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Most people who knew Doug knew that he loved farming. But what a lot of people don’t know is just HOW MUCH he loved farming.  He spent over 14 years working in construction just so he could feed his family and pay for the land he hoped someday to be able to farm full time.

dougntallgourdsHe would come home after working 18 hour days in construction and get on his tractor to plow his fields, using the tractors headlights and a large flashlight so he could see what he was doing in the dark.

He tried many types of crops, from alfalfa to elephant garlic, hoping to find something that would make him enough money so he could afford to quit construction and be able to spend all day on his land.

Anyone who has ever tried farming knows it is no easy task. Unpredictable weather, plant diseases, pests, and fluctuating market prices are just a few of the obstacles that he faced. Doug would often lose more money than he made.

He often joked that if he ever won the lottery or came into money, “I guess I’d just keep farming until it was all gone!”

One day in the mid 1970’s a neighbor of his, Felix Garnsey, was wanting to retire from farming and he gave him some seeds for something called “gourds,” along with his customer list, which, when Doug told the story, “had about 10 people on it.”

Doug had never considered growing a crop you couldn’t eat, but as he used to say, “I’ll try anything once.”

Much to his surprise, the gourds sold well and he found himself planting more and more acres each year.

On Saturdays, Doug would be out by the gourd racks helping customers. Back then, if you wanted to come to the Farm during the week, it was by appointment only since the only staff members were Doug and his wife Sue.

Often customers would show up unexpectedly and no one would be home. Doug and Sue just left a gourd bowl out by the sizing board with a note to “Please leave money in gourd.”

Doug helping customers at the Farm

Doug helping customers at the Farm

Years later, after the farm had grown much, MUCH bigger, Doug enjoyed telling customers stories of “the early days of the business,” including the bit about the gourd bowl,  and he would say with a certain satisfaction,  “No one every stole from us.”

Doug did not tolerate “liars” or “crooks”.  If he felt you had somehow wronged him you were going to know about it (and usually with a few choice swear words attached)!

But if you were someone he felt comfortable with, he would often talk at length about farming and gourd growing. Doug took a lot of care in growing his gourds, using only organic farming methods and striving to produce the best product he could.

From day one Welburn Gourds were known for their quality and beautiful, thick shells, and customers, many of whom had tried growing their own gourds at home and failed, would often ask, “How do you grow such high quality gourds?” In typical, straight-forward,  no-nonsense Doug style he would answer, “Chicken shit and water.”

Sue, Doug, and Phoebe 1998

Sue, Doug, and Phoebe 1998

After 8 years the Gourd Farm had become successful enough for Doug to quit his construction work. Doug was known to remark, “Yeah, I finally make money in farming and its something nobody can eat.”

Doug was often reserved around strangers, but he felt comfortable with his fellow farmer’s and “canyon friends” and after living in the area for 6 years or so he started hosting an annual 4th of July bar-b-que for his neighbors in De Luz Canyon. So many people came that they had to cook a whole pig (cooked in a pit) to feed everyone!

In 1996 he decided to combine the annual event into an event for the Gourd Farm and the first annual Gourd Festival was held on the front lawn at his house. It was such a huge success that he decided to try it again the following year. It was a tradition that he continued for the next 15 years!

Each year the Gourd Festival grew and attracted more and more visitors. After 15 years, he hosted the final installment of the Gourd Festival in 2011.

The Third Gourd Festival 1998 Doug, Sue, Mark and Karen Klay

The Third Gourd Festival 1998
Doug, Sue, Mark and Karen Klay

In 2005, Steve Garnsey, whose dad, Felix, had originally introduced Doug to gourds, offered use of his land to the Farm. So the Farm was moved out of Doug’s private home and onto the Garnsey Ranch where it remains to this day.

Even before the move, growing gourds had become so much work that Doug had to hire help. He turned to his long-time friend and neighbor, Daniel Barajas (Senior). Doug didn’t listen to many people when it came to farming, but he listened to Daniel. His opinion was one Doug respected, and with Daniel on board, the gourd crops just kept getting better and better.

Daniel is still the Head Field Manager at the farm and deserves most if not ALL of the credit for the beautiful gourds that continue to be grown at the farm. (Daniel’s son, Daniel “Danny” Jr., is the farm’s Operations Manager.)

Doug giving a giant Ipu heke as a gift to Kealii bringing him to tears -1998

Doug giving a giant Ipu heke as a gift to Kealii bringing him to tears -1998

Even though growing gourds were the first real success he had in farming, Doug never stopped growing edible crops. He planted small areas of vegetables and had many types of trees planted on his property over the years, including citrus, avocado, guava, cherimoya, plums, figs, and fuyu persimmon.

