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 produce and sell. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
By Sarah West
Strawberry season doesn’t hit fever-pitch at the market until Unger Farms returns with their flats of perfect Hood strawberries, those ephemeral poster children synonymous with June, Oregon, and delicious. Long lines of shoppers wait for the opening bell to ring, eager to take a half-flat home to freeze, can, or simply snack on this early summer treat.
By August, summer in Oregon has settled into fields of golden-hued grass, hazy skies, and copious dust. The Hoods are hunkered down in the heat, waiting for a fall mowing and their lush return with winter’s rain. Albion, a workhorse strawberry with sweetness and a touch of acidity—if not the Hood’s grand perfume—has taken the Hood’s place and will bear through October if the weather holds. August at Unger Farms is ruled by raspberries and blackberries, of which they grow ten varieties.
Matt and Kathy Unger bought the 140-acre farm a little over 30 years ago, continuing an Unger family tradition: Matt grew up farming strawberries on his family’s land, just over the hill from their farm, and Kathy worked on her future in-law’s farm after moving to the area from north Portland while still in high school. The two struck off on their own venture in 1984, growing berries and cucumbers, and selling their harvests to local canneries.
They soon realized that cannery prices were not able to keep the farm afloat, despite how efficiently they ran their operation. In the late 80’s, they decided to try opening a booth at the Hillsboro Farmers Market and the farm has never been the same since. Over two decades, they grew their fresh market business to comprise over 80% of farm income, reviving a tenuous young farm and becoming a cornerstone vendor of many Portland area markets.
The Ungers specialize in berries, and have maintained a focused operation, always striving to produce the best product they can, carefully selecting varieties with good flavor and size, and utilizing sustainable farming practices to minimize their operation’s impact on their land and surrounding environment. Their careful farming is evident in the tidy, well-managed berry and grape rows rotated among the farm to keep soil pathogens from building in any one spot, to the flats of plump, shining berries picked each morning and cooled in the farm’s storage cooler for markets and deliveries the next day.
This year, Unger Farms is selling at fifteen area markets, a handful of farm stands, and New Seasons grocery stores, as well as their own fledgling farm store located on an annexed property purchased after a neighboring nursery operation left. They built the farm store four years ago with public interaction in mind, including nearby U-pick fields of flowers and berries, a café and bakery with patio seating that looks over the farm’s pond and distant berry fields, and impressive displays of fresh vegetables, berries, and other local food products. This year, the farm store added an OLCC license, allowing them to sell beer and wine, and launch a new series of wine, beer and music events on select evenings through the summer.
The Ungers have recently added a CSA component to their farm model as well, growing a couple acres of vegetables along with the berries for families wanting a weekly box of farm-fresh vegetables and fruits. This year, Matt enthusiastically planted 18 varieties of potatoes, a crop he also grew up tending, and the store will feature these plus a host of fall vegetables and berries until they shut down for winter. Start a weekend drive through the country with a waffle breakfast from the farm’s Berry Café, or come for a Savor the Summer evening event and sip wine on the patio with views of rolling farmland and live music. Find the farm store hours and more at: http://ungerfarms.com.