Interview with Nathan Bernard of the
Yachats Brewery + Farm Store
TYG: What caused your recent shift from general produce to more of a brewed goods store?
Nathan: Well, our mission remains the same as the brewery and farm store, which is primarily to create a physical space for interaction to occur within this community. That’s really the core of our mission. As you probably remember, there was a significant amount of our space devoted to locally-grown produce. We loved having that here! We also found it very challenging to manage that produce department; it was more work than we had anticipated, and it was something that, when it came right down to it, was competing with the bottom line for space as the demand for made-to-order food and beer and other beverages increased. So we made the decision, about the first of this year, that we would temporarily remove the produce and that we would use our space differently until the time that we can reincorporate that into our model.
TYG-Graphic Design: So there’s a hope for it?
Nathan: There is. We may start by doing essentially a produce stand one day a week here, from our own farm. Cicely and I are growing significantly more and farming in earnest now, actually producing food that’s served here. We’re enjoying that very much, and would like to increase what we’re producing. One of the other goals that we had when we started this was to share information about what is being produced locally, and what’s not; and where there’s demand, and not supply, in the hopes that it would motivate local farmers, or people interested in getting into farming, to take the leap and to make a commitment to that, with the knowledge that they have a partner in that equation, that we would be a customer and a retailer of their products. That’s something that we would still very much like to stimulate in the local farming community. Where are the gaps—we’re still buying all of our cucumbers and things that we use for pickling and all of our cabbage from Gathering Together Farm, which is a wonderful farm [in Philomath] and we love it very much, but we would also love to see a local family or individuals able to create a livelihood here in Yachats producing those same things. It seems like that’s a win for everyone.
TYG-GD: I’ll tell you one thing I do miss, is being able to buy local meats.
Nathan: We have the meat still! We do! You’ve missed it—it’s right around the corner of the vault. We kept the meat case because so many people were like: “We can’t get meat anywhere else!”
TYG-GD: Exactly! That’s really important to me!
Nathan: We have an extensive selection of local, pasture-raised meats.
TYG-GD: At least Ray’s had some pasture-fed ground beef, but that was the only thing I could find...
Nathan: It’s tough! That was one of our big motivations when we first started writing this business plan. I’ve shared this story many times: Basically, we’d go to the valley to do our grocery run, or go get dog food, or whatever it was—a lot of times it was either groceries or gardening supplies, organic soil amendments, things like that. And we’d get home, we’d run into a neighbor, and we’d say “Hey, what did you do today?” and they’d say, “Well, I went to the valley to go get groceries!” “Oh well, me too.” And as I went around, I started saying that there’s a solveable problem here. We can do this. We can create a local place for this to happen.
TYG-GD: An Exchange!
TYG: Why did you guys go to the valley instead of Newport, or something?
Nathan: Because even as much as we love Oceana and appreciate what they do, and shop there regularly at this point... for us, being able to get bulk, high-quality, organic goods required trips to the Valley. Now that we’ve worked so much with Oceana here [at the Farm Store], as a business, we are more aware of what they bring to their location, and how the other ways of working with them exist. Cicely and I, personally for our own home, are members of the Azure Standard Co-op, and we get some of our bulk grains [through them].
TYG-GD: What’s that?
Nathan: It’s basically a large cooperative. You have essentially a drop organizer who coordinates a group. In this case, it was Charlotte Rafter for many years who would coordinate the drop. They do animal feeds, they do natural groceries, they do all sorts of stuff, and they deliver once a month. That takes some of the pressure off—we buy our beans and rice in 50-pound bags now.
TYG: I certainly didn’t know you guys made made-to-order foods!
