Do you know what tilth means? It certainly isn’t a word that immediately comes up in my day-to-day conversations, but I recently stumbled on it as I was getting introduced to Eloisa Organic Farm, one of Hollywood Farmers Market newest vendors. And there it was, Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth. Tilth refers to the condition of tilled soil. And this is exactly what Virginia Herrera and Zenon Ramirez have done most of their lives, but on someone else’s farm. Now running their own farm, they are making a long-time dream come true.
Originally from the village of Asuncion Atoyaquillo, Oaxaca, they moved to the U.S. and found work at Spring Hill Organic Farm in Albany, Oregon. For over 25 years, they worked every farm chore there. Spring Hill Farm had been a regular at the PSU Farmers Market, but in 2019 the owners of Spring Hill retired from farming and the market. The farm was divided, and Virginia and Zenon were finally able to make their dream of owning a farm a reality. They took over part of the farm, and named it Eloisa Organic Farm in honor of Virginia’s mother.
They continued tilling the land as they had before, but now it’s theirs. Proud to be part of the community, they serve and feed friends and neighbors with their organically grown vegetables.
The farm maintains Spring Hill’s tradition of producing some of the finest fruits, vegetables, and starts. Hauling their goods 80 miles north to Portland each weekend, they are excited to begin this new chapter of their lives after 25 years.
As things have it, their first market was March 14, 2020, and the beginning of COVID-19 as we know it today in Oregon. 2020 was a rough year. The first season seemed stacked against them. Yet Virginia and Zenon were no strangers to adversity. They kept doing what they knew best, hard work. There was a lot of adjusting to the changing demands. Between lower sales and increased costs, anyone less committed to making good on a long-time dream would have given up. COVID-related packaging requirements mandated that produce had to be washed, pre-weighed, and packed in individual containers. The couple had to add additional labor. So everyone who was still working at Spring Hill, pitched in to help. Belts tightened, but not their hearts.
And if adjusting to COVID-19 demands weren’t enough, the devastating Oregon fires left layers of ash on the produce, lots of it. Ash that had to be washed off vegetables and fruit prior to putting it out for sale. Every curl on bunches of curly leaf kale had to be washed free before transporting them to market. This meant spending hours and hours hand washing hundreds of curly leaf kale bunches, taking true dedication and a whole lot of patience.
Managing the business of farming just added to the list of challenges. Virginia and Zevon knew everything about tilling the land, when to plant, the best seeds to use, the type of soil conditions for the best results, dealing with pests, irrigation needs, harvesting, let’s say they have done it all. But when it came to running a business, they were starting from scratch. Gaining the business expertise to run the farm requires patience and hard work. Running day-to-day operations such as getting an ongoing organic certification, registering for and tracking each farmers market, ordering seed early enough, negotiating contracts, ensuring the right number of permanent employees, hiring seasonal help, and the list goes on. But like other challenges they have tackled, they know that they have the drive and courage to keep their dream alive.
Besides learning the business inside and out, the team looks forward to expanding the business: participating in more farmers markets, establishing a base of regular CSA (community supported agriculture) customers, and doing more wholesale.
When the odds of success seem to be stacked against them, Virginia and Zenon did not give up hope. In spite of fires, pandemics, and management challenges, these hard workers earned enough money over the year to keep the farm operating.
Make sure that you always get your desired fresh vegetables and pre-order your CSA order for speedy pickup at the market. Your order will be separated and ready for you at HFM on the following Saturday.
Want to plant your own without starting from seed? Organically grown vegetable starts are also available. Choose from a wide variety of tomatoes, peppers, greens, and herbs. Seedlings are planted in biodegradable coconut coir (the outer husk of coconut) pots. Best of all, you reap the benefits all season long when you plant your own starts!
Stop by and give Eloisa’s HFM employees a big welcome. They love people to stop and say hi.
See you at the market!
Vendor Profile by Susan Gibson, HFM volunteer