On the southeast side of Mount Shasta, there is a never-ending forest of towering pine and fir trees, manzanita bushes, and fields of dense black lava that were launched from the center of this still active volcano decades ago. It’s a beautiful landscape of rugged terrain, evergreen from the giant conifers, yet aired and exposed. This environment, at 3,600 feet, is not a viable home for everything or everyone. It takes a hardy kind: rugged bears, sprinting rabbits, root systems developed to hold onto sandy, fastdraining soil, the constitution to be able to shake off months of winter’s heavy snow and welcome summer days that can reach triple digits. In the heart of this landscape, up dirt roads that share the same names as the trees and bushes that are directly in sight, you’ll find Lava Oasis Farm.
Many would not consider this environment fertile, yet Keith and Ruth Peddinghaus have created a productive oasis. Their farm’s name percolates from the lava like water, an “inspired oxymoron,” as Ruth puts it. Lava Oasis is a mantra, a manifestation. Through inspiration from this environment, their abundance of creativity, skill, devotion to the land and each other, they thrive in this high elevation oasis, and the communities of McCloud and Mount Shasta get to reap the rewards of their hard work.
Keith and Ruth raised their two boys in Santa Rosa, while running their own landscape contracting business for twelve years, before seeking refuge near McCloud. They now live off the grid and are able to follow their dreams of having a small produce farm and living a life made by their own hands. As dreams go, theirs have grown, stretched, adapted, and been reinvented. From the beginning, they jumped right into the beautifully hectic market garden lifestyle, willing and excited to try a hand at everything!
Starting in 2008, Lava Oasis Farm was home to meat birds: ducks, chickens, turkeys, and quail, numerous edible perennials, as well as garden boxes and greenhouses filled with an abundance of food crops: huge heads of cabbages and overflowing buckets of freshly harvested potatoes. When they noticed the lack of native pollinators and their unfertilized zucchini plants failed to produce fruit, they introduced their own hive of honeybees, which added beekeeping and honey production to the mix. Ruth has now become an expert candle maker. She honors the prized work of the bees, using each bit of fragrant honeycomb to form ornate 100% beeswax candles.
Now their signature crop, microgreens joined the production line in in 2012. At that time, you couldn’t buy seed that was labeled specifically for microgreen production. They had to find seed on their own and come up with a tailored sprouting system for their unique environment. At first, they trialed a wide variety of species, keeping specific criteria in mind: great flavor, unique color, cost of seed, and ease of growth. Keith described their first harvest of microgreens with the excitement of the moment still in his voice, his taste buds coming alive as the story rolled off of his tongue.
The farmers come from Lava Oasis to opening day at Mount Shasta farmers’ market ready to talk microgreens and bees.
They gently cut their first harvest and mixed all the different species into one big bowl. They sat down as a family to enjoy this vibrant abundance of tender cotyledon seedlings, and everyone went silent, that silence when something is so yummy you forget about speech and just take in the moment. For Keith it was “the explosion of flavor” that these little greens packed. They knew they had something special!
They now offer up four different microgreen products. Their flagship Lava Oasis Blend, which contains eight different varieties of microgreens, mainly species of brassicas that provide the perfect blend of mild spice and “earthy grounding texture,” according to Ruth, along with buttery nuttiness from the crunch of the sunflower greens. Their Spicy Mix is a popular seller and kicks up the zing factor, with added radish, arugula, and mustard greens. They also offer up containers of just “Sunnies,” sunflower microgreens, and on request from local customers, are now putting together packages of broccoli microgreens, which are teeming with sulforaphane, a powerful compound present in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli that is associated with lowering the risk of certain cancers, as well as many other health benefits.
At market you can see the love Keith and Ruth have for their product. They harvest all their microgreens the day of sale to ensure their customers are getting ultimate nutrition. More than a booth with microgreens and candles, their market stand circulates information. Customers walk into this classroom, and Ruth sweetly engages them, explaining the difference between microgreens and sprouts. “These little microgreens were just picked today. You see, that’s a cotyledon leaf. It’s not even the true leaf, which would be the next pair of leaves, which will be fuzzy, and you wouldn’t want to eat them. We grow these microgreens in soil, whereas sprouts on the other hand are grown using only water.”
Keith chimes in as she relates her market spiel, “Most people won’t even be listening to what she’s saying, but they get wrapped up in the excitement. They take a sample, go, ‘Oh my god, this is delicious!’”
Ruth emphasizes the nutrient value of each container. These microgreens embody all the nutrients of any plant grown out to full maturity. Imagine how many heads of broccoli you would have to eat to get the equivalent vitamins and minerals, compared to enjoying it at microgreen stage. The couple encourage customers to look at a container of microgreens not just as chef ’s confetti, adding it to the top of a salad or pinching a bit on top of tacos, but as a whole salad in itself. “Because they’re expensive, people just want to put a little on this and that,” says Ruth. “No, go for it!,” she continues. “Have an eight dollar salad and don’t feel bad about enjoying the whole thing at once. You won’t feel overstuffed, you’ll have energy. Think of is as purchasing a nice piece of salmon or steak.”
Ruth recommends, in her bowl-of-microgreens salad, a light vinaigrette as dressing, with a healthy pinch of curry powder mixed in with the oil and vinegar. She also advocates mixing a ripe avocado into the vinaigrette and stirring the thicker result into the bowl. The cotyledon leaves cradle the dressing; a wonderful mix of crunch and smooth results.
Back on North Mount Shasta Boulevard, as farmers’ market shoppers walk by, the couple are generous with samples. If at first their samples are turned down, they keep coaxing. Sure enough, they’re successful in getting folks to accept a taste of microgreens, often for the first time. Keith and Ruth love it when they encourage someone who has never heard of microgreens to give them a try. Burly men with thick fingers that can barely pick up the baby microgreens bring them to their mouth and are surprised by their great flavor and often inspired to purchase a container. Keith and Ruth say this happens all the time. With microgreens they are able to meet everyone at their own level. “It’s really special to be able to connect with people on a food level and with microgreens, because it’s not meat or dairy. They’re easy to bite and ingest. They can be enjoyed by everyone, at every age. It’s a beautiful playing field,” states Ruth.
Having found a love in growing and providing the community with microgreens and artisan 100% beeswax candles, they’ve scaled down their animal and market farm business plan. The Peddinghauses say, “As farmers we have found the sweet spot where it’s supporting us, yet we still have a life. At this time in our life we’re not looking to scale up. We’re looking at what works.” However, they’re always dreaming about the next project at their oasis.
Kate O’Brien-Mann fills most of her days with the tasks of running a farming business. When she’s not in the fields, she finds time for hiking, music concerts, gatherings with friends and is training for her first marathon, along with her husband, the date of which is on their first wedding anniversary. This is the first of a four-part series in which she brings readers through four seasons on her farm in Grenada, in Siskiyou County. homewardbountyfarm.com