By Patrick Newson

Small farming is, and always has been, a community endeavor, especially in this area. Eugene boasts one of the oldest continual farmers markets in the country. To sustain our local food network, however, we rely on a consistent renewal of people to supply the produce and energetic innovation and dedication to do so sustainably. Dan and Shelley Schuler, who own and operate Moondog’s Farm in Marcola, are just two of the people pushing for adopting processes and practices of sustainability, but the impact they have in this food network is far greater than the sum of their parts.

Established in 2018, Moondog’s has been in a regular state of reinvention and development. Executing their well-laid plans for sustainability has not been a rapid or simple endeavor, especially because a major part of the operation involves cultivating fruit trees like apples, peaches, and Asian pears — crops that take a half-decade or longer to see any return on investment. Moondog’s pairs its dedication to organic, “intimate cultivation,” as Shelley describes it, with cover-cropping, conservation tillage, and the use of minimal plastic. But one of the most unique decisions the Schulers have made to help strengthen the resiliency of the local environment and food system is to “dry farm.”

Dry farming conserves existing water resources in the soil and encourages plants to be more self-sufficient. By forgoing irrigation, the plants struggle at first but establish a stronger, more climatically resilient root structure. This leads to typically smaller yields, but the produce has more flavor and better texture. For quality and ecological benefits, dry farming is almost a no-brainer, especially for apples and tomatoes, crops that Moondog’s has specialized in.

The apples, in particular, are a philosophically driven initiative for Dan, who manages the orchards. Right now, he’s cultivating more than 70 different types of apples, and last fall Moondog’s launched an apple CSA to highlight the differences between all the varieties. “Preserving and promoting genetic diversity in our food is really gratifying work,” he says. “We’re looking at the long-term view, where some of the trees we’re cultivating will probably outlive us.” This trajectory also aligns with what Dan calls “personal rhythms,” recognizing that working with trees can be less stressful on the body over the course of a farming career.

Although the Marcola farm has operated as a test plot for dry farming, including several research studies with squash, corn, and beans, the idea was always to expand the business closer into town. In 2023, the Schulers acquired a property just off River Road in North Eugene that had previously been an established orchard and cider pressing operation. Here they plan to set up a commercial kitchen to continue making the wide array of value-added products that have been a cornerstone of the farm business for years.

“So much of that came from wanting to reduce food waste and use all the parts of what we are growing,” says Shelley. For example, cilantro can be used for making pesto, and then once it goes to seed, the coriander is incorporated into the salt or herb blends Moondog’s offers. Fennel pollen salt is another popular product, but just one look at their farmers market display shows the breadth of their wares. Along with a full range of fruit jams, jellies, and preserves — including strawberry, raspberry, and dry-farmed tomato jam — Moondog’s also makes a line of popular hot sauces. The chili and salsa verde both have a bit of a kick, but one of the best-selling bottles, the “Dream Sauce,” is made with heatless habañero peppers to deliver all of the bold flavors without the sting.

All of these products and produce are seasonally available at the Lane County Farmers Market and online. Lane County Bounty, which began as a Moondog’s online store, blossomed into a digital ordering platform and multi-farm CSA with the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

“This was our response to the closure of the in-person farmers market,” says Shelley.

By calling in community and diversifying the business — Moondog’s has begun catering alongside its light-processing and home-delivery operations — this small farm continues to build systems of resiliency into the things they grow and produce.

Moondog’s Farm

Lane County Bounty