Nathan: We do now! So, about the first of the year, we took a really hard look at where we were tracking. We’ve always known that part of a successful business strategy is to leave a certain amount of adaptability and flexibility in your business model, so that as new information comes in, as you’re able to feel what’s happening, you’re able to adapt to that. I’ve found that if you’re really fixed in your business plan, you sometimes miss opportunities as you encounter them because of that rigidity. So for us, this first of the year was a time for us to think through what adjustments can we make here? What opportunities exist? One of the things that we heard the most from people was, “We really wish there was more, and more comfortable seating; and we wish that you had a bigger menu with more food to order so that we could stay longer and enjoy a meal here.” That was the feedback we were hearing, Food is an obvious component of what we do. I, frankly, was pretty hesitant to get into what we could now call “the restaurant business”—that’s really what, in a lot of ways, is a big piece of this: made-to-order food, and the experience of coming here and eating, and sampling, enjoying what we have to offer. So we made those changes.
TYG-GD: Was this after Annie [McHale-Gray] left?
Nathan: Yes, so when Annie and Kurt left for the Gorge, right around that same time, we managed to meet and then hire Rachel [Hedeen]. Her presence in the kitchen was transformative to that side of our business. She brought a level of creativity and professionalism that completely changed the equation for us. [...] She grew up in the Wilamette Valley, south of Portland, around Colton. So she’s from the area, loves the coast, spent a lot of time out here. She’s just fantastic. She is getting well-deserved accolades for her food. She produces wonderful food.
TYG: So how has business been going?
Nathan: We have had an incredible summer. We have been filling the place pretty much day in and day out all summer and it has been wonderful. When we made those adjustments, feedback was pretty much immediate, saying “Yes! This is good! We like this.” We’ve tripled our staff; I think we are over 20 employees at this point.
TYG-GD: Are they all wait staff?
Nathan: Well, kind of. We don’t take orders at tables, like some restaurants do. You still order at the counter and you seat yourself, and we bring the food to you. We take drink orders and check in with people. So it is in a lot of ways like wait staff, but certainly a front of house and back of house. There’s Rachel’s domain and all things she’s involved with that are back of house—that includes all the baking that they’re doing.
TYG: You guys actually do grain baking?
Nathan: Yes, we make sourdough bread fresh every single day.
TYG: Sweet—I’ll have to try it sometime!
Nathan: Yep! And we’ve also expanded our smoking operation significantly, so now, in addition to the smoked salmon that we were already fairly well-known for, we smoke all of our own pastrami in house, smoke our own briskets, do smoked turkey for our sandwich. So that’s going well. We have a wonderful young man named Jimmy that has been running our smoker for us, and he’s doing a fantastic job. So, that’s all part of the new food equation here.
TYG: One thing that I’ve noticed, going back slightly, is that it seems to me there is a tipping point, especially around here in such a tourist-based community. There’s a tipping point between not really making it, and probably eventually going to go out of business; and, you’ve made it. Most of the businesses around here have made it. There are several businesses I’ve seen around here that have been great ideas, but there just hasn’t been enough demand from tourists—often quite a bit of demand from locals, but just not quite enough to sustain; and mostly it’s because they don’t have enough savings to get through the winter.
Nathan: Yes. You have to really be able to capitalize on the tourist season.
TYG: In my experience it’s always best to stock up in the spring—not for me so much, because I get [trade] all year ‘round—but in terms of other businesses. It’s always best to open in Spring. Stock up [...] and get enough savings to keep it open, because if you close it [during the winter], you’re probably not going to get it open again.
Nathan: Yes. That’s one of the biggest challenges to operating on the coast in a tourist economy. One of the things we looked at really closely as we wrote the business plan—the Farm Store business plan came before the Brewery business plan. Even though ten years ago I had organized a group called the Yachats Homebrew Guild, and I had organized some homebrewing classes, and we did a little bit of brewery-related stuff about ten years ago. The idea of a brewery existed, but I wrote the plan for the Farm Store first. It became fairly evident that to really be viable, it needed another cash driver in the equation. That was where the Brewery went from an idea to a business plan attached to the Farm Store. As we looked at and developed the Brewery plan, one of the models for a brewery is a brew pub, where you brew what you sell on-site, and you don’t sell outside of your own premises.
TYG: That’s basically what you do, right?
