Home Grown

Deschutes Co-Op Cultivates Community One Garden Bed at a Time

Article by Sarah Laken

Photography by Cheryl Parton

Originally published in Bend Lifestyle

Just southwest of Bend in the Deschutes River Woods, something big and beautiful is growing, literally. Drive down the dirt path to Zuni road and you’ll find father and son, Barry and Thaddeus Kilmer, outside diligently turning their longtime home’s yard into a large working garden nursery. Curious neighbors began stopping by all spring and summer to buy vegetable starts, boxes, and other garden equipment as new signs introduced the official Deschutes Co-Op. Thaddeus originally went to college for pre-med, but after learning that our physical and mental health is deeply connected to our guts and what we consume, he switched to studying horticulture at Oregon State University, and has since worked on many farms in seed and vegetable production. He started the dream of the Deschutes Co-Op in 2014 and began developing a plan with his father by emulating Hawaiian land management techniques where Thaddeus was born and raised. “I didn’t subscribe to the ‘just put a Band-Aid on it’ approach to our health and searched for more permanent solutions,” says Thaddeus.” My dad and I had absolutely no experience growing foods, but we started experimenting by removing our grass and dabbled in raised beds and planted vegetables we liked to eat. Today, we have more than 3,000 veggie and plant varieties with a permaculture in the backyard.”

Growing a high-yielding garden in Central Oregon isn’t easy and planning is key. Gardeners in the high desert have to be careful of sneaker frost nights that can destroy baby starts, severe heat waves and dry soils that wilt budding plants, freak hailstorms that can decimate a successful garden in mere minutes, and unpredictable early and long winters. But if the pandemic of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that knowing how to grow your own food gives one a sense of security if industrial food producers experience a shortage. Starting a garden fills your time and fills the kitchen with nourishing foods. This year, the Deschutes Co-Op officially opened with one simple mission: Build community through the production of local food. The Kilmers are helping Central Oregon residents get started with gardening by getting them through the learning curve with inexpensive memberships that offer participants access to advice and assistance anytime, discounted veggie starts, and even market rentals and other purchases, such as boxes, electrical metal tubing (EMT) hoops, cover fabrics, protective nets, and more.  In its first year fully operating, the Deschutes Co-Op has gained roughly 100 memberships with four levels for everyone from the novice to the more experienced gardener beginning with the Starter ($15/yr.), Gardener ($30/yr.), Supporter ($30/yr.), and the Producer ($60/yr.)—each offering unique benefits.

The Deschutes Co-Op has big plans ahead, including installing a large-scale refrigeration and food storage within their shop for both the co-op and its members’ extra produce.  They envision the surplus to be sold within their market, as well as distributed to various communities in need. The Co-Op plans to offer more courses on cooking, canning, and hopes to eventually sell their homegrown seeds. Additionally, the Co-Op is working to achieve non-profit status, which will help fundraise for other community projects focused on food production and education. There’s still time to stop by this fall to buy late season crops, and get to know Thaddeus and Barry, or become part of the “Ohana,” a Hawaiian term for family, as Barry says, by joining the Co-Op with a membership. DeschutesCoOp.com

5 Tips for Gardeners This Fall

1. Spread manure and compost. These materials breakdown slowly so your soil will be fertile and ready in the spring.

2. Don't leave your soil bare! Bare soil is poor habitat for soil biology, nutrients are easily leached and decomposition slows. 

3. Grow a cover crop. Nitrogen fixing cover crop mixes are used to add fertility and biomass great for soil biology. 

4. Get a head start. Help thaw your soil quickly in spring by planting a fall cover crop or using plastic or silage tarp in the spring.

5. Do construction now. Get your bed set and prepare for next spring. Our season can be short so don't let another pass by.

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