The 11 Layers of an Onion – An AmeriCorps Volunteer Day

Gracie in front of the apple orchard and White mtns

On Tue., March 27th my roommate Elsbeth and I rode our bikes to Rick Devore’s 100% organic Apple Hill Farm. I was fulfilling an AmeriCorps requirement to volunteer at a farm to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day. Elsbeth is simply a great human being and wanted to help.

We were greeted at the end of the driveway by a spry Belgian shepherd and an adorable golden retriever graying at the nose. They guided us across the bridge, past roaming peacocks to the main house. Rick Devore welcomed us and led us on a tour of his lovely farm.

Rick explaining to Elsbeth about growing garlic

Elsbeth and I soaked up Rick’s wealth of knowledge about farming and enjoyed his incredible stories throughout the day. Our main task was to help him plant varieties of Walla walla, (red) candy, and superstar onions. “Good onions have 11 layers,” he told us. This tip was just the starting point for what would turn into a productive, enjoyable and educational day.

11 “Lessons” of an Onion- brought to us by Rick Devore

1. You never know what your neighbors have to offer: When Rick was struggling to keep the birds away from his cherry trees he looked into building a net over the trees held up by poles. The cost of the materials kept him from moving forward with the plans until one day his next door neighbor showed up with the materials and helped install them. She turned out to be a retired pole climber for DWP; the solution was right next door.

Green Pistil = Eventual Fruit

2. You can tell if a flower will become a fruit by looking at the pistil. If the frost has killed it the pistil will be black, otherwise it will become a delicious fruit!

3. Bears eat fallen fruit: If the dogs are barking in the early dawn and you go to investigate, make sure to stay clear of a bear’s charging path.

4. Bumper crops: fruit trees tend to have productive cycles. The bumper crop year will be extremely productive, and the following year will be less impressive.

5. Farming is an exact science… not!: Our “meter stick” to measure the distance between the onions was a branch. Rick has a wonderful can-do attitude that is reflected on his farm in which he could probably do anything, or would figure out how to do it himself.

6. You never know what treasures you’ll find, and sharing them only makes them multiply: Rick found a fig tree by a nearby gold mine. He took some clippings and years later was told that he had a rare fig tree growing on his property. Rick shared some clippings with this man and a few years later Rick received 6 different varieties from him as a thank you.

7. Rick has found the Sorcerer’s Stone!: Elsbeth and I assumed he was in his 60s, so when he told us he has loved every one of his 75 years we were absolutely shocked! His secret: A good diet of quality food, an active lifestyle and keeping busy. At 75 he still goes for 3-mile morning runs followed by hard work in the dirt.

8. Carrot planting should be done in groups: seeds come in tiny packets about a milometer wide and between 3 of us we got the work done in a fraction of the time.

Rows upon rows of planted onions and carrots

9. Give a girl a seed and she never goes hungry: 100 years ago Mrs. Milovitch’s parents put some seeds in her pocket as she left Russia and told her that if she took care of them she’d never go hungry. On Tue. Rick loaded up our pockets and lunch Tupperware with Mrs. Milovitch’s seeds so that Elsbeth and I would never go hungry. Apparently the same goes for teaching a man to fish.

10. Everything takes time: Rick bought the property 25 years ago and everyone said he was crazy. The place was filled with sagebrush and dry hard packed soil. Now it looks like a bucolic paradise. The transformation didn’t happen overnight, and the operation continues to grow.

11. Share the wealth: By the time Elsbeth and I rode away from Apple Hill our backpacks were crammed with 2 dozen fresh eggs, mounds of bean, corn, and carrot seeds, and some onions to plant in our own gardens. He also gave us some of his special canned tomatoes, salsas and jams.

We are so grateful for not only the wealth of information he taught us, but for the generous gifts and the opportunity to hear about the life of an amazing individual. We plan to have him and his wife over for dinner once some of the seeds have grown and to volunteer again sometime soon.

Thank you so much Rick!

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