Nathan: That’s essentially what we’re doing right now. Our business model is to brew and sell beer on-site as a brew-pub—that’s what our liquor license describes us as, as a brew-pub—but the model extends beyond that to package product that sells to outside accounts. Our plan for the Brewery—and this is underway right now—now that we’re meeting the demand in-house (we have 11 of our beers on tap today, and we intend to keep at least ten of our beers on tap at any time)—now that we’re able to do that, we’re packaging more and more product, mostly into kegs at this point, but eventually into bottles. That product will go out into the world, either here on the coast, or into the Wilamette Valley and beyond. Those accounts will be there whether it’s tourist season or not in Yachats. So it’s a portion of our revenue will be generated from a predictable, year-round market. And so even though things contract a little bit here on site, there are some seasonal positions in our staffing, we still will be able to bridge the winter season, the slow tourist season, with the revenue from off-premise accounts.
TYG: It sort of ties back to a hypothetical model that Isaac Newton did when he was first thinking of momentum.
Nathan: Yes? I like momentum.
TYG: It’s basically a frictionless track—you start at the top, and go down. And it would never stop. However, that’s unrealistic, because there’s always going to be friction. In this case that’s represented by unexpected expenses, and things like that, which eventually would whittle down any kind of savings. So this kind of a thing would provide a kind of booster section on the track.
Nathan: Yes. We’re going for perpetual motion here. [laughter]
TYG: So, just that little bit of booster each year to keep it going.
Nathan: Alright Allen, I like that analogy. That’s a very good one. [laughter]
TYG: Shifting gears a little bit, how does the brewing process actually work?
Nathan: That’s a good question, and I can describe how the brewing process works in the broadest of terms, because my primary skillset, individually, is not in brewing; it is primarily in design and building, carpentry in particular. And as much as I consider myself an excellent beer drinker, I’m not an expert brewer. [laughter]
TYG-GD: Have you hired somebody for that purpose?
Nathan: We have, very much so. I have done none of the brewing in this business at all. Frankly, I’m not qualified. We have a wonderful head brewer. His name is Charlie VanMeter. We were very fortunate when we met and discussed the position with Charlie. We came to find out that his then fiancée, now wife, Jenna Steward, is also someone who is not only a skilled brewer, but also someone who has worked in the craft beer industry in a variety of capacities. She has a degree in the business of craft brewing, and has become a huge asset to the business. She and Charlie both came on board last June, and they are really what makes the brewery go around at this point. They are the operational component of this business. Jenna does marketing, she does bookkeeping, she does operational stuff, she does all of our reporting and meets all of our regulatory obligations and does a great job of it.
TYG: I bet you pay her well!
Nathan: She does get paid well, and so does Charlie. Basically, my goal is to pay people as much as I possibly can, because that means we are doing enough right that there is value in the business proposition that allows the people involved to be paid well.
TYG: That’s always a nice way to do things, instead of hoarding massive profit margins. Admittedly, that provides massive bank funding and a lot of very successful businesses have done that at first, but it’s not really that nice.
Nathan: Well, in my opinion, money is only one measure of success. I really do believe in the multiple bottom line model for business. I was able to attend a conference earlier this year that, among other things, discussed the concept of eight forms of capital. Those included social capital, environmental capital, financial capital—those are the ones that were primarily on our radar as embodying the ethics that come with permaculture design, which is the design methodology that I use in my work. The core ethic of permaculture is: “Care for Earth, care for people, return the surpluses.” So essentially if what you’re doing cares for the Earth, and it cares for people, it will create an abundance. And that abundance should be shared back into those two things. So that addresses that model of, “Do you maximize profits at the sacrifice of others?” or do you design a system that creates the most benefit in the most places for the most people, and the environment in which we live.
TYG-GD: And I think, in terms of Yachats, that fits pretty much exactly the way the community likes to think of itself.
Nathan: Yes, I think that ethics exists, absolutely. That ethic is very much in alignment with what I observe happening in Yachats. And I think that’s part of the appeal for us, to be here doing this: we have the support and alignment with the community, that will allow us to thrive.
