Off Oregon’s Highway 202, nine miles east of Astoria, a historic barn oversees an original Olney homestead. Teresa Retzlaff and her husband Packy have worked the ground of this historical parcel, have revived the bones of the old buildings and have strived towards reconnecting the community with local agriculture.
In 1926 Ernie and Emma Splester built a farmhouse. Locals who remember the couple have said that while Ernie was a brakeman on the logging rail roads, Emma ran the household and farm for decades. After the couple had moved on, the homestead changed hands and eventually was taken over by the Tuveng family. The Tuvengs and their three daughters raised an assortment of animals and were incredibly active in the 4-H community. But after the family moved to a house in town, the 18-acre farm was on the market and ready for a fresh set of hands.
“When we first came to look at this place with our real estate agent,” says Teresa, “Packy was immediately walking through the old barn, I was checking out the land and sticking my hand into every mole hill I could find squeezing the soil and getting a sense of what I could grow. Then finally the real estate agent asked us if we wanted to look at the house. It’s a lovely charming old house, but it’s always funny to me that it was the last consideration for us.”
This homestead became the permanent home for 46 North Farm. “We had been leasing land at a friend’s old dairy farm in Seaside,” she says, “but what we wanted to do wasn’t a good fit for the property. We wanted to put in more permanent structures, but it is hard to do that on leased property because it is really hard to move an elk fence once it’s in the ground. “
The 1926 homestead combined Packy’s desire for historic buildings with Teresa’s need for well-drained soil with a southern exposure and was even walking distance from local pub The Big O Saloon and Country store . “It took a while to figure out the economics of how to purchase the farm, but we ended up moving here in the fall of 2009. At that time our business was primarily cut flowers and plant starts, but upon moving here I knew I wanted to expand into produce.”
After the couple purchased their dream property, they immediately decided to save the old, stately barn and re-roof with traditional cedar shingles. “It felt like the barn had a history and we wanted to respect that history,” says Teresa. Growing up in a family that moved to many countries throughout southeast Asia, Teresa was raised with respect for new cultures “When we moved out here, there was a sense of wanting to be respectful of the current culture. Understand the way people do things here, their traditions, their history. I think there is a lot of wisdom in learning from the community while trying to introduce ourselves. In a lot of ways we approached moving to Olney in the same manner as moving to Thailand, there is history, tradition, knowledge that people have here and it benefits me to be respectful to that. I love meeting my neighbors and hearing their input on what we’re doing out here.”
The couple began melding into the community and also watching the property to learn wet spots, dry spots, where the sun moved, and where the wildlife habitually walked before constructing fences. “What we had always been told is that with elk if you block off their path that is when they will try to push your fence down.” Thus, they fenced off three acres for production and have conducted native plantings on the remaining 15 acres to support wildlife and pollinators.
46 North Farm Today
Most recently, 46 North Farm has decided to focus on three main areas: plant starts, cut flowers, and a variety of produce for their loyal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members and a few restaurants. “We are slightly untraditional in the sense that we let people use their CSA for anything we produce. What we do is have folks pay in advance and then members can use their CSA credit for anything that we’re growing,” Teresa says. “We have a few outlets for flower bouquets at the Astoria Coffee Roaster and Deli on the east side of town as well as the Astoria Co-Op. We also have a separate flower subscription that people can sign up for that provides a weekly bouquet of fresh flowers.”
Very passionate about local agriculture, Teresa also enjoys fostering the connections between consumers and their food. “Years ago someone asked me why I would sell edible plant starts if I also want to sell produce,” she says. “Number one they will never grow enough, number two I think it is important for people to have the experience of growing their own food, and a third reason is I think it is important for people to grow food because they often come to appreciate how hard it is. How much you need to grow to have enough and how much can go wrong.”
While 46 North Farm isn’t certified organic, Teresa and Packy follow the strict guidelines for organic practices and principles and do not use synthetic pesticides and herbicides. “There are pests, plant diseases, crop failures, things don’t germinate and a myriad of ways to lose a crop. There are reasons local products cost more, but it is food you can feel good about. When you have local producers try to do the right thing and raise produce or animals responsibly then it costs more. The proof to me is on your plate, it tastes better, it looks better and then you can feel better about supporting a system that is respectful to both nature and animals.”
In an effort to increase the connections between the community and local food the couple is hoping to incorporate agritourism activities in the future. “I think about how important it is for people to connect with nature and connect with the way their food is grown. What broccoli looks like, what cabbage looks like before its washed, how hard it is to harvest bush beans, walk through our greenhouse and taste how amazing it is to eat a freshly picked tomato that’s still warm, or a strawberry that’s fully ripe, a carrot that you eat right out of the ground. I do feel like part of my job is to provide that connection between people and food and inspire people to grow their own food.”