HIGHWAY 140 – From cattle pasture land owned by a brother of Walt Disney to being farmed by Tally Ho Farms, the history surrounding 6,000 acres south of the Running Y Resort is as rich as the soil it sits on.
Driving the dusty roads around Caledonia and Running Y farms last week, Lexi Crawford shared all she knew about the landscape where Tally Ho Farms has produced grains, alfalfa, and potatoes since acquiring it in 2013. Hemp is hoped to be a crop of the future as well.
“It’s at least a 1,000 acres of organic ground out here,” Crawford said.
Gold Dust and Walker Farms is the brokerage company that buys and sells product for Tally Ho Farms, which produces conventional and organic crops.
Crawford serves as junior vice president of business, customer and employee relations at Gold Dust & Walker Farms, and is also an Oregon Potato Commission board member.
According to a 2018 interview with Crawford, 10 to 15% of potatoes that go through Gold Dust Farms are shipped to In ‘n Out. Potatoes are also sent overseas, including Japan’s Calbee in Hiroshima and Kagoshima plants.
“With the change in the dollar on the exchange, we have limited the customers to those who pay for the quality of shipping,” Crawford said.
Crawford pointed out the abundant wild birds that make the Running Y farm their home.
“The birds love it here, we get thousands,” she said.
The winged visitors love to fly in to taste left over stubble in the grain fields when not skirting across the water.
It’s a sight to see during harvest time, back-dropped by the the reds, yellows, and oranges of fall.
The Running Y farm, which passersby can view from Highway 140, doubles as a refuge for thousands of birds, including Pelicans, Egrets, and Blue Heron.
The farm, although called Running Y, has no affiliation to the resort under the same name. The history is intertwined, however.
Roy Disney, brother of the late Walt Disney, owned the farm land at one time, especially interesting since the Disney artist who drew Donald Duck, Carl Barks, grew up in Merrill.
Jeld-Wen bought the resort from Roy Disney in 1992, as reported by the Mail Tribune in November 2010.
When Running Y farm was affiliated with the resort, they had mostly cattle and horses, and offered horseback riding, Crawford said.
“When we took it over, it had been pasture for a long, long, long, long time,” Crawford said.
“It needed a ton of infrastructure work.”
Lexi Crawford’s husband, Bart Crawford, manages operations of 14,000 acres of land in the region brokered by Gold Dust & Walker Farms, including Caledonia and Running Y.
Bart Crawford spent hours digging ditches and building out roads and installing linears, Lexi Crawford said.
Previously, the farmland was irrigated using wheel lines, but changes were made.
An overhead irrigation system that moves back and forth is the system of choice.
The efficiency is higher and the need for more employees lower than for operating a pivot.
The farming entity also implemented a system within the last couple years that allows employees to turn Linears on and off from their cell phone.
“Technology allows us to see that those pivots for linears are on from our phone,” Crawford said.
The rich soil that makes up the Running Y and Caledonia farms also make for potatoes that can easily be cleaned.
The soil is about 18% organic matter, very itchy, and black, Lexi Crawford said.
“It’s not a muck soil,” Lexi said.
It’s more like a Peet soil, versus a muddy texture when wet, she said.
“When we run the potatoes through our packing plant, the dirt comes off the potatoes really easily,” Lexi said.
“You could almost drop the potato in a glass of water and the dirt would come off.”
As harvest comes to a close on Wednesday, Lexi Crawford said it’s often hard for some involved in the harvesting process to attend community events like the Potato Festival from last weekend.
She and her family attended together for the first time in five years over the weekend.
“It depends on the weather during harvest and if they’re able to utilize all the hours in the weeks, if they get rained out, different conditions like that will slow down the process and drag it out,” Lexi said.
“I feel like we’ve had all the seasons this harvest,” she added. “For us, what we did was we started really early. We started digging spuds on Sept. 3, which gave us plenty of weeks to take days off as needed when the weather wasn’t cooperating.”
Lexi said fields around the company’s processing plant have a sandy soil which allows for digging potatoes even in tough weather conditions that would make the process harder.
“Our farm and our partner growers, they have a lot of acreage in the Malin area in that sandy soil as well and we’ll lean on them if we need to,” she said.
“We wouldn’t be able to make everybody happy if we didn’t work together as a team.”
But as with all farming, it’s never done; even after harvest is finished.
“Fall farming is the next thing on the list,” Lexi said. “That’s field prep to be ahead of the curve next Spring when planting comes along.
“Having a packing shed, we ship nine months out of the year,” she added. “There’s always something that needs doing.”