TYG: The way I think of it mostly—this is the way I try to do things—is: There’s got to be a monetary bottom line, of course, to make sure you can make it quarter in, quarter out, or year in, year out, whatever. But after that, I feel like monetary value, in terms of its importance, should be kept to a minimum; after that, social capital should take precedence and actually focus on how happy people are, and try to make them happier.
TYG: So going back to the question itself, how does brewing work generally?
Nathan: Ah, right! The question, of course! [laughter]
TYG: That was probably the longest side-track in the world.
Nathan: I’m known for that. [laughter] The brewing process basically is this: A selection of grain, primarily barley, sometimes things like wheat and rye, are milled, then infused with hot water to make a sweet liquid that’s called “wort.” That wort is then boiled in a kettle or large vessel and hops are added at different times during that boil to affect the flavor.
TYG: What exactly are hops?
Nathan: Hops are a plant that is a vine, that produces a hop cone that is essentially the flower of the hop. Depending on the hop, different flavors and characteristics are infused into the beer as it’s being boiled in the kettle. Once it’s been boiled in the kettle for a certain amount of time, and the hops have been added, that liquid is then cooled to about 75°F or so and put into a fermenter, which is just another vessel, another big tank. Then we add yeast, which is called pitching the yeast. We use a certain strain of yeast for different kinds of beer, and you pitch that yeast into the fermenter. You close it up...
TYG-GD: ...and then it explodes!
Nathan: Well, except for the vent. The fermenter is where the yeast starts to interact with the sugars in the wort, and consume those sugars and produce alcohol and convert the flavors. Depending on the style of beer, it ferments for anywhere from a week to 10 days. Some styles of beers, like lagers, go much longer than that. In our case, because we have a fairly extensive barrel ageing program, we often put beer into oak barrels and age it for six months to a year or two to infuse the characteristics of that barrel, of the oak, into the beer.
TYG-GD: Are these barrels that you built, then?
Nathan: No, most of these are used wine barrels that we very carefully select and we clean—but you really want to get some of the characteristics of the wine that was in there.
TYG-GD: Like the fruit sugars?
Nathan: More like—it’s almost like having a culture that’s unique to the yeast and everything that was in that barrel to begin with. It’s a little out of my area of expertise, but I believe that essentially you have a unique culture in each barrel, literally from barrel to barrel. The beer takes on what it gets from the oak itself, and from the biology of that culture that exists in it.
TYG-GD: So you can never really reproduce a beer.
Nathan: With barrels, you mean?
TYG: Unless you use the same barrel!
TYG-GD: But wouldn’t the culture be leached out?
Nathan: Yes, and it changes over time; you certainly have to retire barrels—they’ll get to a point where something changes culturally within there, that produces something that is not what you were looking for. We do have one very large oak barrel that’s a type of barrel called a foudre in which we actually ferment. So that infuses another whole set of flavors.
TYG: Hopefully you never have to retire that one.
Nathan: Hopefully not. I mean, theoretically you would, eventually, but that’s an expensive barrel that you hope to get a lot of production out of. That’s a big one. That’s about a 500 gallon barrel.
TYG-GD: Do you stop the fermentation at a certain point?
Nathan: Yes! Well, it kind of peters out as the sugars are consumed. The yeast eats food; the sugar is its food; once it consumes the sugar it essentially dies off. But that still leaves a very significant yeast culture in the bottom of the fermenter, which we collect and feed and continue maintaining like a house yeast.
TYG-GD: Like a sourdough starter, or something.
Nathan: Yes, exactly. So some yeast we bring in specially for something and it’s packaged, and it’s just that; and we do maintain a house saison yeast, which is a particular type of Belgian yeast that we make a lot of different beers from that.
TYG-GD: And then you just put [the beer] into kegs?
