When we started Persephone Farm 22 years ago, soil maps indicated we would be working with one of the best soils in Oregon. We quickly learned that we had moved onto a heavy clay soil that was slow to dry in the spring and eager to form clods at any time of year.
For years, we struggled to plant by April 1st. More often than not, tens of thousands of greenhouse starts were discarded for lack of dry ground. And, even when crops were planted early, cold soils resulted in poor growth.
Compounding the problem was a stubborn, and perhaps foolish, wish to minimize our use of non-renewable, non-recyclable plastics. This commitment foreclosed the option of growing crops to maturity inside plastic greenhouses, as is commonly done in Western Oregon. Conventional wisdom says that bringing produce to market early is an essential element of success. Success looked like a dim prospect.
After years of regrets (did we purchase the wrong place?) and disappointment (drowned crops and discarded starts), we gave up trying to plant early and came to realize that the limits of our soil and the restrictions imposed by our own efforts to use resources sustainably were a profound gift. We discovered the meaning of seasonality and learned to thrive within the constraints of nature. We found joy and fatigue in the hurried pace of a five to six month growing season when the exuberant tide of life sweeps us up in her onrushing current. We found peace and sweet rest in the long winter nights while the land lay easy beneath gentle rains. And a farm name chosen largely on a whim came to symbolize a belief that life and land are enriched when we learn to work within the natural boundaries of the seasons rather than pursue the notion that we should have whatever we want, whenever we want it.
Thankfully, our customers too, have accepted and welcomed our seasonal produce.
Written by Jeff Falen and Elanor O’Brien, Persephone Farm