He took his product to farmer’s markets on the weekends, and even spent many years driving up to Santa Monica (on the edge of Los Angeles, CA) – over a 2 hour trip each way.

Nothing pleased Doug more than to hear a customer rave about the produce he grew (or the gourds he grew), although one would never know that about him. When a customer would exclaim, “These are the best tomatoes I’ve ever had!” he would often reply with a one-word response like, “Good.” Or, if he was in a talkative mood, “Good, I’m glad you liked them.” That was it. He was never one for a lot of conversation with people he didn’t know.

Doug Welburn selling his produce at a farmer's market in 1996 (including, flowers he grew and jam made from his home-grown blackberries).

Doug Welburn selling his produce at a farmer’s market in 1996 (including, flowers he grew and jam made from his home-grown blackberries).

Around 2008 he started growing melons. He didn’t want to grow a common honeydew or cantaloup that people could find at a grocery store, so he spent several years hunting down seeds and experimenting with various “gourmet” and exotic melons.

Although they only grow in summer, melons soon became his “main” edible crop. They were (and continue to be) so popular at farmer’s markets and with local restaurants where they are sold, customers would ask for the all year long… “When are the melons going to be in season?”

After many years of taking his melons and other produce to the markets, loading and unloading 50 lb boxes of fruit and vegetables, setting up and breaking down the displays, Doug decided, “I’m too damn old for this shit,” and elected to let his grandsons handle the task instead.

With day-to-day operations at the Gourd Farm now running smoothly and no longer in need of his constant attention, he started to spend more time on another of his passions – trout fishing.

Big-Brown-on-the-Truckee

Doug Welburn with a Big Brown Trout

Doug leaves behind Sue, his wife of 49 years, his eldest daughter, Laura, his youngest daughter, Phoebe, and grandchildren Patrick, Nathan, Mitchell, and his only granddaughter, Rachel.

Doug will be remembered and honored by many people for years to come.

The Welburn Family

The Welburn Family (left to right: Laura, Doug, Phoebe, and Sue)

 

The Cunningham Family Left to right: Nathan, Rachel, Laura: Front row, Patrick and Mitchell

The Cunningham Family
Left to right: Nathan, Rachel, Laura: Front row, Patrick and Mitchell

We would love to hear your memories of Doug. Please use the “comments” area below to
post your messages and stories of your most memorable moments.

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274 Comments

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  • Shannon O'Shea

    Reply Reply August 8, 2014

    This world has lost a hardworking and loving man; love for his family; love for his farm; and a love for his customers, but Heaven has gained a great soul. I hope you find solace in the thought that he will always be looking down and guiding you all through life until you meet him again in Heaven.
    So very sorry for your loss,
    Shannon

  • Donna Jensen

    Reply Reply August 8, 2014

    Aloha Sue and family, I know I haven’t been out to your farm in a long time but aI usually have my nephew Kalim do my buying. I’m so sorry to hear about Doug and my prayers are with you all, Take care Sue and be strong. Aloha, Donna

  • Donna Jensen

    Reply Reply August 8, 2014

    Aloha Sue and family, My sincerest condolences to you for your loss. Doug was a great guy. I haven’t seen you guys in a while because of health reasons but my nephew Kalim has been doing my shopping. Please take care….much Aloha, Donna

  • Lori Courtney

    Reply Reply August 9, 2014

    My deepest sympathies to your family.

  • Rochleigh Wholfe

    Reply Reply August 9, 2014

    Rest In Peace Mr. Welburn! You have given a great gift to the world. I have created many beautiful art gourds from gourds grown on your farms. Thank you for the service you have provided for artist. The gourds you have grown will continue to exhibit their beauty throughout the world for many years to come. Peace and love to the Welburn Farm family!

  • Caroline Weed Fearing

    Reply Reply August 9, 2014

    I am so sorry to hear about Doug’s passing! His development of this industry and business surpasses anyone else in the goard business.. He will be missed by everyone.. My prayers go out to his whole family!

  • Joan Cousins

    Reply Reply August 9, 2014

    I have been getting my gourds and all gourd supplies from Welburn Gourds since Jan 2006 and have loved every gourd I received. Folks ask if I grow my own and I say, “why should I even try with Doug Welburn has the best there is”!