Nathan: Yes. Once it is done fermenting... well, there is one more step. Once it’s done fermenting, it goes into what’s called a “bright tank.” The fermenters have this as well, but the bright tanks have a glycol jacket. So they have two layers, and in between the two layers is glycol that’s 29°F that’s circulated through that layer.
TYG: So it’s cooled down.
Nathan: Exactly. So what happens, is that through our control system, we can control the temperature of the beer in the tank. What happens is that it goes from the fermenter, to the bright tank, and then they drop the temperature way down; it’s about 75°F while it’s fermenting, and then they drop it way down into the 30’s, and my understanding is that that creates the condition where the proteins fall out of the beer and clarify the beer: that’s why they call it a bright tank—it brightens and clears the beer. Then we package from there—we go to the kegs from the bright tank.
TYG-GD: What happens to the grain when it’s finished boiling?
Nathan: Well, the grain is never boiled. It’s infused with 150°F hot water and it’s moved into the kettle and boiled once the grain has been left behind in the first vessel called the mash tun. So the grain is left behind after that initial infusion.
TYG-GD: What do you do with it?
Nathan: We give all of our spent grain to a local farmer who feeds it to a variety of animals, specifically chickens, pigs, and cows. They’re feeding their animals with our spent grain. Up until that relationship was established, I was adding spent grain that we were producing to the compost operation that I do with all of our food waste. 100% of the food waste that we create here, whether it’s bussed dishes—that kind of food waste—or it’s processing waste when we’re making krauts and other things: 100% of that food waste plus all of our biodegradable napkins and all of our paper products are all composted. I personally do all of that, so I have a composting system that’s able to keep up with that volume. I’ve been making soil for four years now with the compost from this, and we use it to grow the food that we bring back here.
TYG: That’s so smart! [laughter]
Nathan: It’s a lot of food waste to send to the landfill! It makes sense to get all that fertility back out in the form of compost.
TYG: Just one more question, then. When do you think all the new stuff will be up and running?
Nathan: New stuff?
TYG: Like the third story...
Nathan: That’s years out, probably. I would be shocked if we get that done in anything less than two years. It’s another big project.
TYG-GD: So you have just the tanks out in the back, then?
Nathan: Yes. In back there’s the brew house itself, which is kind of on the south end of the building. There are three cellars, one of which is like a big walk-in cooler, one is where we do all the packaging and cleaning, and another one is where we do all the barrel ageing. And then the production kitchen is on the north end here, and then on the second floor in back is our mechanicals, so that’s where our big chiller and our air compressor and our grain mill and all of that are.
TYG-GD: So you have a gravity feed into the mash tank?
Nathan: That was the original plan! But it was one of those situations where there are things you don’t know that you don’t know about. [laughs] And I thought, how could you go wrong with doing gravity, but it turns out that it’s more complicated than that. The mill would have to be on the third floor to batch to the second floor to gravity to the first floor, so we ended up using an auger that moves the grain from the mill room into the mash tun, and then there’s another device up in the mill room itself, called a cablevey, which is basically a tube, and inside the tube is a chain with little plastic discs. That is pulled through the tube by a mechanism that, when the grain falls into the tube under the mill, it’s picked up by those little plastic discs and moved into the bin.
TYG: That’s a very nice system!
Nathan: Again, that’s one of those things that I didn’t even know existed until we needed one, and then I got to learn all about it. [laughter]
TYG: Thank you so much!
Nathan: Thank you Allen, absolutely!
Interview with Walter Orchard
Walter (Wally) Orchard is the head of the Quiet Water Homeowners’ Association; owner of Afrodisa, where he grows orchids; and part of the Yachats Invasive Plants Subcommittee (also known as YIPS!).
TYG: So what exactly is Quiet Water?
Walter: Quiet Water is a homeowners’ association, which basically means that it’s a group of properties that have some kind of set of regulations and requirements so that individual properties can’t just do whatever they want to do. They have to abide by the bylaws of our association, and the CC&R’s—I’m trying to remember what it stands for [NB: covenants, conditions, and restrictions]. They need to maintain their properties in certain ways; they need to paint their house a certain color; if they want to make certain architectural changes, they need to get permission—it has to run through a committee. The association provides them certain facilities and services for them: garbage removal is paid for by the association; mowing is done by the association; and a few other things as well.
