the Life-Changing Decision and The Orchard
In 2005, Robert and Linda Cordtz took a remarkable leap of faith by leaving their longtime home and investing their life savings in an ailing orchard. Inspired by their enthusiasm for green living and their love of healthy food, they bought a conventional orchard in Eastern Oregon and began the tender and dull job of transitioning the trees from conventional to organic.
Robert used to work for the Forestry Service removing toxic waste from organic places. Throughout this time he watched more than his share of ecological destruction from chemicals and man-made contamination. “When I retired from this job I decided I didn’t want to touch another toxic thing ever again,” he says. When Linda talks of their job creating a sustainable future, she becomes severe and says that any poison on this house “stops”
at a Glance
Who lives here: Robert and Linda Cordtz, their dog and a few laying hens
Location: Eagle Creek Orchard at Richland, Oregon
Size: Around 1,700 square feet; 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
That’s intriguing: The orchard consists of 5 acres and homes 1,200 fruit trees watered from Eagle Creek, which flows directly out of the Wallowa Mountains.
The couple sells their natural produce at the Boise and Baker City farmer’s markets. They also have a fruit stand on the house for people prepared to make the drive. And after having tasted their succulent tree-ripened peaches, I can guarantee you the drive is quite worth it.
The Cordtz house is sprinkled with glowing red accents, from the red roof, to the classic stove, to the red bench in the entryway, to the crimson pears that hang heavy on the branches this season. Linda invites me to the kitchen where she is peeling, cutting and dehydrating peaches. She moves to the sink, saying, “We are headed to the marketplace in Boise this weekend, and there’s a lot that must occur before we proceed.”
She bought the cooker secondhand for $250. “It works beautifully. The girl who offered it to me didn’t like the color,” she says. “Could you imagine? I just love it”
Cooker, oven: circa 1950s, O’Keefe & Merritt
Linda’s tools are within easy reach of her or her heirs. Open shelving, hanging baskets and pans along with a multipurpose kitchen table help her to stay focused and efficient.
She quits working as we discuss the home and the orchard. The sink is first to the home and shows signs of age and use. “I don’t mind living with older things. It reminds me to take care of things and be thankful,” she says.
“Ten decades back, I didn’t know what brown rot was or cling peaches,” she adds. “I’m not some sort of organic elitist. I just knew that I needed to live in a fresh way.”
Both discovered the property online. “Linda and I had been frequent visitors of Hell’s Canyon, so we were familiar with the region,” Robert says. “My children had moved off, and we’re ready for something different. We wanted a place where we could grow our own food.”
For a kid in California, Robert’s family had an avocado orchard. “After high school, our family bought a vineyard collectively, which was very successful until Gallo transferred in and radically changed the price index,” he says. “So I’m pretty familiar with farm life.”
In their wish list: “Four seasons, gates to the property along with a nearby national forest,” Linda says. “The very last thing on the list was, I swear, ‘a few fruit trees.'”
The orchard contains 17 varieties of peaches in addition to prunes, apples, pears, plums, apricots, walnuts, hazelnuts, grapes and much more. There is also a steady supply of fresh eggs from laying hens.
The entry is a welcoming and busy jumble of farm gear, art and paperwork. A bright red chair serves as a catchall for wide-brimmed hats, everyday crop lists and other essentials.
“Well this is us,” says Linda, motioning to the overflowing daily life of her property.
Knotty pine walls cloak the upstairs bedroom at a warm glow. A very simple bed and side tables are the only furniture. The majority of the artwork in the Cordtz house is curated from local consignment and thrift stores.
A side table offers space for family photos, vintage postcards and other meaningful items. Linda shows me a picture of a family war veteran. “I’m constantly amazed by and curious about the people who arrived before me,” she says.
Another room throughout the hall serves as an office and a guest space. A Tongan staff along with a thrift store butterfly adorn the hallway wall. Linda has a special love for tribal artwork. Even the “finders, keepers” nature of thrifted art means that lots of bits in the Cordtz house have unknown origins.
A hodepodge of work, correspondence, artwork, keepsakes and invoices makes up the home workplace. A midcentury dining table and chair set act as a desk and seating. The remainder of the area is full of traditional pine furniture to match the trim and the ceiling. Robert constructed the hanging chimney on the far wall.
Linda is a talented artist and appreciates mask making, among other art forms. This green mask hangs alongside the property’s exterior with pieces of foliage stuffed into the top. Linda laughs at her invention and says, “Now he’s doing the Rastafarian look”
Though the orchard certainly takes a high level of labor during the high seasons, it also provides its owners with reflective space, peace and serenity. In their quiet moments, Robert or Linda might be located within this hammock.
As soon as the Cordtzes moved on the orchard, the trees had been in pretty poor shape. The property invested several years as a conventional orchard and was suffering from liberal use of toxins. “Petroleum-based fertilizers are hard to come off,” says Robert. “We moved on the house and stopped it daily. It isn’t important just how long something has been at a state of mal use, you can always choose to end it. And that is exactly what we did.”
On a schoolroom chalkboard pinpointed to the side of their fruit stand, Linda has produced a recommended reading list to its own clients. “I guess I’m a small evangelical about my job. Some people go door to door selling their own religion, but here on the orchard I’m living my religion,” she says.
The Cordtzes believe there’s not any greater way to feed your family than to grow your own food or buy it from a local ranch or farm.
“Know that your predator,” Linda says. “Go to their farms and see exactly what they are doing.”
The Cordtzes are deeply dedicated to their job at Eagle Creek Orchard and to providing their community with fresh, healthy food. Here is Robert walking up to the home with two buckets of peaches.
“This may sound out there, but Robert is talented intuitively to commune with the trees,” Linda says. “A couple years into our job here he said, ‘I can believe that the trees are healing.’ He was right.”
Share your creative household with us.