Anthony Boutard is many things: a sustainable local food advocate, revivor of long-lost food crops, forester and naturalist. His organic farm, Ayers Creek, sits on 144 acres in Gaston, Oregon. There, he and his wife Carol grow many special and little-known varieties of berries, grain, beans, greens and fruit. These special varieties he sells at local farmers markets and stores, and also delivers seasonally to well-known chef’s in the Portland food scene.
At the epicentre of Boutard’s farming and land maintenance methods is the ethos of allowing nature to exist and flourish on its own. On his acreage sits a 40-acre wetland, 20 acres of oak savannah and marshy hollows of green ash and hawthorn. Boutard explains that “a little over half the farm is a managed landscape, a little under is largely unmanaged. It is hard to imagine the farm without its two hemispheres…even on the managed parts of the farm, we seek to keep a light footprint on the landscape.”
The story of Ayers Creek goes back before Boutard was even born. His mother was a botanist and his father a horticulturist and both immigrated from Europe to the United States while his mother was pregnant. With a new start for
the family, Boutard was destined to seek out and understand scientific knowledge on plants. He began his career as a forester, working on land use issues over a few decades, where he adopted an ease and patience with the cyclical patterns of nature and the greenery he loved.
This patience and acceptance of nature’s ways have made the farm something inspiring and uniquely its own. The wetlands that reside on Ayers Creek are native Oregonian marshland. When Boutard and his wife purchased the land they did so meaning to keep the wetlands alive and well. Boutard has worked tirelessly to let these wetlands flourish on their own, and the marshy land is now home to a healthy number of birds, great horned owls and other native wildlife.
To help maintain balance between his organic farm and the wetland, Boutard uses no sprays on crops. Each growing season, he cultivates his fields with one tractor pass, then allows the naturally appearing cover crops to grow. At the end of the summer, Boutard does not plow over the cover crop, destroying the healthy population of spiders, millipedes and other bugs. He also does not clear decaying matter from his fields, but instead allows the decaying wood and plants to add to soil health. During the winter, the old cornstalks and decaying plant matter that sit on the soil also protect the fields from the onslaught of heavy rains. According to Boutard, “organic matter is the substream of life.”
His cultivation of seeds and little-known varieties produce mouthwatering melons, Astiana tomatoes, chester blackberries, tart cherries, grapes, plums, greens, New England corn, barley, wheat, freekeh, beans, horseradish and much more year-round. The depth of flavor of Ayers Creek produce has built him quite the reputation among the Pacific Northwest market goers and chefs, who look forward to what he brings in every harvest. Boutard explains that these cooks and makers are able to use one hundred percent of the produce his farm brings in, as no additional trimming of stems and leaves is required. Boutard also uses some of his more unusual fruits to make seasonal preserves with fresh lemon which he sells to local restaurants preserves, grains and through Rubinette Produce beans. New Seasons carries also carries the farm’s fresh in-season fruits. He also gives away his famous melons to restaurants for free, taking back the seeds chefs would like to buy for the following year.
All of the Boutard’s crops are certified organic by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Instead of relying on seed banks of heirloom varieties, Boutard is constantly selecting the best, meaning most flavorful, varieties and replanting the seeds the following year. Relying on the natural progression of crops and soil health is key. If a crop isn’t doing well, the Boutards will select something else to grow.
The natural farming methods leading the way at Ayers Creek protect the wetlands, habitat and native wildlife that surround the farm, and also provide Oregonians with little-known varieties to enjoy. Boutard’s commitment to flavor and dedication to an ecological paradise is evident in his loyal, hungry following. His delightfully unique varieties, as well as his astute teachings, are a great lesson to all on the success that lies in the balance between nature and farmer.
“A highly productive square of farmland would be a dull place indeed without the messy exuberance of the wild areas bleeding into our efforts at an organized ecology.” — Anthony Boutard
To read more about Boutard’s craft and discipline, check out the Pacific Northwest blog Good Stuff NW or read his latest book, Beautiful Corn: America’s Original Grain From Seed to Plate.