    I never met Doug personally as I am in the SF Bay Area but just seeing his pictures I know we would have gotten along just fine. I love Nature and all it produces and I just feel that Doug was as connected to Mother Earth as anyone could be. I am so grateful that the Farm will continue and that there are those who know how to do what Doug did.

    My deepest Prayers and Blessings to all the Family and extended families … we will all miss Doug, even those of us who only knew him through his amazing gourds and gourd supplies. Such quality and honesty all rolled into one is hard to find these days.

    When I see gourd shapes in the clouds I will surely know that Doug is growing then in Heaven.

  • Gail Gotto

    Reply Reply August 10, 2014

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Doug Welburn a year ago, when we took a trip to the farm. What a lovely man and very interesting. I am sorry for your loss – my heart is heavy for you. What wonderful memories you must have of your years together, and the success of these years.

  • Kerri Perkins

    Reply Reply August 10, 2014

    Memories are great and will keep Doug close to the heart.
    A memory: while wondering and checking out gourds at Welburn’s Gourd Farm I looked up and saw Doug observing people quietly and wondered myself what was he thinking as he didn’t stop anyone to talk he just watched and listened. I imagine he was taking in the comments made by those checking out the gourds and being the clever man that he was coming up with ways to utilized their comments into a new way of cleaning or presenting the gourds for their future use. Such as going from just cleaning them on the outside to having them prepared for the for finishing them and taking some of the dirty work out of the step for a future gourd project. Raising plants and family with his same quite way. You will be in many hearts but never forgotten.

  • Dennis Borter

    Reply Reply August 10, 2014

    So sorry to hear of Doug’s passing. I have always looked to him for gourd growing advice. His wealth of knowledge & work ethic were second to none. He will surely be missed. I will keep the family in my prayers. Heaven has certainly gained another angel! Rest in peace my man.

  • I remember sometime in the 80’s or before that my art friends and I traveled from Orange Co. just to see the gourds. We loved driving the canyon road, and arriving at the “Farm”, a picnic table and benches, Sue and Doug so friendly and willing to help find just the right gourd… Horses, and dogs to pet and love. And then it grew, and grew.. We now live in an area near Yosemite.. I have purchased wonderful gourds from you over the years and sold my art in a local gallery. And if anyone asks where I get them, guess where I point them to… My art friends left as Doug has, and I miss them as I am sure you and many others will miss Doug..
    Blessings for supplying the bases for so many artists, Doug certainly stood out among so many friendly faces… He is missed.. Blessings to all of you, may his memory and the gourds last forever.

  • Carol Rookstool

    Reply Reply August 11, 2014

    We want to tell you just a few of the reasons we loved Doug: He always made everyone in our family feel like a friend – it felt like he always had a place for the Rookstool clan in his life; in turn, we got to know and care about his “very important people”. He admired talented artists and was exceptional himself – we have one of his drums as evidence; he made cooking seem so easy – and he fed us so well.
    Doug loved his Sue, his girls, his sister, his grandchildren, the Garnseys and the Barajas family, and so many friends – and he received loyalty and love in return. We enjoyed being with the great big Welburn clan and cherished the times when they came to our home.
    We will always remember the ranch at dawn – walking in the fields. We will remember our grandchildren playing together, watching Doug smile when customers opened their first thick gourd, the quiet presence of Daniel and his family, the beauty of Sue riding on her horse as we admired her skill, the talent of Phoebe and Laura. We will always remember the festivals – such hard work and yet so many pleasures – all because Doug could dream, plan and accomplish so much. We loved his rumbling laugh.
    Doug made our lives richer. Our love and prayers are with you, our extended family – always.
    Carol and Jack

  • Camille Mendoza

    Reply Reply August 11, 2014

    I was so saddened to hear of Doug’s passing. I only met him once, but the family commitment, love and respect that you all had for him, and he for you was evident in the way you run your business and how everyone is treated. I will continue to pray for your comfort. It is so hard to loose a loved one. It is my belief that we will all see one another again. I know Doug is with people now who he also loved (and that loved him) and what a reunion there must have been! God Bless You.

  • Kenneth Beasley

    Reply Reply August 13, 2014

    We are so sorry to hear of Doug’s passing. Please accept our prayers for the family.

