A Part of the Family
If Alfred and Leonard Carpenter were to walk in David Mostue's dusty boots, chances are they would feel right at home.
Indeed, Mostue's bootprints can be found all over Rocky Knoll, the Medford farm the two brothers started in 1909.
Mostue's mother is Emily Carpenter Mostue, the daughter of Dunbar Carpenter, the brothers' nephew who worked the land for years.
Based on the uninterrupted family farming of the 180-acre parcel over the years, the site has been named a Century Farm by the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program.
"There have been a lot of hands on this landscape," says David, 27, of his forebears. "We're reaping the benefits of what they've done.
"But there are times you curse what they've done," he adds with a laugh.
Despite the long hours, he will tell you he feels privileged to work the land his ancestors worked. And he marvels at what they accomplished. For instance, his predecessors spent countless long days removing what Rocky Knoll was named for — rocks.
"We're working together to build on what went before," Emily observes. "It's an evolutionary process."
The farm is now owned by Emily and her siblings, Karen Carpenter Allan, a Medford attorney, and brother Dunbar Scott Carpenter, a psychologist in Portland. All three spent their childhoods on the property, which is inside the Medford city limits.
"Literally, David is our employee and I manage it," explains Emily, who is president of the Carpenter Foundation, started by great-uncle Alfred. It grants roughly $650,000 a year to human services, education and the arts.
Harvard graduates both, her great uncles came to the area specifically to grow pears, she says. By 1909, the trains were already chugging through the Rogue Valley, making transportation ripe for the fruit-growing business.
The family has pictures taken in 1909 and 1910 when the brothers were planting fruit trees on the property. There aren't many trees in the oldest photographs. Mainly there is bare ground and rock outcroppings.
They would plant nearly 7,000 pear trees by the end of 1910 to create what the brothers originally called Veritas Orchards. In Latin, veritas means "truth," reflecting the Harvard motto.
One truth they quickly learned was that the land needed water.
"Back in the day, they had water wagons they would haul around with draft horses," David says. "It was dry land until the 1920s."
That was when his great-great-uncle Leonard, who operated the farm for nearly 40 years, helped organize the Medford Irrigation District. An irrigation ditch running across the property began bringing water from the high Cascades for the young trees.
Dunbar Carpenter, who also graduated from Harvard, took over the farm in the late 1940s. He soon added 10,000 chickens along with cattle and hogs.
Five acres of wine grapes were planted in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, the pear orchard, too small to compete with the much larger local orchards, was mostly replaced by hay.
That diversification continues today in the form of hay, grains, vegetables and chicken eggs. The red Bordeaux grapes produce a claret dubbed Dunbar Red.
"The farm operated under a very different mentality for most of its existence," David says. "That was justified by the time period. The market was not local back then. The only way you made it in farming was doing one thing and doing that extremely well."
In today's market, diversity is a necessity, he says.
"There is a growing market now for diversified farms that sell at a higher value to a local public," he says. "The market is there."
"We are trying to reach out to the community," Emily adds. "Before, it was very private. We did our farming and shipped the product elsewhere. Now it involves the local community."
Emily, 62, says applying for century farm status increased her appreciation for contributions made by family members over the years.
"When Dunbar took it over, he did it for 50 years," she says. "You can watch the progression and creativeness and vision that each had. Now there is a new vision that David and I have."
They envision a future that will include a wine-tasting room blended with a farm stand. In fact, they've already applied with the city for such a venture.
"We are betting the farm on a different model than what it had been operating on," he quips. "Everything that people talk about with wine — the complexities, the body, the flavor, the processing — applies to all agriculture.
"There is a limitless number of combinations," he adds. "And that's what each farm has to offer. It isn't all the same yellow squash in the supermarket."
Dunbar Carpenter, who was 93 when he died in 2008, was involved in the farm until the end of his life, his daughter says.
"He was so pleased when David got so involved in the farming — he felt like his heritage was being carried on," Emily says.
To contact the century farm, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.