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  • 26 Nov 2014

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It's a family affair on the farm

Brothers make a go of their dreams in Gales Creek


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Brothers Aaron and Jesse Nichols do a significant portion of their farming with their draft horses hitched up to plows and other apparatuses.On a sunny afternoon in Gales Creek, passersby may see Aaron and Jesse and Gale and Esther working hard — moving poultry coops along Gales Creek Road or plowing up fields, stirring up dust and making soft the earth they intend to plant in rows.

When the sun shines, Aaron and Jesse Nichols don their straw hat or baseball cap, respectively, to complement their button-down shirts wiped with dirt on the front. Gale and Esther begin breathing hard after a few laps around the field and sweat first appears on their shoulders and bellies.

Aaron, 31, and Jesse, 28, are brothers leasing Gales Meadow Farm, owned by Rene and Anne Berblinger, who have recently been nominated for a 2014 Local Hero Award in the farm category by Edible Portland.

They're growing certified organic heirloom vegetables, herbs, more than 20 varieties of cherry tomatoes, many kinds of cucumbers and specialty items such as wasabi, arugula and tiny eggplants.

They’re making a go at their dream — farming, working together and owning their own business. They’re also looking to buy their own piece of land soon so they can start farming it for next season. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Gale and Esther (foreground) came from a horse farm in Halfway, Ore. Gale is the muscle and Esther does the thinking, the Nichols brothers said.

Gale and Esther are the brothers’ most loyal helpers — two Belgian draft mares.

The group is outdoors most days, rain or shine. “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” Aaron said.

Aaron recently moved to Forest Grove to farm with Jesse — who worked with the Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres for a year through AmeriCorps and is still the produce sales coordinator for their farmers — after living in New York with his wife, where he worked mostly as a chef and most recently on a few farms, including a draft horse farm for a year.

Local residents can find the two at the Forest Grove Farmers Market on Wednesdays, which they say is their best market. The last three market Wednesdays have been sunny and warm, drawing out locals to the streets to browse, with the opening evening drawing more than 2,000 people.

They also sell at the Cannon Beach market and at the Hollywood market in Portland.

Jesse, who also works part-time at 1910 Main, has recently had the pleasure of serving his arugula on sandwiches and burgers. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Jesse Nichols works more than full-time on the farm, and also for 1910 Main An American Bistro and the nonprofit Adelante Mujeres.The two are also selling to a growing list of Portland food establishments and are looking for more.

The draft pair helps out Jesse and Aaron with about 50 percent of their field work, providing a sustainable, old-fashioned alternative to their tractor.

Gale or Esther can fit in spaces the tractor cannot, such as in between crop rows. “They do things for us that would take a second tractor,” said Aaron. “Plus we enjoy farming with them. They definitely save us a lot of time.”

The horses also “mow the lawns” for them and soon their manure will be used for compost.

This is the kind of synergetic relationship that runs rampant on the eight acres. Aaron and Jesse are experimenting with companion planting — planting parsley between brassica crops to fend off unwanted insects, for example — making sprays out of their garlic and mint to detract flea beetles and using droppings from their 58 turkeys as fertilizer.

“I like having a connection with the turkey you’re going to eat,” Aaron said. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Greens the Nichols brothers have been growing have been popular at markets and with local restaurants.

And although the turkeys are not certified organic, they are organically raised, Aaron said. “We’ll be shaking the hand of everyone who buys a turkey, so we can explain it to them.”

“Farming sustainably is important to us. I like the idea of the land getting better for us having worked it,” Aaron said. “If you’re awake you have to be doing something so you might as well work in the fields.”