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The road less traveled; Peoria Road offers farm stand and nursery alternatives to crowded stores
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The road less traveled; Peoria Road offers farm stand and nursery alternatives to crowded stores

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Some people know how to make an entrance.

Wednesday was the opening day of the season for the Peoria Road Farm Market, and Diane Young strolled into the business’ barn clapping her hands. “It’s spring,” exclaimed the Corvallis resident, who was wearing a surgical-style mask.

“We love this place,” she added, to anyone within earshot.

With spring hitting full stride, farm stands are gradually opening up on rural roads across Oregon, and that includes Peoria Road.

The scenic drive winds for roughly 20 miles in Linn County, running parallel to the Willamette River from just east of Corvallis on Highway 34 to Harrisburg on Highway 99E. Motorists can cruise past fields of tall fescue, wholesale nurseries, stately barns, a Linn County park and boat launch, and the unincorporated community of Peoria, once the site of a post office, a ferry and grain warehouses.

Glen Tippen of Junction City, who was buying plants at Gindhart Nursery last week, said he enjoys bicycling or driving on Peoria Road because of the way the grass grows. “You can see the fertileness of the valley,” he added.

Along Peoria Road, there are a few family-owned businesses that are seeing increased demand this spring as the novel coronavirus pandemic has residents worried about shopping in crowded supermarkets and other large stores in the “big cities” of Albany and Corvallis.

Plus, gas is cheaper than it’s been in years right now, and with social distancing rules still in place, the timing feels perfect for a drive in the countryside.

Here’s a look at three of the businesses along Peoria Road: the Peoria Road Farm Market; Gindhart Nursery; and Horse Creek Farms.

(A fourth mainstay along Peoria Road, Country Bakery, 26615 Peoria Road, is closed until May 8 according to a sign in front of the business. The bakery only operates on Fridays and Saturdays.)

Peoria Road Farm Market

The big red barn at the Peoria Road Farm Market sits about 1.5 miles from Highway 34, and the structure has always seemed inviting. That’s true more than ever due to the open-air feel of the barn, which functions much like a large picnic shelter.

Justin and Margaret Henderson have been married for 20 years, and this is their 11th season running the business.

“Right now, we’re focused on plants, garden starts and flowers,” Margaret Henderson said.

By June, the focus will switch to produce harvested from the 60 acres behind the market, including bright red strawberries and sweet corn. Eggs, milk and butter are available, as well.

This year clearly has been different, the Hendersons said. For starters, they haven’t had trouble finding employees with all of the job losses in the mid-Willamette Valley.

Plus, with everyone stuck at home, demand is extremely high for plant starts, garden art and more.

“So far, industry-wide, it’s been a very good year for garden centers,” Justin Henderson said.

“We’ve had people circling our parking lot for weeks,” Margaret Henderson said.

During warm weather about two weeks earlier, Young and her husband Kerry Hanson had stopped in the market’s parking lot, but, alas, found the business was still closed. But they put the market’s opening day on their calendar, Young said.

“I like that it’s local. Great family, great produce and great plants. And it’s close to home,” Young said.

“We really have been waiting for this place to open,” Hanson said, as the couple picked out flower starts in a greenhouse.

Everything isn’t perfectly rosy for the Peoria Road Farm Market, of course. The business has some of the best restaurants in the mid-valley as clients, but eateries can only offer takeout due to government rules, and many are entirely closed.

Plus, there are other concerns.

The market has a handwashing station for customers to use before they enter the barn or head to the greenhouses.

Justin Henderson also hoped to figure out a method of gently discouraging people from handling fruits and vegetables repeatedly to find the perfect one, as that could help spread COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Peoria Road Farm Market, 33269 S.E. Peoria Road is open during the spring from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday. For more information call 541-207-3327 or go to the market’s Facebook page.

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Gindhart Nursery

Nancy Abbey, who lives outside Junction City, said that she makes the drive up to Gindhart Nursery because the business has the best prices around and there’s helpful service.