TYG: Swimming probably, as well.
Walter: Yes! There’s a swimming pool that’s open to members and their guests, and that’s open for three months a year. It’s an outdoor pool, and it’s impractical to keep it open all winter; the heating bill is bad enough in the summer. [laughter] One of our biggest expenses in Quiet Water is simply propane for heating the pool and the spa. A few years ago I did some internet research and I discovered that we could comfortably lower the temperature by a degree or two and hopefully the people wouldn’t notice it was getting a bit colder. [laughter] It’s still within the limits of pools.
TYG: So, what is the story of Quiet Water? How was it founded?
Walter: It was founded way before my time—it was founded by a developer, and it went through a lot of different planning stages and not everything worked out. I think most of the earliest structures were built in the 1980’s, and some of the things that happened then would not be permitted today. A lot of the ground was just cleared right down to the river; nowadays, there are regulations in place as to what you can do close to the edge of a river.
TYG-Graphic Design: Watershed regulations would be much different.
Walter: Right. In fact, we have a little trail along the river, more or less parallel to the river, but between the trail and the river, we are trying to maintain fairly natural [vegetation], and actually do some restoration on the river bank.
TYG: I used to kayak the river before it got blocked up. [...]
Walter: Are you talking about a blockage on the river itself?
TYG: Yes, a massive log dam. It’s only a half a mile up, and it’s huge, a massive big pile-up.
Walter: Actually, I just went canoeing up the river a couple of days ago, and you could go well past the water treatment plant and up to the first house you see along the river. There’s a tree across the river, but somebody had cut the tip of the tree off, so you could go around it. [...] But yes, I’ve never been able to get very far up the river, kayak or canoe.
TYG: So, if it has one, what is the central contact or location for Quiet Water?
Walter: We don’t really have a central contact location. What we have is a Board of Directors, and those are the people you contact. Most of our Board are people who live in Quiet Water. I’m the president. Mary Wiltse, who is the co-owner of the bookstore, is our secretary; and we have a treasurer, Jeannine Jansen. We have two other board members, one of whom lives in Quiet Water, and the other in Eugene. So that’s our board; although we do have an office, it’s not occupied by our secretary or anything, it’s got records filed there, it’s got a printer, we store stuff in the office.
TYG-GD: So how do people learn about the home association when they buy a house—is it written in the contract or something?
Walter: Well, the title company that’s handling it will often contact us; but actually, we’ve got quite a nice website [www.qwha.org], and a lot of the regulatory documents of Quiet Water are all on the website. So if somebody wants to find out whether they’ll be able to keep a dog, or they’ll be able to paint their house blue, or something like that, they can go onto our website.
TYG: So what kind of rules are there? Just general rules. Are pets allowed, that kind of thing?
Walter: Pets are allowed; dogs should be on a leash when around the place. Quite a lot of the permanent residents have cats; [some] have ferrets. [laughter] Yes, pets are allowed. We just don’t want the pets to be a nuisance, and dogs are the biggest potential nuisance. Probably the most unusual regulation is that you can paint your house any color you like, as long as it’s gray. [laughter]
TYG-GD: Does it have to be a particular shade of gray?
Walter: We allow 50 shades of gray. [laughter] No, well, that’s a good question actually, because I wanted to paint my house about five years ago, so I went and got a color chart from a paint shop down in Florence, and I brought it back for approval. This little rectangle looked perfectly gray; it was called “Evening Gray,” and it got approved by the Design Review committee. I started painting the house, and the more I painted, the bluer this looked—as the spot grew, it just kept getting bluer until it looked like the sky! So I called the guy over, the chairman of the committee, and I said, “You know, this is not looking very gray anymore.” And he said, “No, it’s not looking gray—you can’t do this.” So I went back to the shop and I asked him to change my paint color so it was super-gray. It was still blue, but anyway. [laughter] Actually a few years ago there was a request at our annual meeting to change the regulations to allow sort of pastel shades that weren’t gray, but it didn’t pass. I think a lot of the people who have been around a while—the other architectural regulations and the color gives a kind of sense of community, a sense of togetherness, whether you like it or not. That’s sort of the logic there.
