How an Organic Food Distribution Company Helped Save a 60-Acre Organic Hazelnut Orchard

December 19th 2019
[An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in TAKE ROOT Magazine, a media trade partner with Provender Alliance.]

by Stacy Ann Kraker

Hummingbird Wholesale is on a mission to increase Organic acreage and strengthen local food systems. One way they’re doing it? By supporting Oregon Organic hazelnut farmers and encouraging more regional eaters to give these delicious nuts a try.  

Hazelnuts

The Horning family has been farming in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since the 1940s. In 2017, fourth-generation farmer Steve Horning and his wife Krissy, owners of Deerhaven Farms, purchased a 60-acre plot of certified Organic Hazelnuts from a neighbor to add to their existing 600 acres.

They planned to maintain the Organic certification on this land. However, with unpredictability in Organic hazelnut market prices driven by lower-priced imported Turkish hazelnuts, Horning considered converting the orchard back to conventional management.

As Steve explained, “We just weren’t sure we could get a fair price for our crop in the current marketplace, especially considering the additional cost and the challenges that go along with Organic hazelnut production. We can’t remain farmers if we can’t make any money. Farming is our life—we can’t imagine a better lifestyle for our family—but it is also our livelihood.”

Farm Owners

Steve and Krissy Horning, owners of Deerhaven Farms, with their two children

At risk of losing 60 acres of mature, Organic Oregon hazelnuts, the owners of Hummingbird Wholesale, Charlie and Julie Tilt, saw an opportunity to use their business as a means for preventing the loss of this Organic ground. Supporting increased Organic acreage is at the core of their business’s mission of providing high quality, regionally-grown, Organic foods, after all.

In support of the Horning’s maintaining Organic certification, the Tilts took a chance on pre-contracting to purchase and market Horning’s entire 2018 Organic hazelnut crop. With Hummingbird’s contracted sale in place, Horning was up for the challenge of keeping the Organic certification and practices on the orchard.

Oregon offers the perfect climate and soil for growing these delectable nuts that are well-known by chefs and product manufacturers, as well as lovers of good food. While 99% of the US hazelnut crop is grown in Oregon, only 1% of that is certified Organic—of roughly 70,000 total acres in Oregon, just over 700 are Certified Organic.

While transitioning from conventional to Organic farming can be a challenge, it can also be a worthwhile investment, both environmentally and economically. Organic agriculture focuses on building healthier soils and provides positive impacts on the environment, such as greater carbon sequestration, helping to mitigate climate change. In fact, according to a study published in 2017, by Northeastern University and The Organic Center, soils on Organic farms sequester 26% more long-term carbon storage than conventional soils.

Organic agriculture may offer a win-win-win of climate change mitigation through Organic growing practices, increased economic return for products to farmers, and improved regional economies, overall. According to research by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke, published by the Organic Trade Association, Organic is the fastest-growing sector of the US food trade—increasing by double digits annually—and provides an economic boost for communities. For struggling rural communities, the opportunity offered by Organic agriculture is particularly exciting.

In US counties where there is a high level of Organic agricultural activity, household incomes go up by over $2000, and poverty levels reduce by as much as 1.5 percent. These Organic “hot spots” can be found throughout agricultural communities United States; Oregon has one of the highest concentrations in the US. Organic agriculture, and the Organic trade, serves as a path to a new, more sustainable economy.

Hazelnuts growing on treeThe positive economic and environmental outcomes of supporting Oregon Organic hazelnut production and sales are undoubtedly compelling. Still, it can also be difficult for Oregon farmers to compete in a global market since the price of Oregon-grown Organic hazelnuts tends to be higher than imported Turkish organic hazelnuts.

With this, Hummingbird’s efforts to support regional Organic will only succeed if buyers of this specialty crop can embrace the exceptional value of domestically cultivated varieties.

Hummingbird Wholesale believes that these nuts represent some of the best available, being more substantial, with a creamier, nuttier flavor, without the bitterness that some hazelnuts can have. “We are excited to be able to offer a product that also provides such a positive regional food system and environmental returns. When you taste an Oregon Organic hazelnut side-by-side with the Turkish nuts, there is just no contest,” explains Hummingbird owner and CEO, Charlie Tilt. Farmer Steve Horning agrees, “Oregon hazelnuts definitely set the high bar for quality.”

Quality and flavor profile aside, supporting Oregon Organic hazelnut farmers and production is perfectly in-line with Hummingbird’s mission and values—to be part of creating a robust regional economy and food system, with sustainable, Organic practices at the heart of this work.

One of the best ways to put this mission into action is to create pathways to success for Organic family farmers by ensuring a good financial return for their products. This happens through developing the marketplace opportunities that will sustain the growth of Organic acreage, one acre, one farm at a time.

Hummingbird Wholesale supplies Oregon-grown (Willamette Valley), certified Organic Hazelnuts available from Deerhaven Farms, Meridian Orchards, and other Organic Hazelnut growers in the Pacific Northwest. The sales of these hazelnuts provide a fair return to farmers, and a portion of the sales goes toward supporting Oregon’s nascent Organic Hazelnut industry in the Willamette Valley and to increasing Organic acreage in the Pacific Northwest.

Author Stacy KrakerStacy Kraker is the Director of Marketing and Sales at Hummingbird Wholesale. She also serves as board president and marketing committee chair for the Oregon Organic Coalition and brings over 17 years of dynamic work experience, dedicated to growing the organic trade and community.

Eugene, Oregon’s Hummingbird Wholesale, a long-time Organic food marketer, manufacturer, and distributor, is on a mission to grow Organic acreage in Oregon (and in the world). With their #OrganicOregon #OrganicWorld campaign, they are building alliances in a movement to transition Oregon to Organic farming and land practices. 

This article is part of  the “Voices of Independent Integrity” initiative from the Provender Alliance community. Our goal is to showcase the proactive projects of Provender members that exemplify substantial efforts towards regenerative organic agriculture and a just food system for our planet and its inhabitants.