About the Farm
Persephone Farm is situated in Oregon's Willamette Valley where the foothills begin to rise into the Cascade Mountains. The property encompasses 55 acres of river-bottom land bordered by the South Santiam River. Certified organic by Oregon Tilth since 1985, and certified Salmon-Safe, we grow over 40 vegetable crops for farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesale. The farm hosts up to 250 laying hens. We strive to produce the highest quality, most flavorful foods, based on the belief that healthy soil creates healthy plants, which sustain healthy people.
Persephone Farm is operated by Elanor O'Brien and Jeff Falen. We are first generation farmers who fled city and academia to get our hands dirty and seek an alternate way of being on the planet. We learned to farm by trial and error (mostly error) and through the generosity of other farmers willing to share their experiences.
We grow and market only those crops which are adapted to our land and climate. A commitment to sustainability led us away from plastic mulch and season-extending hoophouses because the plastic is derived from nonrenewable petroleum and cannot be recycled to its original form. We both worked on farms that used plastic mulch that was burned or carted off to the dump in truckloads at the end of the season. We don't wish to create that kind of waste. In addition, early production of tomatoes, peppers, basil, and other crops requires supplemental heat and light to get the plants started in the winter, adding a heavy carbon footprint to out of season food production. If the organic solution to the problems of agriculture is to pour more limited resources into those problems, then what have we gained?
Our season is also limited because a heavy clay soil, combined with cold spring rains, makes early planting on our farm difficult. We greatly appreciate the support of our many customers who respect the natural limits of our farm and willingly wait for Persephone's harvest to arrive.
Cover crops, such as rye, vetch, clover, and sudangrass are grown on ground that is out of production. When these crops are turned back into the soil they provide food for earthworms and micro-organisms that work diligently to maintain soil health. We forego the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in order to protect the soil life, as well as our customers. No one family of crops is grown in the same ground year after year, helping to protect our vegetables from diseases and pests. Every field is taken out of food production at least once every four years to let it rest and regenerate. Several decades of organic soil building have reduced our need to purchase fertilizer, stabilized soil pH, improved soil tilth, increased cold tolerance in our crops, and improved the storability and flavors of our produce. The life of the soil is reflected in the vibrancy of the plants it supports. Learn more at the On Farm Fertility page.
Conservation Biological Control
The forested and riparian areas which border our farm (and the natural wildness which creeps in past the fence line) is an important part of a balanced farm ecosystem. We couldn't imagine farming without the tall trees and snags which house osprey, eagles, hawks, and native pollinating insects. We have invited birds and bats to join our insect pest reduction team by providing houses we've hung in trees and on fence posts. We've learned what pollinators and beneficial insects like about wild places... including undisturbed ground, shelter, and a succession of flowers offering nectar and pollen to eat throughout the year... and incorporated some of these natural features into the farm landscape.
Hedgerows of native flowering plants like currant, snowberry, elderberry, Oregon grape, spirea, cluster rose, and serviceberry fill some field borders, and we plan to plant more hedgerows in the future. We plant alyssum, calendula, sunflowers, marigolds, hyssop, and flowering fennel in crop fields to feed insect predators, such as lady beetles, minute pirate bugs, and parasitic wasps.
We also allow market crops to stand and bloom after harvest, providing more tasty treats for beneficial insects.
In parts of the farm where the soil is not fertile or drained well enough to grow vegetables, we have planted Oregon ash, alder, cedar, locust, and fir trees to enhance wildlife habitat and soak up some of the carbon emissions from our farming activities.
Pastured Laying Hens
We raise up to 250 laying hens each season. Two "eggmobiles," coops built on trailer frames, are moved through the fields to new locations every two to four weeks.
Solar powered electric fences enclose a 1/3 acre yard for each flock of 125 laying hens to graze, until the next move to a fresh pasture of clover and grass.
Sometimes hens clean up post-harvest crop residue. Either way, access to plenty of fresh air and room to roam keeps hens healthy and happy. Good grazing makes some of the tastiest and most nutrient-rich eggs. You'll be impressed by the deep orange color and firmness of the yolks. These eggs are certified organic and available at our farmers' market stands and are also used by the good cooks at Hot Lips Pizza in Portland.
