John Duerst grew up on a farm near Sublimity, Oregon where his family grew strawberries. After World War II, the price of strawberries was driven down after the crop became prolific in California, so the Duerst family began to harvest timber for the many wood-fired boilers which were so abundant at that time. As John grew up, the family began to raise pigs and milk cows. “We used to sell the cream and feed the skimmed milk to the pigs,” John recalls. After high school, John worked at food processing plant in Salem, Oregon for 11 years, during which time he and his wife Shirley purchased their own farm. In 1964, they bought an additional farm where their son Rob and his family now live in a new home they built in 2004. In 1966, Shirley & John joined with Shirley’s brother and sister-in-law (the Doerflers) to form Ioka Farms, Inc.
Neighbors thought he was crazy to purchase even more land in a seller’s market, but John had a vision; “There’s nothing wrong with leverage if you know there’s a strong market for your crops.” In 1966, Ioka Farms leased a large grass seed farm from a retiring gentleman who wanted to spend more time traveling. They used his seed cleaner to clean fine fescue seed. He came to them and said, “The dust from your seed cleaner is bothering my wife and she is having a hard time breathing.” So, in 1977, John secured a Farmers Home Administration loan to build Ioka Farms’ new seed cleaner where they still clean seed today.
In the 1980s, the Oregon Seed Certification Service came to John and asked him to grow meadowfoam as an experimental crop and Ioka Farms became one of the first growers of meadowfoam. In 1983, John and five other growers formed the Oregon Meadowfoam Growers Association (OMGA), and in 1992 John was elected chairman of the board of directors of OMG, Natural Plant Products’ parent farming cooperative, where he served for 10 years. In 2012, Rob Duerst assumed the role of chairman of the board of OMG. This role ensures the family’s deep involvement with the future of the company and of meadowfoam in the Willamette Valley for yet another generation.
Today, Ioka Farms produces many different kinds of turf grass seed as well as grains, specialty forage seeds, and meadowfoam seed. Shirley & John Duerst now have three sons and two grandsons whom are all involved in the farming operation. They cover approximately 3% of their acreage with meadowfoam due to harvest schedules and the fact that the post-harvest meadowfoam stubble is a good environment for clover, wheat, fine fescue, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass.
Pictured:Three generations of Duerst growers – Alex, Doug, John, and Rob