By Sophie Javna, 8/19/13
Ken Cairns bought his land in Sherwood, Oregon when his daughter was born. He grew up on his own ranch located between Ashland, Oregon and Yreka, California, and wanted his child to live on open land too, surrounded by animals. Ken remembers how much his daughter loved her horses—in fact, she didn’t want to give them away when she left for college. Ken still keeps her horses in the old stable while she’s at graduate school. “You want some horses?” He asks jokingly.
Four years ago, Ken put up one-fifth of his land for lease to a farmer on iFarm. He was looking for someone to farm the land responsibly, with a good plan and good sense. Ken had trouble finding a perfect match right away; many people replied to his offer, including farmers with grand ideas but little strategy. But after three years, Ken was able to make a lasting connection with Josh Johnson of Finnegan Cider.
Finding a match on iFarm wasn’t as difficult for Josh—he found Ken Cairns in almost no time. “When I contacted other [landholders]… they all just had an honest interest in people trying to use their land.” Josh says. “They appreciate [their land], want to see it used, and want a responsible person to be a steward of the land for them. That’s a pretty good group of people to work with.”
Josh discovered iFarm when he decided to grow cider apples. Josh remembers pressing apples at an orchard in California when he was a kid and attributes much of his love of cider to these sensory memories. So when Josh’s wife got him his first cider press 15 years ago, it didn’t take long before they decided to enter the profession of cider-making. They called their business Finnegan Cider, after Josh’s wife’s side of the family.
Finnegan Cider uses English and French variety cider apples instead of dessert or eating apples, because they offer a high-quality flavor. But over time, finding the right apples—or enough of them—became a struggle. Josh heard about iFarm through Bull Run Cider, a cidery that found its orchard through an iFarm connection as well.
Bull Run Cider’s success on iFarm inspired Josh to try the program too. Having never farmed before, Josh suddenly found himself reading stacks of academic papers on orchard-management. After a few mismatches for Ken, Josh’s enthusiasm and pragmatic approach to farming was a clear selling point. Through iFarm, Josh was able to sign a 10-year contract with Ken, which gives his orchard a chance to grow over time.
Finnegan Cider, now in its third vintage, will begin to use its own apples when the new trees fruit. But for now, Josh takes the challenges of farming as they come. He has already spent innumerable hours establishing his orchard. Young trees line the land, waiting to be grafted and trellised. Josh is up for the challenge—the more hands-on experience he has, Josh explains, the more mental-notes he takes to improve next year’s harvest. A new deer fence surrounds the orchard…a big enough project to occupy a team of Joshes. But in fact (like most of the orchard) he’s tackled the project with little external help. Ken also gives him advice and assistance along the way, which Josh is grateful for. “I appreciate the way Ken has done this,” Josh said. “He’s been helpful at all stages.”
Just as astounding as his physical dedication, is what Josh did before iFarm….which didn’t include farming. He grew up in the suburbs of California, with no agricultural influence but his love for the local apple orchard. Josh practiced medicine and he now works as a physician at Providence Newberg, but recently requested three consistent days off per week to spend on his orchard.
Though he admits that the orchard has been more work than his research prepared him for, his excitement for the future and love for the land is inspiring. “It will probably be a learning thing,” he says as he paces along a row of leafy saplings. “I think I’ll probably just do my best.”
You can check out Josh’s website to stay up-to-date with happenings on the orchard by clicking here>>