Unlike many of the farms that we have profiled so far in our Sun+Earth Series, Oshala Farm is first and foremost an herb farm. Jeff and Elise Higley manage a 171 acre farm in Oregon’s Applegate Valley and grow nearly 80 different culinary and medicinal plants for the herb industry.
“We grow pretty much everything,” says Jeff Higley.
Herbs are wonderfully versatile. Oshala Farm’s herbs, ranging from echinacea to chamomile to burdock root, have buyers from all sorts of industries. These include beauty, tea, tincture, nutraceutical and even pet food companies.
When Oregon legalized hemp in 2015, it seemed only natural to add hemp to the Oshala roster of culinary and medicinal herbs.
This week, Emerald hopped on a call with Jeff, who co-founded Oshala Farm with his wife, Elise, in 2013. Oshala brings a unique perspective to our series, being predominantly an herb farm with hemp being only one of their many crops.
We talked to Higley about what it’s like breaking into the hemp industry as an herb farmer and what the future holds for Oshala Farm.
EMERALD: Would you ever consider venturing into cannabis cultivation for recreational or even medicinal use?
HIGLEY: We’re in a great growing environment. We’ve got great land. There’s great genetics available to us. We definitely wouldn’t be opposed and we’ve had some conversations quite a few times about it. But right now to do a recreational farm in Oregon is pretty intensive as far as the change to your farm. It would just be really tough for us to transition from our current farming practices to accommodate the legal requirements.
As far as that is concerned, we’ve kind of been hesitant. You know, who knows where the next election is going to take us or how that’s all gonna play out.
There’s things too that even with the hemp [have] become an issue. [Like] the banking and the insurance and worker’s comp and all these other layers to the puzzle. When you’re running a business, you really have to look at it as far as protecting your employees. [At] the end of the day, the business is what carries all these families. And if we risk the business, we’re risking all these people’s lives too. So it’s a weight we carry in these decisions.
EMERALD: What sorts of challenges does Oshala Farm face on a regular basis?
HIGLEY: In regards to hemp, the biggest challenge we face is the downturn in the market in the last year due to overproduction. Hemp’s a really resilient crop. It wants to grow. And it puts out a lot of biomass in a short period of time. There’s nothing else that grows as big as fast.
The hemp industry is still maturing. There’s a lot of legislative things that still haven’t quite totally gotten worked out. And that’s really kind of kept it in this state of flux with a lot of the larger companies, which is great. In a lot of ways it’s giving a lot of younger companies an opportunity to make a name for themselves, but there’s also been a lot of instability for the farmer side of it. So I think that’s been one of the bigger challenges, just the increased time constraints and risk and marketing as far as being able to get that crop sold and paid for.
We’re [also] seeing a lot of buyers that just don’t really know exactly what they want starting out. You really have to know what people are going to want before you plant, but definitely before you harvest so that you can meet their needs. Hung dried material is obviously different from something that’s dried on screens or dried in our industrial dryers. It all really depends on what people are looking to make out of it.
EMERALD: How has COVID-19 impacted daily farm operations? Has anyone on your staff been directly affected?
HIGLEY. We’ve had to implement a lot of changes to our processes and our procedures to maintain social distancing. A lot of our work is outdoors and allows us to be far enough apart. But there’s a lot of stuff we do that requires us to be close — even feeding in the greenhouse or working in the dryer is. [We] just have to rethink every process with this new lens safety.
We’re lucky in the sense that we’re out in the country and most of our employees don’t live in the city either. But everyone’s got different levels of stress with regards to COVID-19 and different levels of stress at different times of the day and different times throughout this. Some days people are feeling less stressed about it than others. A lot of time [has been] spent communicating with our staff and having meetings about where people are at and where it’s going.
EMERALD: What does the future hold for Oshala Farm? Where do you see it in 10 years?
HIGLEY: My goal 10 years from now [is] to integrate back in a [farming] education component. Eventually, [I also want to] turn more and more of the farm into incubator space for new and beginning farmers to get access to land. So that’s kinda where we’re leaning towards in the long term.
Our goal is [also] to continue to produce the best quality herbs that you can find on the market and get [people] the medicine and culinary herbs that they’re looking for. And really create a space for not only our customers to believe in, but [also] our team. [Our team] is a family here.
For Higley, the future of cannabis is positive, especially as more organic farms begin looking to expand into the legal cannabis market.
“I commend Sun+Earth Certified and Dr. Bronners,” says Higley, for “just trying to pull the recreational market into some sort of a standard.”
Recognizable third party certifications like Sun+Earth give the consumer confidence in the brand they’re purchasing.
“It’s just another way to mature the cannabis industry and make it more consumer friendly and more transparent,” says Higley. After all, “what’s the difference between that CBD product at the gas station and something I’m getting at Whole Foods?”
Both the consumer and the ever-growing cannabis market deserve this sort of certification, precisely so we can purchase ethically grown products that actually align with our moral standards.