When Pauline Baumann moved from Portland to a 44-acre farm just outside Ashland two years ago, she knew almost nothing about farming. Today, she is raising 80 varieties of fruit trees, cows and chickens, with plans to build a solar greenhouse and root cellar this summer.

She's part of a growing trend of small farmers in Ashland and the Rogue Valley, many of whom come to the trade with little agricultural experience but a wealth of business knowledge. In 2007, the small farms agents with the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center had contact with more than 850 farmers or people interested in farming in the three-county area they serve. The program began just two years ago to provide information and training to the growing ranks of farmers.

"As the price of fuel continues to go up, people are becoming more and more aware of where their food is coming from and concerned about having secure local food systems," said Maud Powell, one of the two small farms agents with the local program. "There is a lot of consumer interest in local food, and there's more and more of a market, too. People are able to get at least a decent percentage of their income from farming."

Although most farmers can't fully support themselves solely on farming income, many people choose to farm as a hobby or a second career. And the skills they lack in working the land are often offset by business know-how.

"People come to us who have had a previous professional life, they won't know the first thing about farming but they may have tremendous experience in marketing for example," Powell said.

For Baumann, her experience as a naturopathic doctor and park naturalist gave her some knowledge of plants, added to her love of gardening. As the president of the board of Natural Doctors International, she also knew how to get things done.

She took crash courses in farming, including a 10-week forest management course offered by Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District, enlisted the help of Lomakatsi Restoration Project to improve the section of Butler Creek that runs through the property and hired two interns to help out last summer.

Now she can discuss rotational grazing, sheet mulching and the problems facing small farmers like a pro.

"I came all excited and thinking I'm going to make some great thing happen here," she said. "It's not that easy to do."

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ABOVE: Pauline Baumann prepares to feed her cows hay at her farm. BELOW:The Baumanns harvest eggs, among other products, on their small farm.

Orville Hector | Daily Tidings



Since she and her husband, Bob Baumann, purchased the farm, she's met many "really smart farmers" and was surprised by the advice she received early on &

that she should plan not to lose too much money in a business where you buy retail and sell wholesale.

Once the farm is up and running, she envisions selling excess at farmers' markets, roadside stands or eventually a Community Supported Agriculture network, in which customers provide money up front for produce provided throughout the season. At the least, she is looking forward to enjoying a home-grown bounty.

"My husband is really into the idea of having us be potentially self-sufficient in terms of producing our own food," she said. Like many small farmers, he works off the farm, supporting the venture as a commercial real estate developer.

During their farm experiment, the Baumanns have met neighbors specializing in beekeeping, olive trees and cattle. One neighbor, Lisa Almarode, is jokingly referred to as a "petatarian," because she eats only animals she has raised herself.

Almarode and her husband, Jay, have been farming their five-acre Fairweather Farm since 2002 and produce most of their own food, with the exception of grains, cilantro and the occasional dried mango or hot pepper. Both she and Jay still work full time as computer engineers, and although they often have surpluses, Almarode said she dislikes the marketing aspect of farming and prefers to trade with other farmers.

"Producing food and eating food you've grown yourself is such a passion, and I love seeing other people eat food I've grown," she said. "Unfortunately, farming is just a terrible way to make a living."

Instead of golfing or collecting stamps, Almarode said she spends her extra eight hours planting, weeding and milking their goats. Six years of farming have taught her that farming will always be a challenging hobby.

"The great thing about farming is you can eat your mistakes," she said. "I think the best way to do it is to throw yourself into it and see what happens. You have to accept failure."

So far, she has discovered that chestnuts and blueberries are poor choices for her land, but milk goats are a fine choice, and right now she's perfecting her cheese-making skills.

"I think I see the world in a whole different way now," she said. "The soil and the things that are growing there is what everything comes from. Being part of that is being part of something real."

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