Hazelnut Grower Feature: Wayne and Joann Chambers - West Coast Nut

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Hazelnut Grower Feature: Wayne and Joann Chambers

Years of dedication help to preserve Oregon’s hazelnut industry and ensure its future.

By Hazelnut Marketing Board | Contributing Writer
Published: July 15, 2021 • 63 views

Wayne and Joann Chambers have been growing hazelnuts in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for 58 years, receiving multiple industry accolades and awards (photos courtesy Hazelnut Growers of Oregon.)


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Hazelnuts are a family industry—a community of close-knit growers who help each other no matter how expansive the industry becomes. And much like any other family, hazelnut growers look to those members who paved the way before them for wisdom. In Oregon, everyone bends an ear to listen when Wayne and Joann Chambers share their hazelnut wisdom.

The Chambers family, Wayne’s grandparents, moved to Oregon from Minnesota in 1905 and settled near the town of Lebanon in the fertile Willamette Valley. Throughout the decades, the family farm would grow, and they raised nearly a dozen crops and livestock species in that time. The Chambers family would spread across the valley, including the land near Albany, Ore. that Wayne and Joann call home to this day.

 

Help from All Around

Wayne Chambers attended Oregon State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture. It was during his stint as an undergrad that he meet Harry Lagerstedt, an Oregon State professor and hazelnut expert. The two would form a close bond and Wayne credits much of his success to Lagerstedt’s mentorship. Whether as the mentor or mentee, the theme of mentorship and paying it forward is a recurring element in Wayne’s story.

Wayne and Joann were married in 1963 and immediately started planting hazelnuts while still farming with Wayne’s father and brother. While the rest of the family focused on other crops, Wayne and Joann took a special interest in the hazelnuts. They would eventually take over all the Chambers family hazelnuts from Wayne’s uncle and expand the acreage. Nestled between the Willamette and Santiam rivers, the Chambers were blessed with some the best soil in the Willamette Valley.

Wayne and Joann would split off from the family in 1999 and found W&J Orchards, focused solely on raising hazelnuts. At their peak, they owned 165 acres of hazelnuts and managed orchards for several neighbors and friends. Among those orchards were some planted by more of Wayne’s neighbors and mentors—Bob Groshong and Marvin Fletcher. Both were seasoned hazelnut farmers who always made time to help the Chambers and other growers in need of assistance.

As with Harry Lagerstedt, Wayne would ask Groshong and Fletcher a litany of questions about best practices and how to make his trees thrive. Both were generous with their time, talents and expertise. Without their willingness to educate a young and ambitious Wayne Chambers, the Oregon hazelnut industry may look very different.

The Groshong and Fletcher orchards constitute some of the oldest trees still standing in America, with the oldest dating back 100 years. Many of these trees were purchased at the original Dorris Ranch, Oregon’s first commercial hazelnut farm. These orchards are also home to rare and classic hazelnut varieties that exist nowhere else in Oregon and possibly the U.S.

This mentality and willingness to give back lives on through Wayne and Joann. Fellow grower Dave Buchanan credits much of his knowledge to them.

“When I have a question, Wayne is the first person I call. He always knows what he is talking about and not only offers answers, but they are the right answers,” Buchanan said. “He is my mentor and hazelnut guru.”

Skip Gray also looked to W&J Orchards when he needed wisdom.

“I’ve been lucky to have Wayne and Joanne as neighbors. They’ve always been special people to our family; Wayne’s parents and mine traveled the world together, so we’ve known each other a long time. I learned never to ask Wayne a question if I didn’t want a blunt answer. Our hazelnut community is a special place because we get along well, and Wayne and Joann have contributed mightily to that endeavor,” Gray says.

The Chambers’ dedication to both preserving the history of the hazelnut industry and ensuring its bright future has also made them a go-to partner for Oregon State University researchers. The college is home to the world’s foremost hazelnut research programs, largely due to the collaboration between academia and industry. When the university has needed orchards for field studies, they’ve frequently turned to W&J Orchards for assistance; through this partnership, the entire industry has benefited from discoveries on everything from EFB-resistant varieties to smarter irrigation practices.

“They have always been on the cutting edge of new varieties and working with Oregon State to try out new varieties,” says Buchanan. “They have done a lot for the industry in that regard, too, and helping figure out which varieties will flourish.”

Many within the hazelnut industry credit the Chambers for much of their knowledge and success.

 

Years of Achievement

It has been 58 years since Wayne and Joann Chambers started growing hazelnuts together. They have received every possible industry accolade and have routinely been recognized by their peers for their dedication to hazelnuts; Wayne was the Nut Growers Society “Grower of the Year” in 1994 and is a multi-time recipient of the Oregon Hazelnut Commission “Service Award”. They also support the Hazelnut Cooking Challenge at Linn-Benton Community College each year, which encourages student chefs to creatively incorporate hazelnuts into an original dish.

Even with all the accomplishments and nearly 60 years of work, the time has flown by for both of them. According to Joann, Wayne has never complained about the hazelnuts, even in the most perilous times for the trees. They continue to spread this positivity to other growers and share their wisdom the way Harry Lagerstedt, Marvin Fletcher and Bob Groshong did for them. The phrases “we asked Wayne” or “that’s how Wayne does it” are not uncommon to hear amongst growers. Even some of the industry’s most seasoned and successful growers credit their knowledge and best practices to the wisdom imparted by the Chambers.

And what is their advice for other growers as they trend toward retirement? Communication and conversation is key for keeping the hazelnut community thriving. Rely on the kindness of fellow growers.