Farm: Gales Meadow Farm
Gales Meadow Farm is a 2014 Local Hero Award nominee in the Farm category. Read about the Local Hero Awards and the nominees. Voting is now closed. Winners will be announced at Summer’s First BBQ on June 12 – get your tickets today to feast with the Pacific Northwest’s finest!
When Anne and Rene’ Berblinger of Gales Meadow Farm bought their land in 1991, they imagined they’d work as small-scale hobby farmers. But farming quickly developed into a serious passion, and the enjoyment they derived from it was infectious as the farm grew to support several full-time employees.
The Berblingers have always been eager to share their knowledge and are known for both their educational programs and their extensive selection of starter plants that they sell to home gardeners at farmer’s markets. Gales Meadow now produces hundreds of plant varieties, and its farmers are driven by a desire to take care of the land and pass on the wisdom of organic farming.
We sat down with Anne and Rene’ to talk about how their farm has grown from a modest interest to a farmer’s market staple.
How did you get started in farming, and what are the origins of Gales Meadow Farm?
Farming was certainly not a first career for us, but we were always interested in it. My husband Rene’ started as a home gardener at 6 years old selling tomatoes from his little red wagon to neighbors. He helped me build my first garden when I was in graduate school. We thought that we would do it on a small and modest scale. That’s the way it was for the first several years. We bought our tractor in 1999, and that’s when we really made a commitment to farming. Initially, we were farming ourselves, selling at the Hollywood Market and to a few restaurants, and having help here and there from friends. In 2006 one of our occasional employees called us to ask if he could he come work for us. So we thought it over and that’s when we got our first full-time employee. We expanded the number of acres we were working on, and added some more restaurants to our list.
Are there any key principles that guide your farming practice?
We actually have a mission statement that is to take care of the land, to teach and encourage aspiring farmers, and to provide the very best plants and vegetables to our customers. Growing starts for other farmers and home gardeners is a big part of our business. What we’re aiming at with everything we do is to produce the very best vegetables that we possibly can. We’re also saving a lot of our seeds and sharing them with others. We want to protect the integrity of heirloom varieties and see what we can do with low-tech breeding.
Are there any challenges that you’ve encountered on the farm?
One challenge that’s kind of fun is finding a new variety of some kind of vegetable, growing it ourselves, and then educating our customers about it if we like it. Years ago, someone gave us nine sorrel plants. I didn’t know much about it, and picked out a cookbook that had information on sorrel. Now it’s one of our most popular crops, and I think we’re one of very few that grow it. Another example is spigarello, which is a form of leaf broccoli that’s just absolutely delicious. It’s a very striking looking thing because the leaves are like curly ribbons. Learning about it ourselves and then introducing it to other people has been a challenge that’s also really fun.
Traveling trophy awarded to Gales Meadow by the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District for Soil Conservation Cooperator of the Year
What methods are you using on your farm?
We’ve done everything very low-tech. We minimize our tillage, and we’ve scaled down from using a lot of overhead irrigation to mostly drip, which saves a lot of water. But the main thing we do is let the land take care of itself. Soil is a living thing, and it’ll grow and heal itself as long as you don’t get in the way. We use amendments and compost pretty sparingly, and we’ll concentrate them only where the heavy feeding plants are. We’ve been organic certified since 2001, and only organic practices have been used on our ground since we began in 1991. One thing that often gets lost in the discussion of organic is the idea of good tilth – improving the quality of the land, being good stewards, and putting organic matter back into it, which are all goals we have.
What has been one of your most fun farming education programs?
Anne has been doing a program for a few years now where she’ll goes to a preschool and bring pumpkin seeds. The kids plant their seeds, then she’ll take the plants back to the farm and get them going in the greenhouse. The kids and their families come out for a giant picnic and to plant the pumpkins. Then in the fall when the pumpkins are ready, the families come out again for another picnic and pick the pumpkins they want. It’s hands-on, and it’s been a really successful program. It gives us a lot of hope to see the kids’ excitement over planting something and watching it grow.
If you could tell the world one thing about farming, what would it be?
We never imagined we would be farming on the scale that we are today. It just took over and became so compelling and enjoyable. Sure, it’s not without problems and frustrations, but it’s such a satisfying life to be a farmer. You learn something everyday, you’re doing different things every day; and you see the results of what you’re doing right before your eyes and in the satisfaction of your customers. You get to eat the best food, and when you roll out of bed you’re in the most beautiful place in the world.
Photos of basil & trophy by Chelsea Combs
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