From connectstoughton.com website
After death of patriarch, Parisi family forges ahead with organic produce business
Thanksgiving has always been a time to celebrate with friends and family on the Parisi farm, located on Halverson Road a few miles north of Stoughton.
The holiday marks the end of the growing and harvesting season. It’s a time to get some rest after long workdays and enjoy good company and the food grown organically on the farm.
But this Thanksgiving is going to be tough for Terry Parisi, her three adult children and extended family and friends.
Her husband of 35 years, Ron, died at age 60 in July after a four-year battle with cancer.
Terry said Ron was a man with “a lot of integrity,” and it was hard to continue the farming operation as his health declined and his death became imminent.
He loved Thanksgiving, in particular, “because of the family part of it,” Terry said.
“Thanksgiving was always a really big holiday for Ron,” she said. “Ironically and sadly, the type of cancer that Ron had prevented him from eating with his mouth. He was pretty much on a feeding tube for the last four years.
“And even with that, he still wanted to have a big Thanksgiving gathering here with all the food and the smells and all the people, because he wanted to continue to have that camaraderie and that familial tradition, even though he couldn’t eat any of the food.”
So the Parisi tradition of celebrating with family and friends will continue.
Most of the food on the Parisis’ table – the fresh salad, Brussels sprouts, squash dishes and pumpkin pies – comes off the farm. In the past, the Parisis have raised and processed their own turkeys, as well.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to grow most of the food that we’ve been able to eat at Thanksgiving right here on the farm,” Terry said.
The Parisis were initially city-dwellers. Ron and Terry were born and raised in Madison, and that is where their kids were born. They bought the 100-acre property with a big farmhouse on a land contract and moved to the Town of Dunn in 1990.
“When we moved to this farmhouse, all we had was a push lawnmower without a motor on it,” Terry recalled. “Our yard in Madison was tiny.”
The family had to acquire lots of stuff – chainsaws, riding mowers, and eventually a tractor – to survive those early years on the farm, she said.
For the first 14 years, they used about half the land for conventional crop rotation, growing corn, soybeans and wheat. They provided the land for a neighboring farmer to use, and split the cost and the harvest.
That arrangement is ongoing, but about 11 years ago, Franco Parisi, 33, decided he wanted to begin growing produce organically.
He did some research and began growing vegetables on an acre. Each year, he learned more about growing organically and efficiently.
Ron and Terry helped, as well, despite the fact that each had their own career.
Ron worked as a maintenance technician at the UW Hospital until completing an MATC nursing program in 1994. Nursing then became his passion, and he worked for adults with developmental disabilities, caring for them in the comfort of their own homes.
Terry taught in the Oregon School District, where she still works.
Becoming a CSA
In the early years of growing produce, Franco and Terry sold organic vegetables at farmers markets in Stoughton, Oregon and Evansville.
They did most of the work by hand and spent long hours laboring in the garden – especially Franco.
“He is the brains and the grunt work of this operation, and I am ‘stoop labor,’” Terry explained.
“Franco orchestrates what we’re planting and how we’re going to locate it to meet the specifications to be organic. He researches and does all the best practices.”
Within a couple of years, they were supplying produce for grocery co-ops and restaurants in Madison and Stoughton, including The Weary Traveler, Alchemy, Hotel Red and, more recently, Wendigo.
In 2007, they decided to become a CSA farm. Community Supported Agriculture has become a popular model for consumers who want to know where and how their food is grown. It’s beneficial to producers as well, because CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest. Once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of produce in a vegetable box.
“We have probably 45 CSA members this year that we delivered to in Madison and Stoughton,” Terry said. “Now we have four or five acres that are certified organic, but some of that is hay that we grow for our goats. The organic vegetables we grow on a little more than an acre. I think we counted 43 different kinds of vegetables.”
Beyond the veggies, the Parisis also raise goats and chickens. And this year, Franco’s girlfriend, Janelle Burnham, started a beehive.
They had their first live birth of a “kid” on the farm this year and are in the process of breeding goats again.
The family drinks the raw milk and also uses it for cheese and goat milk soap.
“We’ve had a few processed at a place in Albany,” Terry said. “We’ve sold some goat meat and we eat it ourselves. So it would be pasteurized goat meat from animals that are fed organically.”
They raise chickens for eggs and have had some meat chickens as well.
Franco estimated that about 75 percent of the profit he and Terry earn comes from CSA members, with another 25 percent in sales to restaurants and co-ops.
In order for the produce operation to become financially viable long-term, Terry said she and Franco are going to have to enlist more CSA members.
It’s a difficult balance of producing enough food for all those people and not working themselves into the ground.
“We’re kind of at a crossroads right now,” Terry said. “We’re just not even sure because this year has been so incredibly difficult with my husband’s illness and then his ultimate passing, and we had to keep it going without him.
“So we’re kind of re-evaluating,” she continued. “If we were to do the CSA again next year, we certainly would say we’re in for more members.”
She and Franco figure they have the land, and the only way they can make the CSA work is by getting to a threshold where the sweat and equity starts to pay off.
They think that “sweet number” is 70 or 80 members.
“We’re hearing from other farms that once you get to 80, they feel like they can really start to see the numbers make it worthwhile,” Terry said. “We are just at the breaking point.”
As the main laborer, Franco has just passed another long season of 12- to 16-hour days. He said in order to continue at that pace, the operation is going to have to become more mechanized.
“I enjoy growing but we’re trying to get more machine-oriented – it’s the only way to go,” he said. “Right now, it’s like we’re doing subsistence farming for a whole community – just the two of us.
“For me, I’m getting worn out. My knees are starting to hurt.”
The more they talk about it, the more Terry and Franco sound committed to moving ahead with what they’ve begun.
They think that’s the way Ron would want it.
“He was a big loss here on the farm,” Terry confided. “It was really tough to try to keep things going as he became more ill. It’s pretty busy here from like March to November.
“But really that early part of the spring is crucial to make sure that all these plants are getting planted.”
She was preoccupied with helping her husband, and he couldn’t help with the labor.
“So really a lot of it fell on Franco’s shoulders,” she said. “It’s been a tough year to kind of keep on going forward. But we feel happy.”