The La Grande Farmers’ Market features an eclectic blend of vendors and growers who add unique elements to a smorgasbord of fresh produce that’s arguably unmatched in Union County. The market includes a home-grown taste of the Willamette Valley, thanks to the efforts of Becky and Joe Platz and their three children.
The produce the Platz family brings to the farmers’ market on many Tuesdays and Saturdays includes strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, all fruits produced in abundance in the Willamette Valley but not commonly grown in the Grande Ronde Valley.
Platz Family Produce is one of the only commercial growers of strawberries, raspberries or blackberries in Union County, according to Becky.
The scarcity of such growers is understandable considering it is more difficult to raise strawberries, raspberries or blackberries in Northeast Oregon than in the Willamette Valley, where they naturally flourish in part because of a soil type which is at least slightly acidic. The Platz family farm, in northwest Union, also has ground that is conducive to growing the fruit.
“It is slightly acidic or neutral,’’ Joe said. “We are fortunate that we have good soil.’’
Growing strawberries, blackberries and raspberries is a challenge anywhere because they are labor intensive plants, according to Becky.
She noted that strawberries plants must be replaced every three or four years because they stop producing after that point. Growers also have to train strawberry plants to stay within a space by pushing runners into rows.
“They just want to grow everywhere,’’ Becky said.
Raspberries are difficult to grow because they have to be tied to wires so they don’t grow into open rows between them. They also require plenty of trimming. Becky said her family has spent 24 days this year trimming their raspberry plants, doing work like cutting out dead cane.
Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are also labor intensive, requiring substantial weeding work, especially when the plants are young.
“They need a lot of weeding before they are established,’’ Becky said.
Becky and Joe do this work and much more with the able assistance of their children, Joy, Noah and Samuel, ages 8 to 11.
“They help in all aspects including washing and packing,’’ Becky said.
“They are a very integral part of the business.’’
The children are continuing a family tradition which dates back several generations. Joe’s grandfather was a farmer in New Plymouth, Idaho for many years. Later he farmed in Boring, where Joe grew up.
Joe Platz credits his grandfather with instilling a lifelong interest in farming.
“It has long been a passion of mine. I can’t remember not wanting to do it,’’ he said.
Joe helped his grandfather farm and he said they grew close while working together.
“The Lord put it in my heart to do what my grandfather had done,’’ said Joe Platz, who also is a fisheries technician for the U.S. Forest Service and has a degree in fisheries science from Oregon State University.
Becky, who has a masters degree in education, also said she believes that her love of farming is inherited. She noted that her great grandparents were farmers in Pennsylvania.
The strawberries, blackberries and raspberries the Platz family raises are just a portion of what it produces. The family of five also grows sweet corn, onions, sugar snap peas, tomatoes and more. All of this is sold at the Farmers Market, at the produce stand on their farm and via a u-pick operation. Their farm is open to u-pickers from 8 a.m. to noon every Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday in the late spring through the summer.
Opening up their fields for u-pickers is among the most enjoyable parts of running the farm for the family.
“You meet the most fascinating people’’ Becky Platz said.
They include a woman in her 80s who showed up to pick strawberries this spring.
“She had a commercial orchard but had not grown strawberries. She had to come and find out for herself what it was like to pick strawberries,’’ Becky Platz said.
The Platz family’s produce stand is open regularly during the spring and summer. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Platz Family Produce is closed on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
More than fruit and vegetables are sold at the Platz family’s produce stand for it includes a booth showcasing the creativity of the people of Union. Repurposed furniture and decor made by Jill McGraw and Shari Hurst is sold there plus dish towels and cloths made by Jennifer McBride.
“Our hope is that people will come and buy the unique things of Union. There are so many incredibly creative people in our community,’’ Becky Platz said.
The Platz family has lived in Union for eight years. It grew a garden there before starting a farm by adding 31/2 acres of cropland three years ago. The expansion allowed allowed the Platz family, who live on the northwest edge of Union, to start a full fledged farm.
The Platz family has received a lot of help from the community en route to establishing an operation which produces a bounty of fruits and vegetables each year. This assistance has included advice from experienced farmers in picking the types of crops and fertilizers which do best in the Grande Ronde Valley and tips on watering.
“We can’t make it on our own. We are all apart of a community,’’ Becky Platz said.
The assistance Becky speaks of is never more evident than at the Farmers Market, where the Platz family sells produce each Tuesday and Saturday. Growers there, bonded by a love of all things agricultural, often reach out to one another.
“We have a great network support system of farmers working together. It is a good community,’’ Becky Platz said.