PUGET ISLAND — Bruce and Desiree Craven are bringing a taste of the old-fashioned farming community to Puget Island — the kind where neighbors drop what they’re doing to help one another build a chicken coop, and secrets to a healthy garden aren’t secret at all.
The couple opened the Backwater Farm Store on their 36 acres to do just that. After three Saturdays in business, they’ve already met neighbors they didn’t know they had.
“We’ve really seen a lot of appreciation for farming efforts ... in small farms, for the sake of a small footprint,” said Bruce Craven, a retired filmmaker for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.
They sell eggs, honey, broiler chickens, bone broth, beef, blackberry and blueberry jam, lavender bath salts and oil — all made from what they grow on their farm. Upstairs, Desiree Craven and her friends created an art gallery filled with scenic photographs of Puget Island, paintings, jewelry, macrame and fiber art.
The store is set up in what used to be the couples’ storage barn, which took nearly nine months to clean out and redesign.
Backwater Farm is open Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. at 320 E. Birnie Slough Road.
The idea for the store developed because they didn’t have enough time to regularly set up at a farmer’s market to sell their produce and products, and Desiree Craven wanted a creative space. Opening the store gave them the best of both worlds. Now she has a chance to display and sell her nature photographs, and they both get to create something new with the products of their labor.
“Nature has always been my church,” the former paralegal said. “We always played in the dirt. We both have that in common.”
Though many of their neighbors are farmers, too, Backwater Farm is the first store of its kind on the island. The Cravens didn’t grow up farming, and they had a lot to learn from their neighbors when they moved to the island five years ago from Portland.
“None of this could have happened without passing down knowledge,” Bruce Craven said.
Backwater Farm has already increased curiosity about the island and brought more attention to the farmers there who are “doing great things,” he added.
“There’s something really strong here, where there’s an incredible assortment (of people),” he said. “It was really easy to feel comfortable here.”
The couple said they’ve had positive responses from friends and neighbors, and they already are looking to expand their inventory. Desiree Craven is working to bring a rotation of artists through her gallery and will start making Thai pepper jelly in a few weeks.
Availability of eggs will vary through the winter, her husband said, because chickens don’t typically lay eggs then. In the summer, they hope to sell jams from their fig, plum and kiwi plants.
The Cravens already sell eggs and produce at the Astoria Co-op, the Cathlamet farmer’s market and Patty Cakes Cafe and Roasting.
“There’s a certain element of growth you have to anticipate,” he said.
The couple hopes that opening the store on the scenic island will be good for business and for neighbors. They wanted to take advantage of the “destination element” of where they live.
“It’s a lot of work here but it’s an incredibly beautiful place to be,” Desiree Craven said. “It’s a great life.”