Even though laying hens rotated through pasture are not a very good business proposition (see costs discussion below), we like the ways in which chickens cycle nutrients and add to our farm's ecosystem. We find these birds to be tremendously entertaining... and we love their eggs!
Why do These Eggs Cost More?
Most commercial egg operations (organic or non-organic) reside in permanent buildings, allowing for mechanization. Feed and water are automatically provided and eggs may be mechanically collected. Our mobile coops do not lend well to these efficiencies. We pay for the mobility of our flocks with greater labor costs incurred by hauling feed to our birds, collecting eggs by hand, opening the coop in the morning , and closing the coop at night for protection from predators. In return, the hens have access to fresh pasture. Whereas the yard around a permanently located coop would turn to a mudyard devoid of nutrition, our mobile coops allow us to move our flocks onto new ground alive with grass, clover, and bugs. We believe this creates healthier birds that produce more nutritious eggs.
Total production costs: $7.94/dozen
Marketing cost: $3.09/dozen ($0.28 of every dollar spent at our farmers market booths goes toward market fees, sales labor, transportation to market, and other marketing expenses)
Total cost of production and marketing: $11.03/dozen
Price for a dozen of our eggs: $8.00/dozen
Why Sell Eggs at a Loss?
Because our hens pay their keep in ways that are difficult to quantify. They add fertility to the soil, eat bugs, and snap up weed seeds. They bring precious balance to a farm that is dominated by plants, helping us approximate the diversity found in a natural ecosystem.
Announcing a new product available from Persephone beginning in December, 2014 - stewing hens raised on organic pasture and fed organically. See 'Find our Produce & Eggs' for more details.
Resource Conservation and Clean Energy Production
Sustainable resource use is central to our mission of creating an agriculture capable of supporting humanity for a thousand generations. Accepting personal responsibility for our actions means that we don't want to live at the expense of others, even if those people live in a different place and time. For example, our dependence on carbon fuels, and the global warming they are causing, means that up to 15 million Bangladeshi coastal residents will lose their land to rising oceans and salt water intrusion in the next century. Not only will many subsistence farmers lose their connection to ancestral lands, but world food production will be severely impacted by the loss of millions of hectares of fertile ground.
Similarly, any materials that go into a landfill are essentially lost to future generations and are creating a potential source of water and air pollution. There may still be plenty of fossil fuel and metal ore in the ground but there is sure to come a time when these materials grow scarce or the economic and environmental costs of its extraction are too high to accept.
Persephone Farm is striving to break free of the common belief that we can and should live well while letting the future take care of itself. Over 80% of our electrical demand is met by on-farm solar energy production. One of our cultivating tractors has been converted from gas to electric, allowing it to be recharged from our solar panels. Our worker kitchen and bathroom are supplied with solar hot water. Waste products such as oil, oil filters, anti-freeze, metal, glass, wood, and more are recycled. Efficiency considerations guide many of our purchasing decisions, especially with respect to lighting, vehicles, and electric motors. A fleet of bicycles provides on-farm transportation for our workers. Learn more at our Elements of Sustainability page.
About Our Farm's Name
In Greek mythology, Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-a-nee) is the goddess of the Seasons, and the daughter of Demeter, goddess of Agriculture.
Persephone spends part of each year in the underworld, tending to the spirits of the dead. As Demeter mourns Persephone's absence, winter spreads over the earth. In spring, when crocuses bloom and announce Persephone's return, the joy of reunion between mother and daughter fills each seed, bud, and bloom with enthusiasm to burst open and grow.
At Persephone Farm we are grateful for the abundance and beauty we experience in all seasons. In winter we can be a bit more quiet and thoughtful, eating the rich roots of the earth and gathering strength for the long days and vegetable-driven existence of summer. By autumn our market stands are overflowing with an amazing diversity of vibrant and delicious foods. When preparing meals it can be difficult to choose from everything the fields have to offer!
As the first frosts begin to nip at summer's fruits, and foliage changes color, it feels right to let summer go and plant cover crops to nourish and give back to the soil which has given our lives so much richness.