SCOTTS MILLS — On the hillside farm his grandfather cleared in 1874, Bill Schiedler employs 19th-century methods to feed hundreds of families in a 21st-century way.
It's harvest time for Gardenripe, Schiedler's community-supported agriculture project. Owners of 160 shares get a weekly box of organic fruits and vegetables. If the year is good, the boxes overflow. In weak times, there is less. That's part of the CSA model — subscribers who are keen on local food assume risk and eat the benefits.
Most members are from Salem. A few are Portlanders. Schiedler and wife Janice drive full boxes to drop-off sites, foregoing the hilltop silence for urban traffic jams. Among the produce are lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, beets, parsley, cilantro, carrots, cucumbers, onions, garlic, peppers, leeks, melons and berries. Almost everything that gets picked is delivered the same day.
The hillside is made of fast-draining red clay soil, brought here from Montana by massive floods at the end of an ice age. The place is irrigated by an on-site well and Schiedler uses no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.
"The farm was organic in 1874 and it is again now," he says.
The 137-acre spread, in the Cascade foothills, has a commanding view of the Willamette Valley. Schiedler grew up here, one of eight siblings in a Catholic clan. He was the one who always helped his mother in the garden. Over the years, the farm has grown hops, grains and grass seed.
Now, Gardenripe uses six acres of the spread, while other parcels get leased to local farmers. About 100 acres are wooded.
There is no massive machinery in the garden, but mostly human power. Schiedler, wiry at age 50, wastes no motion and halts rarely. He likes the quiet work. During harvest, it's easy for him to put in a 13-hour day before he knows what hit him.
Schiedler's knees and ankles get weary and his back is sore. He sees it all as part of a good life. "There's nothing wrong with being tired at the end of the day," he says.
Schiedler's father, Charles, leased the land to someone else, but young Bill had farming in his blood and got a job at the place across the road. He attended Silverton High School and was a good enough student to get a Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of Idaho. But farming called to him and he returned, getting work again next door and then at a local seed plant. The 15 years at the plant helped him pay off the family farm. He intended to grow Christmas trees, but tried the process out at another place, discovering that performing the same few operations on 1,500 firs and spruce involves a fair amount of tedium.
Around the turn of the millennium, his sister suggested community-supported agriculture. After looking into it — Schiedler does not act without ample research — he moved on it. He sold six shares the first year. His daughters helped with operations, which had an appealing but daunting variety.
"There was a big learning curve," he says.
Now, with 25 times the subscribers, Schiedler says he moves constantly through the day because of the responsibility he feels to customers.
"He is a hard-working man," says Cecilia Schiedler, gazing up the hill at her son as he loads bins with lettuce. "This is a nose-to-the-grindstone job. I wish his father had lived to see what he did."
Schiedler's father died in 1997. Cecilia, 83, has lived on the farm since 1949. She helped with the CSA project before illness slowed her.
"I love this hill," she says.
Bill welcomes young apprentices who work in return for bed, board, a small stipend and lessons in organic farming.
"The human body does better when food is the way God created it," says Katherine Stoltz, a 21-year-old apprentice from Silverton who attends Oregon State University.
Stoltz hopes to stay in farming her whole life, perhaps as a relief worker and consultant in poor nations overseas.
"We have learned a lot about how to plant," says Erin Harding, a 21-year-old Connecticut native who spent this summer with Gardenripe. She has a cross tattoed onto her ankle and says picking can at times be "reflective and prayerful."
The tiring labor has taught both women a deep respect for longtime farmworkers. Even Schiedler says he is embarrassed to compare his work to migrants, whose speed can be phenomenal.
The Schiedlers, parents of three grown children, make ends meet by living simply. They stay in a mobile home on the farm, not far from the house where Cecilia lives. "Since I do this work all the time, I basically don't spend any money," Bill says. In the off-season, he does take time to go hunting. But he does it on his own land.
"To farm, you pretty much need a high-paying job somewhere else," Schiedler says, pulling weeds as he harvests. "But farmers have to be optimists anyway. You are planting a seed and hoping it will grow and hoping the weather will be good enough for something to grow."
In addition to delivery, Janice works in the packing room and keeps the books. During the school year, she teaches kindergarten at Candalaria Elementary in South Salem.
The Schiedlers have kept their Gardenripe subscription fee relatively low. It irks them when farmers hike prices, taking advantage of people who are noble enough to want to buy local produce.
"I just want a fair price, that's all," Bill says.
The Schiedlers also sell at farmers' markets in Silverton and at Portland's Park Blocks. A Silverton free meal site gets leftover Gardenripe produce.
Bill and Janice are 20-year members of St. Edward Parish in Keizer, where he is a member of the choir. He grew up in a musical family, the only one of his siblings who did not play an instrument. His voice became his musical tool.
In quiet rows of vegetables and fruits, Schiedler can go over songs in his head, praising the Creator of a world where food grows up out of the ground.