Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they produce and sell. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
By Sarah West
Nestled between wooded hillside and a bend in the meandering Gales Creek, Anne and Rene’ Berblinger’s Gales Meadow Farm feels like a place hewn from the pastoral imagination: nine smooth acres fan out in a rough triangle from the back of the property, bordered cozily by tall trees, onto a vista of the slender Gales Creek valley and its well-muscled foothills that begin galloping into the coast range a handful of miles west of the farm. It is a vista I know well from spending two summers as a part-time farmhand there in 2010 and 2011, enjoying a morning coffee, planting, harvesting and pulling weeds in that glorious backdrop.
Anne and Rene’ began hobby-farming the site in 1999, coming from non-farm careers and a simple desire to work outdoors and grow beautiful food. Their operation soon expanded to include one, then many employees, some who live on-site, most of whom are young people interested in learning more about organic vegetable production. The farm earned organic certification from Oregon Tilth in 2001, and has remained strictly organic since then. They sell summer vegetables at the Hollywood and Cannon Beach farmers’ markets, and spring plant starts here at Hillsdale.
Their plant list boasts an astonishing 300 varieties, an accomplished collection for a farm of this scope. And Gales Meadow is all about collections: tomato varieties number in the forties, pepper and garlic varieties in the twenties, many of which are perpetuated using seed collected onsite. This is a boon both for the farm and the home gardeners who purchase vegetable starts from GMF, as the plants are well adapted to the climatic and soil conditions of our region.
“Sometimes I say that we had to be farmers, since we never had room to grow all the varieties we wanted to try in a garden,” Anne said of her transition from gardener to farmer fifteen years ago.
A quick look at their tomato variety list makes it clear that the Berblingers do not perpetuate the usual suspects. A healthy handful of the varieties they grow are sourced not from seed catalogs but from fellow farmers and customers who pass on their own favorites. The result is a gallery of unique tomatoes, well-tested in both garden and kitchen, many of which are exclusive to Gales Meadow Farm.
Nostrano, a round, red variety that comes from the seeds of a tomato purchased at a market in Turino, Italy are Anne’s favorite slicing tomato for summer sandwiches or just eating out of hand. Italian Heart, a creamy-pink beauty of a sauce tomato with large-shouldered fruits that taper to a point (reminiscent of a heart) quickly cook down to a light, aromatic sauce. Piccolo San Marzano, a miniature version of the classic Italian sauce tomato, makes an excellent portable snack, and is featured in homemade catsup at farm meals.
Gales Meadow Farm is one of this year’s Edible Portland Local Food Hero nominees, an honor they’ve received in part for their farming and nursery work, as well as their dedication to educating gardeners and young farmers about organic agriculture. Anne and Rene’ farm with a gardener’s mentality, valuing beauty, flavor and narrative over high productivity or vegetables with a long shelf life, and many of the lessons they’ve learned in their fifteen-year farm journey translate well to a garden of any size. Anne and Rene’ have reaped delicious rewards from experimenting with seed saving, and encourage all gardeners to try their hand at it.
“Use open-pollinated varieties and save seeds of your favorites,” Anne advises, “especially self-pollinating vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and beans.”
And, at the farm or garden scale, success with organic growing comes from seeing the garden as an ecosystem, a great balancing act.
“Love your pollinators,” encourages Anne, “provide ten months of bloom in your garden, a pesticide free environment, and places for their babies to grow.”
And as for those pesky weeds and tenacious pests, focus on management, “don’t even try to eliminate them.”
The relaxed and patient approach to agriculture I learned at Gales Meadow Farm still informs my own gardening practices, and many of the exceptional varieties I was introduced to there have earned a permanent place in my own seed collection. Hillsdale Farmers’ Market and the local food community are fortunate to have these local food heroes in our midst.
Gales Meadow Farm is only at Hillsdale through May, so don’t delay in choosing one of their alluring tomato or pepper varieties for your garden this year!