For someone who has always been involved with the arts and who has lived in San Francisco for the past two decades, working on a farm in Southern Oregon is quite a different way of life. However, it is one that Wendy Testu is relishing. She currently divides her time between her parent’s Greyback Farm in Grants Pass and her home in the Bay area. She will live here full-time in the summer, and when her daughter, Lolita, finishes high school, Wendy plans to live in Southern Oregon year-round.
“It’s a lifestyle choice for me,” says Wendy who founded The Rogue Traders at Greyback Farm in 2014. Her company sells savory tarts, duck eggs and grass-fed lamb, all sourced primarily from Greyback Farm. “I love the quiet and the scenery of Southern Oregon,” she says.”
An avowed outdoorswoman who enjoys paddle boarding, camping and hiking, Wendy attended South Medford High School. Her parents, Pam and Dan Zaklan, are retired Medford educators who decide to go into gardening and farming after retirement. “We have a symbiotic relationship,” Wendy says of her parents. “They are very supportive of me, and when they want to take some time off (from the farm) to travel, I can be there.”
Savory seasonal tarts are the focus of The Rogue Traders. Made with organic and non-GMO ingredients from Southern Oregon and Northern California, the tarts feature whole wheat, corn, flax and sunflower seed crusts and can include caramelized onions, goat cheese, kale, sweet potato and beets garnished with seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. She sources many of her ingredients from West Coast growers and artisans, such as Sierra Nevada Cheese Company and Sweetwater Farm, among others.
Wendy also currently is raising five grass-fed lambs for customers in San Francisco and 14 ducks for her egg business. “I like to take things slow and in incremental steps,” says Wendy, adding that she doesn’t want the animal part of her business getting too large. “I don’t want it to get to the point that I cannot care for the animals the way I want to.
” She laughs when she explains how she got into the duck egg business. “When my daughter and I went to buy chickens, they were sold out. So it was Easter time and, we thought, let’s get ducks.” What she wasn’t counting on was the extra work involved in raising ducks for their eggs.
“They (ducks) require running water and a lot of space for foraging, and there is a lot of time involved in cleaning their eggs,” she explains. “Basically you have to hand wash every egg.”
However, there is a growing market for duck eggs because of their rich taste and nutritional value as compared with chicken eggs. First, duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, and they have a higher protein, vitamin and mineral content than chicken eggs. “They are great for gluten-free baking,” Wendy adds, “since they have all that rich taste.”
That taste is enhanced by the fact that Wendy’s ducks are fed an organic soy-free, non-GMO grain, and they forage in a three-and-a-half acre area on kale and fallen tomatoes. “They also love raspberries and strawberries,” she notes, adding, “It is like having 14 dogs. They come when we call them and have distinct personalities.” As a self-described “farmer in training,” Wendy is learning quite a few lessons as she goes along. First, she says she now appreciates food so much more than before. Partially because of the challenges of dealing with bugs and beetles when farming, she is determined not to waste food. “It actually pains me to throw away food now,” she comments.
She also says she has found a way to put her artistic side to work in her new business. In addition to the marketing side, which she enjoys, she says, “I have found that making the tarts is like creating an edible sculpture.”
“I probably take a little too much time making the tarts because I enjoy making them visually appealing for other people to enjoy.” Wendy appreciates the fact that many people in the Rogue Valley “are getting to know their farmers.” She says it is important for people to realize that a label that says “organic” does not mean the product is “local.” Since becoming certified organic is financially out of reach for many local farmers, she is instead following organic methods at Greyback Farm and using local growers who follow the same methods when she needs other items for her tarts. “We are having a great positive start with our tarts,” says Wendy. “We want to continue to partner with local farms and to sell them at co-ops and small grocery stores. I just want to take it slowly to get our rhythm right.”