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Talent organic startup competes for grant dollars

Valhalla Organics, a startup business that sells locally grown products and supports bees, is competing for a share of $25,000 in grant money available to small farms in an online contest.

Valhalla is competing in Cultivating Change’s national farm grant program. The group will award $25,000 in grants split between the top five vote-getters, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $2,000. As of Saturday, Valhalla was in third place.

“Like any new business, there are always risks. I think we are very well positioned to move into the future,” said Ruby Reid. “We don’t need this grant money, but it would certainly help.”

Valhalla would use the money to help purchase a four-wheel drive to access its remote 5 acres near Bly Mountain in winter and to triple the number of beehives from the five currently at that site. Reid and partner Chris Day also farm in town and prepare products for local markets.

Day, a former U.S. Army tank driver, and Reid met on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. Trained as a social worker, Reid was able to give up her regular job last year to devote full time to the business.

“We actually walked into Southern Oregon in 2015 and fell in love with the place,” she said.

They rented a house in Talent that included nearly half an acre, where they immediately started growing crops.

“We started growing more in our little backyard than we could possibly eat or give away, so I sold a few jars of homemade pickles and jelly. Folks were so enthusiastic about the goodies that I sold some more, and then I sold a lot more,” said Reid.

Valhalla’s products are for sale at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Markets during its season and Thursdays at the indoor market at Fry Family Farm.

“We were looking for land all over Southern Oregon, places like the Applegate,” said Reid. “We found that we could buy 5 acres in Klamath (County) on what would be a small down payment in the Rogue Valley.”

Valhalla’s acreage beyond Bonanza is off the grid and surrounded by forest. The couple bought the land in 2017, then used crowdfunding source Indiegogo for development. A successful campaign allowed them to install solar power and build two greenhouses and a small shed. A small trailer provides living space. Water comes from two storage tanks, but plans call for installation of a well in the next two years.

There is currently about two feet of snow on the property, and access is up a dirt road. A Ford Explorer had to be retired recently, leaving only a two-wheel drive compact for moving supplies and hives.

Raising bees is more about helping the species than selling honey, said Reid. She’s only sold a little, leaving the rest to ensure bee health. Since moving five hives to Bly in May 2018, Reid observed that the bees seemed to thrive better than in Talent. She attributes that to a lack of common garden chemicals used in Rouge Valley.

“They grow faster than I have ever seen bees grow,” said Reid, who is secretary of the Bee City USA-Talent committee and acting secretary for Pollinator Project Rogue Valley.

Hives at the Bly Mountain site should have enough of their own food stored to survive the winter, said Reid. “We tucked them in really good, gave them insulation and added solidified sugar ‘candy boards’ as an emergency food supply,” Reid explained. Ultimately the couple plan to install a septic system and build a house on the property. They experimented with plants at the site this summer.

Cultivating Change’s national farm grant program is offered by Greener Fields Together, a business that works with farmers and distributors to help evolve sustainable, eco-driven companies and assists with getting products to retailers. A second grant category has awards totaling $60,000 for Green Fields member farms and businesses in a panel review competition.

There are more than 200 pledged voters locally who can vote once per day throughout the contest period for Valhalla. Vote counts and the opportunity to vote can be found at cultivatingchange.org, under the vote option. Voting began New Year’s Day and ends Jan. 31. The farm’s website is valhallaorganics.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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