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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
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