Grower Highlight: John and Carol Sullivan

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Filacres, a seventy-acre property located on the McKenzie Highway in Vida, Oregon, has one of the longest and most unique histories of any hazelnut orchard; the property began as a dairy farm in the late 1800 and early 1900’s.

In the early 1930s, Elmer Keller, a businessman from Eugene, purchased the property and one hundred surrounding acres. He and his wife built a home on the property overlooking the McKenzie River. They continued to live in Eugene but frequently entertained on the property.  Mr. Keller was known for his annual BBQs where he invited several hundred prominent businessmen from around the state. Eventually, the Keller family moved from Eugene to the farm, now christened Filacres.

They made the decision to plant fifty acres in hazelnut trees in 1935. The root stock came from the Dorris Hazelnut Farm in Springfield. In 1954, Peter and Mary Evonuk bought the one hundred and seventy acres. They were long time farmers in the Eugene area and wanted to produce hazelnuts. Walter Evonuk maintained the farm until 1968, at which time he and his wife, Martha, traded their farm in Eugene for the seventy acres of the property that produced hazelnuts.

In 1997, Carol and John Sullivan bought the farm from the family trust and have lived there ever since. Carol is the granddaughter of Peter and Mary Evonuk and spent countless hours on the farm as a child.

The original orchard was comprised of Barcelona and Daviana hazelnuts. Then, Eastern Filbert Blight made its way to the orchard in 2014. In 2016, the Sullivans decided to take out the old trees; with soil health and conservation in mind, they decided to chip the 6,500 forty-foot trees on the property; these mulched trees were churned back into the soil, thus boosting the soil health.  In 2018, the orchard was replanted with 7,500 Jefferson trees.

Because the farm is located on the McKenzie River and provides drinking water for over 300,000 residents in the Willamette Valley, Carol Sullivan has been instrumental in encouraging proper riparian management in a partnership with the Eugene Water and Electric Board, other growers and residents along the river. Their efforts insure better marine habitat and river bank integrity.

When the Sullivans purchased the farm, Carol’s brother, Phil Evounk, encouraged them to become involved in the industry management. His advice was excellent. As such, John has been president of the Nut Growers Society, treasurer of the Oregon Hazelnut Commission and treasurer of the Hazelnut Marketing Board. He was also named Grower of the Year in 2012. These experiences have allowed them to meet many fellow growers who have vast experience in the industry; the Sullivans attribute much of their success to the collaboration amongst farmers and their willingness to help answer questions.