TYG-GD: I was wondering whether [the color stipulation] was meant to blend in with the marine layer or something... [laughter]
Walter: I don’t think so. I guess they didn’t want anything too garish. There’s another regulation on the slope of roofs. We’ve got a few odd ones up that were built prior to that regulation, but along the river there are a bunch of cabins. They’re rather small, but they’re based on an award-winning design that people really liked when it came out and they all have very steeply-pitched roofs. So then the association adopted this requirement, that in the future, all the new buildings had to have the roof of a certain quite steep pitch, which works well especially for the cabins and double-story houses. It doesn’t work so well for a single story. [...] Most of the houses that are permanently occupied, including the cabins, have got an upstairs area, so they’re on at least two levels. [...] So yes, we do have an architectural committee that’s called the Design Review committee, and the chair of that is a retired architect, so he knows his stuff, and does a very good job.
TYG: So where is Quiet Water, for people who don’t know?
Walter: Well, it’s on the north bank of the river, just east of Highway 101. It’s basically a block of land that backs onto Yachats River Road. All the houses are either on Jennifer Drive or Combs Circle.
TYG: I’m a big bike rider, and I often use Quiet Water because it’s so steep, and it has such different terrains, as a training ground, basically.
Walter: Yeah, it does have some nice hills. I’ve got a bike—I nearly came over on my bike, but then I thought better of it. Actually lately, one of the people who just bought a property there near the steepest part of the hill, they’ve got kids who just love skateboards, and they go skateboarding up and down those roads and they’re scaring me! [laughter]
TYG: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Walter: Yes! Um, how long have you got? I was born in South Africa some years ago. I grew up there, and I went to college there, and I studied in England as well for four years. I worked in South Africa for many years at the University of Witwatersrand, which is quite a mouthful and quite a spelling challenge. [laughter]
TYG-GD: What did you study, and what did you work in?
Walter: I was a chemistry professor. And then, in the early 90’s, our whole family came out to the United States. We lived in Washington State, mostly in Olympia, for about 15 years, and I taught at colleges in Tacoma. My wife worked for the State of Washington. And then, about ten years ago, we moved down here. The plan was that I was actually going to go into an orchid business, as a partner with a guy on Camp One Road. The plan didn’t actually materialize. I was very fortunate that it didn’t materialize—just before we moved, the whole plan fell through, but we decided that we’d sort of retire to Yachats anyway, and that’s what we did. I’m very happy we did that and that the orchid business fell through. The orchid business didn’t last very long; it was right at the time of the big recession and the orchid business went under. I still grow orchids down in Florence. I’ve got a friend down there who’s just given me some space in his greenhouse, so I go down there once a week, and those are the orchids I grow.
TYG-GD: Where do you sell them?
Walter: You know, I hardly sell any. But I have an orchid website, and if people kind of get onto my website [afrodisa.weebly.com] and they’re really keen on buying some, then they contact me and I sell them. It’s more of a hobby that’s out of hand—it’s not a business at all. [laughter]
TYG: Anything else you wanted to talk about?
Walter: Well, I was hoping you were going to ask me about YIPS! The Yachats Invasive Plants Subcommittee exclamation point.
TYG: [laughs] I didn’t recognize the acronym.
Walter: We pull weeds in Yachats, and it’s connected with the Trails committee. We meet twice a month—we were actually right here [behind the Commons] this morning pulling blackberry and morning glory.
TYG-GD: Did you put down that mulch?
Walter: Yes, that’s our job—we did that about a year ago. That was all solid blackberry, I don’t know if you remember.
TYG-GD: Yes, I remember it... why did you remove the blackberries?
