1. Overthrow of government
2. Major change
3. Complete circular turn
APTLY NAMED R-evolution Gardens embodies the spirit of all the definitions of the word (well, ok, maybe overthrow of guv’ment is a stretch, but the farm is off the grid). How so? Look no further than the life stories, visions, and practice of R-evolution’s co-owners and founders Ginger Salkowski and Brian Schulz.
Ginger grew up in Detroit and Western Michigan. Though she always felt activism stirring in her blood—“even as a kid I had a strong sense of social justice”—she never imagined herself as a farmer, and a permaculture educator and practitioner to boot. Tree activism got her out West and brought her together with Brian; Brian himself is a Portland native and activist turned kayak builder and man of the land. His move to the Oregon coast to ply the Pacific brought Ginger to ply the tourist trade of Manzanita—and eventually they bought the farm, literally.
R-evolution Gardens is a fantastic product of hard work, vision, energy, and the bliss of ignorance; an organic, off the grid permaculture laboratory. “We had no idea what we were doing,” Ginger admits. “We started with this land that had been a logging site with incredibly damaged soil and blackberries over your head. I’d never farmed in my life, neither had Brian. We started with these pigs, to root out the blackberries . . . it was totally out of control, but it worked!” And how: after only four years on the land the farm sports several structures, a hoop house, perennial plantings (nut and fruit trees, asparagus, rhubarb), and annual crops. Oh, and chickens, ducks, bees, and a fresh batch of kittens.
The seed of R-evolution began with Ginger’s interest in permaculture. “Permaculture is sustainable living design,” she explains. “Trying to think about the property and lifestyle so you can close all the loops. Inputs being met by your waste products, incorporating as much recycling and reuse as you can.” Ginger started her permaculture education at a two-week workshop in California, taught by earth activists Starhawk and Penny Livingston. The interest became a passion, and it became clear that her new direction needed to be toward living the principles embodied by permaculture. Ginger sold her fair trade retail operation, It’s Only Fair, and began work with the Lower Nehalem Community Trust, where she created a children’s teaching garden and a permaculture garden. She found herself fulfilled in a way she hadn’t been in a long time, and that satisfaction was clear to community member Mark Beach. “He saw my passion and excitement for this work and offered to sell me some land. He and his partner Kathleen Ryan, are a big, big part of why we are here.”
For Brian’s part, he states that “I didn’t grow up around agriculture and I never envisioned being a small-scale farmer. Like so many things in life, the route here was a sinuous chain of circumstances that coalesced into this lifestyle. It was a bit of serendipity and a lot of hard work.” He is self-confessed to be “not much good with growing things,” and supports the farm by building structures and creating the off the grid systems. His own home, which he finished at Christmastime, is an example of the ingenuity Brian applies to his learn-as-you-go lifestyle and a testament to eco-building. He traded a boat class for lessons in timber framing from a Montana builder. Wood that he’d been saving for just the right project became shelves. A kayak transformed into a ceiling light fixture. Trees for the house came from nearby property, in the form of blow-down, or were hauled from the river. Earth and plaster walls, recycled blue jeans insulation, and earth paint completed the Japanese-inspired home. Brian milled the wood himself and adds to his skills with every structure he builds.
The essence of off the grid and farm living is embracing DIY. And relying on community, bartering of skills, the sharing of knowledge and time. The community piece is huge for R-evolution Gardens, as their small farmstead is home to not only themselves, but also an assortment of interns and WOOFers (an international network matching workers to room and board farm placements). “I see these kids come and I see seeds being planted in them,” Ginger enthuses. “I don’t know where they will all end up, but I love knowing that people are getting inspired and taking that out in the world.” Brian and Ginger work every day—although some vacation time gets squeezed in—and the young helpers they have do a tremendous amount of work.
R-evolution offers a CSA for the Rockaway to Cannon Beach area, operate a stand at the Manzanita and Cannon Beach farmers’ markets, and with two more acres leased for cultivation may find themselves at an additional market. As always, much depends on the weather.
“In some ways,” laughs Ginger, “the Oregon Coast is the craziest place to try off the grid organic farming. What the land here wants to be is a forest, so that influences how and what we plant—to create a food forest. And we just don’t have the electrical support to have heat lamps for young seedlings—we do the best we can with a hoop house and an insulated room and blankets.” The idea of a food forest includes planting a canopy of fruit and nut trees, with a brush understory of raspberries and blueberries, with the annual vegetables as a ground cover. The farmers give the land the “forest” it wants to be anyway, but are planting what they want to harvest.
Possibly the most exciting thing happening at the farm these days are the skills classes. From grafting trees, raising chickens, and beekeeping to building simple farm infrastructure, R-evolution is the go-to small farms “institute” on the coast. “If we had access to the classes we’re offering now, we would have saved thousands of dollars,” says Ginger. “That’s why we want to give back to others who are trying to learn these skills. And it gives our local farmers a chance to share what they know.” And education is an important part of both Brian and Ginger’s personal life missions. They both love to teach, and find that merely living the values they believe in isn’t nearly as satisfying as empowering others in the bargain.
Showing others that off the grid living is possible not only allows Brian and Ginger to walk their talk but to have an impact on the planet in an exponential way. Unlike the activism that fueled their lives for many years, the R-evolution lifestyle is not about resistance but saying yes! Yes to growth, learning, giving back, building community, food security, and a sustainable life. “Doing these things is good for the planet, but that’s not why I do it,” Brian says. “I live this way because it makes me feel good, because it feels right.” R-evolution Farms has varied power sources including solar and wood (sourced from their land), and is committed to no fossil fuels for energy or heat.
Opportunities abound for individuals who wish to live their lives according to a more sustainable ethos. Even one small change makes a difference. Ginger says this: “What is the best thing people can do? Deepen your connections to what is important to you. And if one of those things you choose is to deepen your connection to is your food and the farmers that grow it, that is just as good as growing it yourself. Reinvest in the connections and it will take you where you need to go. Food connects to EVERYTHING in your life. Food is fun, cooking is fun, getting to know your farmer is fun! It will make you happier, I guarantee it!”
R-evolution Gardens is located in the Nehalem Valley, off of Hwy. 53. Their blog and website have up to date class information, CSA membership info, and great photos and stories of farm life: www.revolutiongardens.com. Tel: 503-368-3044 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.