Perhaps the next time you assume that unique vegetables are scarce in the Willamette Valley, Melinda & Gen Nikko will come to mind.

With approximately 5 acres of land on the northern outskirts of Aumsville, Oregon, the Nikkos have created an impressive, yet modest, farming operation.

“We are really seeking to do a sustainable type of farming on this land,” said Melinda. “We grow a variety of mushrooms and vegetables. We like focusing on Asian vegetables.”

Due to the Willamette Valley’s relatively short growing season, the Nikkos utilize two greenhouses (one of which Gen designed and built himself) for cultivating plants during winter and early spring. This practice, which has become increasingly popular among both gardeners and farmers, effectively stretches the growing season to include all twelve months of the year. The result is a more consistent supply of vegetables, and earlier availability of seedlings.

In addition to the greenhouses, Melinda and Gen tend a small garden area, which supports summer vegetable crops, including heirloom tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, onions, cucumbers, and a wide selection of peppers.

The mushrooms are grown under shade-cloth, on either oak, alder, or other type of wood, depending on the variety. Fresh mushrooms are available most of the year, with different varieties maturing at different times.

“Everything that we are doing right now is an outdoor cultivation,” said Melinda, referring to the mushrooms. “We grow maitake, hiritake, nameko, and enoki.”

The Nikkos are just one facet of the rising undercurrent of local agricultural innovation. Many farmers, especially small-scale producers, are focusing on diversity and pushing the boundaries of the consumer.

For now, Melinda continues to expand the farm, and build her customer base.

“It’s a little different for this market, so it’s been hard educating people,” she said. “But people are starting to understand that there’s a wide variety out there.”

Every Saturday, Nikko Farm offers their products at the Salem Public Market, located on Rural Ave. between 12th St. and 13th St. in Salem.

Nate Rafn produces a television series about local foods entitled “Living Culture” on KWVT Willamette Valley, CCTV Salem, PCM TV Portland, and SCAN TV Seattle. Visit www.livingcultureonline.com.