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Hoskins Berry Farm

Jim Fullmer wears many hats. Farmer, family man, vinegar maker, and Executive Director of the U.S. branch of Demeter, an international organization devoted to biodynamic agriculture. To hear him talk about life and work, though, one wonders if his true vocation isn’t more metaphysical – a trait that many biodynamic farmers seem to share. “The value of our land has actually quadrupled since we first bought it back in 1987, but we would never sell. Land is something that you never actually own. You care for it and pass it on. Biodynamic agriculture is about the idea that a farm is a self-sustaining system that generates natural resources rather than depends on them. It’s about healing the earth. Period.”

Though he grew up New York and New Jersey, Fullmer comes from a long line of Midwestern farmers. In the late 70’s, he headed west to pursue his interest in the burgeoning organics movement. “I worked on a lot of farms all up and down coast. I learned biodynamic techniques on a Montana dairy farm. There was a horrible recession and Oregon land prices were ridiculously low, so we bought these 30 acres and had a family. We’ve been here ever since.”

At first, the family was able to make a living simply selling their Oregon berries wholesale to large organic buyers. But by the early 90’s, Big Agro saw there was money to be made in organics and bought up the wholesalers that Hoskins Family Farm had been working with. Soon, cheap organic produce from Asia and South America flooded the market, and there was no way for a small family farm to compete.

The family needed to solve two problems – recapturing farming costs and dealing with a crop with limited ship-ability (as you may have noticed, berries squash easily). Jim stumbled into a brilliant solution. “One day I took a really ripe bunch of marionberries and just smooshed them into buckets. I added the mother from a bottle of Braggs and set it aside to ferment just to see what would happen. It was delicious! After that we would always take a portion of the crop and make vinegar. Now we pretty much devote all of our harvest to vinegar.”

And yes, to this day they’re still using the same mother that he started more than 10 years ago. “Fermentation is one of the earth’s ancient processes, so we don’t manipulate it. We just smoosh fruit with the skins and stems, and the natural yeasts cause it to ferment. It happens pretty much the same way every year, with small nuances of the seasons. Our vinegar is a terroir-driven, vintage-driven product – a real expression of place.”

The berry vinegar is still a family affair, made entirely by Jim and his wife (with a little help lately from his 12 year old). Even though his work with Demeter keeps him busy in a desk-job sort of way, Fullmer makes a point to leave time for the farm. “The farm used to be our living, now it’s my escape. It’s my idea of a vacation to go out and weed. Just the mundane stuff. Real good time for imagination, grounding yourself and thinking about the future. I just want to honor good food, and get it to people. That’s about it.”

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