Minto Island Growers is situated southwest of Salem, Oregon on the edges of Minto Brown Island Park. Summers bring ruby-red strawberries, bright bunches of rainbow chard, and sunny orange-blossom tomatoes. Co-owned and operated by Elizabeth Miller and Chris Jenkins since 2007, produce grown on this 40-acre farm is certified organic by Oregon Tilth.
A surprising crop occupies two acres of this bountiful organic vegetable farm—tea. More than 200 varietals of Camellia sinensis thrive in a mature block that stretches north, up a gentle hill.
This agricultural anomaly arrived in Salem as the result of a collaborative venture between Rob Miller, Elizabeth’s father and tea expert John Vendeland. Miller purchased the Salem in the 1970s, as part of Mt. Jefferson Farms, a family farm and nursery operation that included forestry, large-scale mint production, and research plots. In 1988, Mt. Jefferson Farms partnered with Vendeland to research the cultivation of Camellia sinensis in Oregon. They selected a wide range of cultivars to evaluate both growing and flavor characteristics with the goal of establishing an Oregon grown tea product.
Miller and Jenkins inherited this project when they took over the farm 5 years ago. The now-mature tea block presents both a challenge and an opportunity: Is Oregon-grown tea a viable product? Miller is optimistic, “The Tea Project really fits into our business plan, which is direct marketing of local agricultural products. We really feel like there’s a market for tea here.”
To this end, Minto Island hosts tea classes in conjunction with fall and summer tea harvests. On the hottest day of the year, 15 enthusiasts fanned out across the tea plot, gently plucking tender tea leaves under the sweltering August sun.
|J-Tea is excited to have the opportunity to visit Minto Island during the Fall Harvest|