Rising to the challenge of modern farming
By Shannon Larson
Farmers in Oregon and around the country are currently facing challenges not dealt with by previous generations. Changes in laws concerning everything from the environment to the production of goods are forcing farmers to re-think the way they used to do business and the ways in which they can change with the times while keeping their businesses strong and viable. Those associated with Pearmine Farms are no different. The people of Pearmine Farms have met these challenges head on, viewing them as forces for innovation and progression and a way to redefine what it means to work the land.
The history of the farm dates back to the 1930s. Starting out as non-commercial Springer Farms, the land was used solely as a retreat for the owner with Lester Pearmine Sr. as manager. During this time, the farm was used mainly to house livestock including pigs, cattle, and sheep. In 1956 the land was officially sold to Lester Pearmine Jr. and officially became Pearmine Farms.
In 1973, Ron Pearmine finished college and joined his brother Larry who had recently returned from the Peace Corps. Both brothers began working on the farm and slowly reduced the amount of livestock, choosing instead to specialize in vegetables. In 1974 Pearmine Farms joined NORPAC and began selling their product through the organization. Today Pearmine Farms has a little over 500 acres dedicated to cauliflower, broccoli, corn, and green beans. They also have 400 acres dedicated to grass seed and wheat and 20 acres dedicated to sweet cherries used for processing.
Molly and her brother Ernie are the fourth generation of Pearmines farming this piece of land. Molly and husband Lindsay decided to raise their three girls on the farm as well. “I saw a real value in raising my kids on the farm,” says Molly. “I learned a lot from growing up on the land and I want my kids to learn the same value of work I did when I was young.”
Like many other farms around the state, Pearmine is currently dealing with the challenges of navigating current changes in laws regarding everything from succession planning to land management.
“Family farms sometimes tend to operate as families and less like businesses,” says Molly. “We have realized that in order to grow professionally, we must grow personally and a lot of this has to do with investing in human capital.”
Along with changes in how the business aspect of the operation is run, the family has also made changes to how the land is managed and treated. Recently Pearmine Farms decided to transition about 20 acres of land into land used for organic farming. The process is valuable but daunting as it takes a total of three years to create a certified orgnanic piece of property. For three years there were no non-organic chemical applications applied to that area of the farm. The family did, however, make use of chicken manure fertilizer which is high in natural nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus and is known to be an excellent and natural way to grow vegetables if used properly. Without proper treatment, chicken manure could burn or kill plants due to high amounts of nitrogen, so correct composting of the product is necessary before use.
Transitioning 20 acres of land into certified organic vegetable production was a challenge for the farm but 2010 marks the first year the farm will be able to grow and sell certified organic products. A rotation of corn and beans will be produced and sold through NORPAC, but marketing organic wheat and other products in the future will also be evaluated.
“This is not a new way to farm,” said Molly. “My grandfather essentially grew organic products, so we are actually going back to the old way of doing things. This land is ours and we control it. Farming is a responsibility and if we don’t treat the land right, it will stop giving back to us.”
Along with dedicating 20 acres of land to organic food production, in 2004 Pearmine Farms—partnering with the Wetlands Reserve Program and Ducks Unlimited—converted 35 acres of land back into a natural wetland. The family now owns a private wetland that attracts many wild birds and animals and serves as an educational tool for children.
“For Christmas my kids got binoculars and books on birds,” said Molly. “During the summer we essentially go hiking and camping in our own backyard. It is a great escape for my kids and it teaches them about how nature and farming can go hand in hand.”
Education is important to Molly who spent her time in college studying education and her first couple of years out of college teaching to middle school-aged kids. Last year was the first year that Pearmine Farms hosted a pumpkin patch, appropriately called Another Pumpkin Patch, which not only served as a way for children to have fun on the farm but also as a means to teach kids about farming. Over two acres of land were dedicated to growing pumpkins and gourds and another two acres of land were turned into a corn maze.
“Pumpkin patches are a great way to reach people who normally do not venture out into working farms during other times of the year,” said Molly. A large tractor was parked near the patch and when kids began asking her about how it worked, she turned the questions and answers into math problems.
“It was fun to give them math problems about how much the tractor burned and how much diesel it held and how much, in total, the driving of the tractor could cost. It made them think more about the practical aspect of farming.”
Pesticide use was another big topic and was often brought up by visitors to the pumpkin patch. Both children and adults asked Molly if the farm used pesticides on the vegetables.
“I explained it to everyone in the same way,” Molly explained. “I first asked them if they ever took perscription medicine and when they answered yes, I told them that pesticides were kind of the same thing. If you have a bug in your body you want to get rid of it so you can be healthy. It is the same thing with plants.”
Another Pumpkin Patch also serves as a way to give back to the community. The Pearmines asked for cans of food in exchange for a walk through the corn maze and all of the money made from entrance into the patch was donated to Farmers Ending Hunger and the Marion Polk Food Share. In total, the pumpkin patch raised more than $5000 and collected hundreds of canned goods. “It was a great way to educate people of all ages about programs like Farmers Ending Hunger and the Marion Polk Food Share as well as NORPAC,” said Molly. “Every person who came out to the patch talked to me personally and I had the opportunity to explain to them that one acre of corn equals 114,000 cans. They were amazed.”
Pearmine Farms in only one example of an Oregon farm dedicated to the idea and promotion of agricultural stewardship. Currently farmers are taking it upon themselves to find ways to work with and understand the changes in farming laws while maintaining a viable business. The Pearmines are not only dedicated to producing quality Oregon-grown products, but are also dedicated to promoting and sharing the harmony that can be found between farming and the environment. “We consider ourselves to be an innovative farm,” said Molly. “Being small gives us the opportunity to experiment with new ways of producing and caring for the land. We hope other farms use what we do on their own land as well.”