Photos and text by Kathleen Bauer
The son of a renowned Massachusetts botanist, Anthony Boutard was raised with the rich aromas of the earth and an appreciation for the changes in the natural world that come with the turning of the seasons. Educated as a forester, he came out West to work with a new organization, 1000 Friends of Oregon, dedicated to preserving a balance between urban and rural life.
After a few years of living and working in Portland, he and his wife, Carol, decided to move out of the city and engage their growing commitment to local, organic food. Looking for a farm that was close enough to the city to make deliveries, in 1998, they found a 140-acre working farm on the banks of little Ayers Creek in Gaston, Oregon.
“If you’ve got one and a half million people who are potential customers, it makes it a little more workable than if you were 350 miles away,” he said of their choice, adding that it wasn’t all cold calculation. “It just had a good feel to it.”
With little practical experience under their belts, they experimented with various crops that would both grow well on their land and would appeal to potential customers.
“A lot of crops fail here,” he said of the search for varieties that do well on the farm’s 80 acres of arable soil. “But we can plow under our mistakes pretty quickly.”
Choosing to sell direct to the public rather than to distributors, the Boutards joined what they describe as a “cook’s market,” the small but well-curated selection of vendors at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market just outside the city’s core. Many of the city’s premier chefs soon heard about the quality and unusual variety of Ayers Creek’s produce, especially the chicories, tomatoes, garlic and the polenta that Anthony grinds from heirloom flint corn. And many became regular customers.
That corn has become his passion, so much so that he wrote a book about it called “Beautiful Corn: America’s Original Grain from Seed to Plate.” Not bad for a crop he says was originally just a whim, borne from childhood memories like the smell of cornbread fresh from the oven.
“It was a listing in the High Mowing Seed Company catalog that said ‘makes good cornbread,’” he said, chuckling. And he thinks it’s the perfect crop for where he is in his life.
“I am past middle age, and this corn suits an old man,” he said of the flint corn he’s become so fond of.
With a mischievous glint in his eye, he added, “You pick it when you want to and you grind it when you want to. If there’s an ear worm on it, you snap it off. It’s a corn that grows to full maturity and it’s for a person of a full maturity. Youngsters should not play around with this corn.”
Kathleen Bauer is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, focusing on agriculture and field-to-plate issues. Her blog, Good Stuff NW, is about her journey to connect the dots between what happening in the field and what she’s putting on her table, including stories about people who are making a difference in our local food system, about eating sustainably and locally, and about the political issues affecting the food we find at our markets and stores.