  • Serena Kovalosky

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    I live on the East Coast and have never met Doug Welburn nor visited the Welburn Farm, but after attempting to grow my own gourds for my artwork, and hearing such great things about a Welburn Gourd, I soon became a loyal customer. Thanks to Doug Welburn’s gourds, I have a thriving career as an artist. I send my deepest condolences to the family and I am grateful that you are carrying on the tradition he began.
    – SerenaK

  • Pat Callahan

    Reply Reply August 19, 2014

    My acquaintance with Doug, family and farm has been limited but each moment was special. Most of the time it was with classes, the festival, the shop. One time Doug invited me to park a RV next to the festival — I really wished at that moment I had an RV! The classes, across the way, and now near the shop were always scouted by the family to be sure “all was in order”. Laura, too, was very helpful when I needed a little something since I was moving with a cane. Looking back, I probably encountered many of the family/friends but didn’t really know “who they were”.

    My prayers are for all of you, including Doug. His generous, hardworking and friendly attitude he has certainly passed on to all of you. This is the most important thing. Treasure it!!!!!

  • LeRoy Fugitt

    Reply Reply August 21, 2014

    So sorry to hear about Doug, and to be so late responding on this site. I’ve been engrossed in decorating Welburn gourds. I never made it to the farm, and never met Doug, however his passion for what he did was apparent in the products he produced and the service to customers. God bless and best wishes. LeRoy (Mike) Fugitt, Pierre, SD

  • Sheila Montez

    Reply Reply August 22, 2014

    So sorry for your loss. Welburn Farm has such a home feeling to it. It is comforting to be there .
    You are in my prayers..
    Respectfully ,Sheila Montez

  • Rick & Tina Downer

    Reply Reply September 14, 2014

    Dear Aunt Sue, Laurie and Phoebe,
    Was really saddened to hear of Uncle Doug’s Passing. We did not know, but today, we were at a craft fair in Colorado Springs admiring some gourd artisan work, and discussed the gourds, where they got them and they said Welburn Gourd Farm. We then went into another discussion about family and they heard that Doug had passed recently. So sorry for your loss. I really liked Uncle Doug and wanted to come to Cali to see him.
    Love and deepest condolences,
    Rick and Tina Downer

  • I have been buying gourds from your family since 1987 when you were down the road! I used to go with my Grandmother and kids to buy from you and you always made me feel at home! I will miss Doug at the farm when I go…he’s always been there to greet me and keep me honest…even when he wasn’t standing there and I would have to put my tally and money down under the basket or can! I will truly miss him! Praying for your entire family!

  • Bonnie Welburn Moyer

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    My brother Ron Welburn just sent me the news of Doug’s passing, sorry this is so late in getting to your family. The Welburn grandchildren are slowly leaving this earth for better life. Being that Doug was only 19 days older then me, it is really hard to except his passing. May God Bless your family and your loss.

    His cousin Bonnie

  • Marti Scott

    Reply Reply November 19, 2014

    Dear Welburn Family,
    Forrest and I are very sorry for you loss. God bless you all and RIP Doug, you were a fine man.

    Marti Scott

  • linda currier

    Reply Reply January 4, 2015

    hi,
    i really enjoyed doug’s life story.i bought some locally grown goards and sanded and varnished them and they are georgous they are displayed on my dinning room table. i hope the family will continue doug’s life work

  • Karen Sone

    Reply Reply May 4, 2016

    Aloha Welburn ohana, with tears in my eyes, I weep for your loss. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Doug. I began visiting the farm when we were required to have our own ipu (gourd)as part of our equipment for hula. At the time, I danced for Keali’i Ceballos. As the years progressed Keali’i asked me to take some students to select their ipu. Visiting the “ipu farm” as we called it was a place we visited often. I never knew Doug as a quiet man. He was most generous and helpful by showing me his secret stash. Even allowing me to select from a special area. He was always willing to help. We were also involved in the festival dancing hula and watching the festival grow every year. I have fond memories of Doug and the farm.
    I was not aware of his passing so it was quite a shock. I was looking up the hours planning to vusit soon. Many, many ipuheke have been made from the farm which reside in many places as Japan, Kauai and standard impliments of many kumu (hula teachers).
    I am sure Doug hears my heart when I say, Mahalo Doug for your kindness and your vision of your gourds. Your gourds are vital to the Hawaiian culture. The gourd are like children which we teach chants as we beat out the spurirual rhythm. Stories are told to the gourds and held within. There are even rules of treatment toward these impliments. They are tuly special to us and will be forever thankful to the father of all these gourd. Truly a master plan that was written long ago. I understand why he was so driven to become this farmer. He was chosen to nurture these wonderful “ipu”gourds to help us perpetuate the strength of a culture. Mahalo nui loa a me Ke Akua Pû. (thank you very much and God Bless). Kekoa Sone

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