self sufficient with no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers or other external inputs. To be truly restorative, we feel it needs to continuously operate without these external inputs. Our soil nutrients will come from oil pressing residue, our energy will come from on-site biofuels and solar energy. Our home at the site is already net energy neutral.
Our search began by looking for a south facing parcel with well draining soils in southern Douglas County, Oregon. We hired a professor in Agronomy and Climatology from Southern Oregon University to help us in our site search. He mapped sites throughout the county that met our requirements of Growing Degree Days, frost free days, orientation, slope, soils and irrigation potential.
What began as a search for 20~30 acres and driving every road in southern Douglas County looking for the right piece of property, ended in the purchase of 185 acres just west of Sutherlin, Oregon. I guess our enthusiasm got ahead of us a little bit. An offer was made and after some nine months of negotiations, we succeeded in closing on the property. It is open pasture land with a beautiful stand of mature Oregon Oak on a steep hillside in the NW corner. One key piece to this property is the water rights we negotiated so we can irrigate the orchards.
We shared our vision with our children and surprisingly, after lots of questions and examination of our business plan, we now have the support of our daughter, son and daughter-in-law.
We will begin by planting our first 3800 olive trees in May 2013, with hopes of our first harvest in 2016.
So, the journey begins…