Walter: Why? Well, they’re invasive. They throttle everything else. We want it to be natural.
TYG-GD: Blackberries are natural, no?
Walter: Well, I guess on the Oregon Coast now, blackberries have sort of become natural. But they’re not native. We published, a few years ago, a trifold brochure of the worst weeds in Yachats. Six worst—six most-wanted dead. And blackberries are one of the six.
TYG-GD: What are the others?
Walter: Scotch broom—you don’t see much Scotch broom in Yachats anymore. You go up and down the road, you’ll see it a lot more. Morning Glory.
TYG: Oh my gosh, bindweed. It’s such a massive problem.
Walter: Ivy—we’ve made a lot of headway against ivy in the wetland area.
TYG: And on the 804 Trail—there was that massive pull that I participated in.
Walter: Do you know how much ivy we pulled that day? 1700 pounds. Almost a ton. [laughter] Oh, knotweed. Knotweed is a really bad one. [...] It just becomes solid, and nothing else grows there. It’s probably the worst one around. It can throttle out rivers and streams, and it’s a monoculture and it kills everything else.
TYG-GD: What species are we protecting here [in the wetlands] that are native?
Walter: Well, there’s twinberry, willow, salal.
TYG-GD: Wild cucumber?
Walter: I’ve been told that’s native, but it’s not one of my favorites.
TYG-GD: It looks a lot like an invasive plant, doesn’t it.
Walter: Yes, and it has an enormous tuber, bigger than a football.
TYG: I also thank you guys for maintaining the trails up around our house! We’re lucky enough to have two different trails that branch off [near us]. Or three, actually! The Starr Creek trail, the Ya’Xaik trail, and the one that the new fire station is going to be on.
Walter: The one that goes through the Gerdemann Garden? Yes, we maintain the trail through the Gerdemann preserve. We just fixed the steps on that a couple of weeks ago. They were getting a bit slippery in the wet weather—they were just natural logs, but they were round, and very smooth, and slippery. So we put some pressure treated lumber down, and made them a more regular set of steps.
TYG-GD: Let’s get back to YIPS! Is that a volunteer-led, Yachats-based thing?
Walter: We’re part of the Yachats Trails Committee—we’re actually a sub-committee—that’s what the “s” in YIPS! is. It’s entirely volunteers, but the Yachats Trail Committee is forged under the Yachats Parks and Commons Commission. We get a budget from the City. We’ve got a bunch of equipment. We have to buy lumber and stuff to shore up trails.
TYG: Yes, you guys have your own tractor!
Walter: We’ve actually got quite a nice collection of equipment, including some power equipment such as weed-eaters and chainsaws.
TYG-GD: How would the common citizen apply, or go about joining you?
Walter: The best way is to get hold of Loren Dickinson. We work by e-mail, and we announce work events. There are two work events every month, at least two, and he e-mails to the entire distribution list. You don’t really have to apply, you’re automatically a member if you want to be. [...] We’re trying to kind of publicize things more, and actually in the last couple of months we seem to have picked up quite a few members.
TYG: I’ve been wanting to join for a long time, but I didn’t know if there was an age restriction or something.
Walter: No, there’s no age restriction at all. But we are actually a bunch of old fogeys, I will admit. We had 21 people at this morning’s work session, and two new people showed up. They were like 22 years old each, and the rest of us are like 65+. We hope they had a good time, but I couldn’t really blame them if they didn’t come back. [laughter] We always go to the Drift Inn after. Linda [Hetzler] at the Drift Inn really supports the Trail Crew. The entire crew who worked on a Saturday morning, everybody gets a free drink at the Drift Inn. And this afternoon, we got a free drink and a whole spread of free snacks—we didn’t pay a penny! We had a great time there out in the sun back in the courtyard at the Drift. [...] So come along! On the third of September we’re replacing some stairs on the Ya’Xaik trail—near the top, there are some big logs that are kind of wobbly.
TYG: Well thank you so much!
Walter: Thank you, Allen!