FENN-- Gardening is something Kelan Johnson has been involved in his entire life.
“Growing up in a family of 16 children, it was a necessity,” he said.
As an adult his job took him on the road for 30-plus years and it was his partner, Tonya Kaschmitter, who convinced him to settle on the Camas Prairie.
“It’s the first thing he wanted to do – plant a garden,” Tonya recalled. That was in 2012, and 18,000 square feet of garden later, the produce is prolific.
“Sometimes I do have to remind him that there are not 32 pairs of hands seeding and weeding,” she added jokingly.
Offering a healthy, naturally grown resource that benefits the local economy is the goal of Camas Farms. Team Kelan and Tonya own the farms, located one mile south of U.S. Highway 95 between Fenn and Cottonwood.
“We feel people need to know that it’s possible here and, yes, it takes a lot of time and dedication but to us it’s better than buying a can in the store,” the couple agreed. “We were told many times that we would never get tomatoes, cantaloupe or watermelon to grow here, and the ones we have grown are honestly some of the best we’ve ever tasted. We contribute it to the rich Camas Prairie soil.”
The couple works the farm on their own with some help from Tonya’s 16-year-old son, Ethan.
“He sometimes grumbles at the 5:30 or 6 a.m. wakeup call to pick on Saturday mornings for the market,” smiled Tonya, “but secretly, through word of mouth, I also hear that he promotes what we are doing with enthusiasm.”
The duo works full time “regular jobs,” so how do they keep up with a busy farm?
“Very little sleep; no kidding. We do work 45-50 hours a week at a full time job,” Tonya said. “Of course the garden starts slow with working the ground and starting seeds in our greenhouse, but then gains momentum as the seasons progress along with the daylight hours and transplanting and finally the direct seeding. Year after year we continually learn and develop ways of being more efficient.”
She added they have also been blessed with an “amazing helper as of this year, Ellissa Crowl, who shares our love of gardening and the nutritious goodness of what we grow and she believes in what we are doing,” stated Tonya.
Camas Farms offers several varieties of radishes, lettuce, cabbage, beans, carrots, chard, hot peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, squash, peas and herbs.
“At the end of the season our dehydrator goes into full use for the herbs, peppers, and other vegetables that work well to preserve in this manner,” the couple said.
In the future, they said they would like to include flowering baskets, “but the space in the greenhouse is valuable real estate so we are still researching this option,” Tonya said.
This year, Camas Farms were able to introduce their farm-fresh eggs to the public, not only through their farm site, but also through Cash and Carry Marketplace in Grangeville.
What made this happen?
“Customer requests last summer and helpful coordination from Liz Clark at the store, and -- surprisingly -- I absolutely love our ‘happy ladies,’” Tonya said of her flock of layers.
The couple said they have been pleased with the support from Cash and Carry and at this point demand is greater than supply.
Camas Farms is considered farm-to-home but is not certified organic.
“We do our very best to grow as naturally as possible and search out ways to control pests without chemicals so in turn the produce is healthier,” Kelan said. “We like the farm-to-table idea and enjoy getting to know our customers. It’s fun to watch kids discover that vegetables aren’t ‘icky’ and share new recipes.”
Part of the way they have shared this is by helping provide items for the “Grub Club,” an arm of the Grangeville Farmers’ Market where kids are given market tokens to purchase and taste fresh produce they may not otherwise be exposed to.
What else could possibly be brewing for the future of Camas Farms?
“I have been asked if there will ever be a Camas Farms cookbook in the future and I’m thinking it may be a good winter project,” smiled Tonya.
Visit Camas Farms at 234 Camas Road, Grangeville; see their page on Facebook; call Kelan at 818-2435 or Tonya at 446-6016.