Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they create. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
By Sarah West
Brett Caldwell in his winter brassica field.
Like many first-generation farmers, Brett Caldwell was drawn to farming after years of practicing in the garden. Though he grew up in Ohio, where commercial farms were a part of his childhood landscape, he knew nothing about how to run one. Just four years ago Brett was still working for Comcast, while he and his wife, Judy, tended a large edible garden that progressively took over the yard of their south Florida home. As the garden outgrew their family’s needs, he shared the bounty with friends and neighbors.
“I found that I really enjoyed feeding people just as much as I enjoyed growing food,” Brett explained about this first inkling that he might like to try his hand at farming.
A January King cabbage plant catching the morning sun.
“Most people,” Brett told me, “would have waited for the next opening and tried again. We, on the other hand, weren't so patient. I quit my career of 18 years, we sold everything in our house, packed up our clothes, and headed to Oregon.”
Some of the day's fresh eggs waiting to be washed.
At a visit to the Oregon City Farmers Market, Brett learned about Clackamas Community College’s horticulture program, where both he and Judy eventually completed degrees in horticulture and urban agriculture. That education and the local connections that came from it led to the breakthrough they were waiting for, including a tip about a rental property with small acreage. By the spring of 2013 they were prepping the soil and planting their first farm vegetables.
Farmers markets were integral to the Caldwell’s startup, from inspiration to education to the community support that was essential to their growth.
“We knew we wanted to be vendors after our first visit to the Oregon City Farmers Market,” Brett recalled. “I loved seeing the farmers at the booths making connections with the people they were feeding. It was the same feeling I enjoyed when I shared food from my garden in Florida. As a vendor, I've learned so much from the people that shop with us. They've taught me various ways to use vegetables that I had previously not experienced. It's been the personal feedback from our customers that help me learn everything I need to grow delicious, healthy food.”
Arugula in one of the winter vegetable high tunnels.
Since 2013, the Caldwell’s have moved to a bigger farm site just south of Oregon City and now have a 17-acre spread with high tunnels (unheated greenhouses), a large covered house and yard for their poultry flock, and room for a small orchard. Caldwell Family Farm also maintains Certified Naturally Grown status, a peer-reviewed certification whose standards are based on those of the National Organic Program.
Caldwell Family Farm will be at Hillsdale through the winter season, selling a variety of salad and cooking greens, root vegetables, chicken eggs, duck eggs (when available), and their farm-direct preserves. Follow their Facebook page to learn more about the farm and keep track of what they’ll be bringing to market!