The Business of Farming Locally: Willow-Witt Ranch and Pheasant Fields Farm
With large corporations taking up most space in grocery stores, it’s easy to forget the array of local farms in the Rogue Valley—and that local farms are more than beautiful wedding venues. They provide some of the most wholesome products people can buy, as opposed to the mass amount of products big corporations ship over many miles to our stores. Willow-Witt Ranch and Pheasant Fields Farm are two local farms spending long hours in the field reviving wetlands, growing produce, and raising animals that have learned to balance farming and business themselves.
“More than half of our property is in conifer forest, and another third in wetlands; we have worked on restoring forests and wetlands to health since 1987,” says co-owner of Willow-Witt Ranch Suzanne Willow. “The (small) farm portion of our land is dedicated to rotational grazing/browsing for dairy and pack goats and laying chickens, geese and ducks, and to organic vegetables and compost. We also raise a small pen of meat chickens for three months each summer.” At one point the ranch also raised pigs, but stopped in 2016.
Being a smaller ranch, they don’t raise or grow enough to sell to a grocery store, but customers make the beautiful trip out to the farm or Ashland Grower’s Market to enjoy their products. They also run a non-profit called The Crest at Willow-Witt that hosts events throughout the year, like “music events, farm-to-table dinners as fundraisers, and school-year and summer educational farm and nature programs and camps to cultivate connection to farm, forest, water, and each other.”
One of the biggest challenges to the ranch is being surrounded by BLM land. “Our biggest challenge is fencing (and keeping) ‘trespass’ cows off our land,” Willow says. “We are in ‘Open Range,’ meaning it is up to us to keep someone else’s cows off our property by extensive fencing and repeated fence repairs.”
Despite the challenges, Willow doesn’t forget about her favorite part about Willow-Witt Ranch. “Our biggest reward is to live on this unique and beautiful piece of the earth, and to work with the animals, forests, and nature, including abundant wildlife and birds.” The ranch is situated against an expanse backdrop of tree-lined valleys and wet fields teeming with wildlife.
As a local farmer, Willow is a firm believer in the importance in patronizing local farms in one’s community. “When we buy ‘distant’ foods, 90 cents of every dollar spent goes out of the area and out of our economy,” she says. “When we buy locally-raised foods, nearly the whole dollar circulates within our local economy––to workers, restaurants, local shops, transportation, etc. And locally-grown food maintains its flavor and vigor much longer; the ‘food miles’ our meals travel take a toll on the nutritional value and longevity of foods.”
Farmer of Pheasant Fields Farm Ric Reno holds the same beliefs as a local farmer in Medford. “We believe that local agriculture is critically important for individuals to see and understand where their food comes from,” he says. “If it’s local, it’s easy to speak with the farmer to learn more about the crops and farming techniques, and the produce is much fresher and better tasting too!”
Pheasant Fields Farm is primarily a pumpkin farm, growing over 30 different types. Along with growing pumpkins, the farm hosts the annual Harvest Festival beginning Sept. 30 and continuing every weekend in October. He says, “Our business focus is centered around educating young children and providing fall activities, including a five acre corn maze, hayride, pumpkin patches, kids activities, local artisan craft vendors, food and drink, and live music. We sell tickets for activities, and do not charge admission to visit the farm.” The farm also offers field trips to educate children about their produce during the fall and in spring and summer they host weddings.
Finding help throughout the year has been a constant challenge for Reno. Competing with larger and newer farm organizations has posed difficulty in offering the same or better wages. Despite the challenges he says he enjoys “being able to share with our community the importance of local agriculture and providing an experience for families that creates traditions and memories.”
People can purchase Pheasant Fields Farm’s pumpkins and winter squashes on their farm as well as in Harry & David’s Country Store. To learn more about Pheasant Fields Farm and Willow-Witt Ranch’s upcoming events, visit their locations or their websites.
658 Shale City Rd, Ashland
Pheasant Fields Farm
1865 Camp Baker Rd, Medford