Plus, what else can she do right now?

“If you have to sit at home, it might as well be beautiful,” Abbey said. “Everybody’s garden is going to look really beautiful this year.”

Last week, Abbey was getting a mix of pretty and edible for her property, including begonias, peppers and onions.

Gindhart Nursery is a multi-generational family affair. Owners Bob and Myra Gindhart work with daughter Tammy Carter and grandson Jacob Jones. Jones’ children, who are 8, 4, and 3, love to help out, as well.

The business was started in Peoria proper in 1941 by Madora Gindhart, Bob Gindhart’s mother. Since 1953, the nursery has been a few miles up the road.

Gindhart Nursery has seen lots of new customers this spring, though Myra Gindhart thought that might be because there’s now a greenhouse full of houseplants, which is a new addition.

“We also have customers because there’s nowhere else to go. I’m sure every other business like ours is just as busy,” she said.

Myra Gindhart said her nursery has far more variety than most garden centers, plus, her family can answer questions from customers. “We talk with our people,” she said.

With all the various greenhouses and shelters, “You don’t have to be crowded anywhere you go,” Myra Gindhart said.

The nursery sits on the site of the former town of Burlington, Myra Gindhart said. Years ago, Burlington Park along the Willamette River was the site of gatherings when politicians would come to the area and for other special occasions. Myra Gindhart plans to turn the former park into an events venue for next summer.

Gindhart Nursery, 30274 Peoria Road, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday year-round. For more information, call 541-491-3708 or go to GindhartNursery.com or the nursery’s Facebook page.

Horse Creek Farms

Aart Falk’s family has been farming in Linn County for more than a century.

He and his wife Sheri Falk, who went to Central Linn High School together, are primarily grass seed farmers. But every year, their farm stand seems to get more popular.

“This has been a nice addition,” Sheri Falk said.

The farm stand started off as a self-serve table and umbrella back in the mid-1990s, but it’s a bit more ambitious now, with two freezers full of meat, including grass-fed beef, as well as smoked jerky and pepperoni sticks, eggs and jams. “We raise cattle, hogs, lambs and chicken. Some years, we do turkey,” Sheri Falk said.

Produce grown by the Falks will be added to the mix with the warmer weather. There’s also a shed with farmhouse furniture and crafts, such as greeting cards made by Sheri Falk and her friends.

“We try and grow everything we sell,” Sheri Falk said. “Some people will come in and ask why we don’t have bananas. Well, we can’t grow those in Oregon.”

Typically, the Horse Creek Farms stand on the corner of Irish Bend Loop and Peoria Road doesn’t open until June 1. “But we started getting phone calls,” Sheri Falk said. And the farm stand opened up in early April.

Customers have been buying in bulk, and the Falk’s 25-pound boxes of pork and 36-pound boxes of hamburger have proved especially popular this spring as people stock up due to coronavirus concerns.

Animals are processed by Mohawk Valley Meats in Springfield and smoked by Taylor’s Sausage in Cave Junction, Aart Falk said.

He hopes that the surge in popularity for his business is long-term. “If people start buying at the farm, it might last. It’s really hard to tell,” Aart Falk said.

Many long-time customers of Horse Creek Farms stumbled across the business by chance, he added.

“Our joke is you have to get lost to find us,” Sheri Falk said.

For Cheryl Brownell of Lebanon, that has a ring of truth. “This is my first time. I took a country drive to get out of the house and ran right into it. That was last week,” she said on Friday, as she purchased meat from the farm stand.

“People need to support local farmers, and they also need good food. Grass-fed beef is better for you,” Brownell added.

Horse Creek Farms, 26491 Irish Bend Loop, is currently open on Fridays only from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until June 1. The business will be open on Monday through Saturday in June. For more information, call 541-369-3603 or go to www.horsecreekfarmsoregon.com or the farm’s Facebook page.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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