Lucie Gouin examines seeds from a friend’s tomato plant that she says tasted particularly good. On a plate at her kitchen table and labeled “9/23/13,” the heirloom seeds are among hundreds meticulously plucked, dried and saved for possible cultivation for the farm’s community-supported agriculture members. These luscious, thin-skinned heirlooms at the farmers’ market come at a price–and not just to the consumer.
They also sell at farmers’ markets, including the Saturday market near Portland State University. Poulos harvests vegetables Friday night. Gouin washes them into the wee hours, then he loads them and departs around 4:30 a.m. They joke that, by September, Poulos resembles a zombie.
Heirloom tomato production begins the previous season, by picking and saving seeds from the best plants. “Harvesting and saving heirloom tomato seed is like collecting dying wishes,” quips Gouin. “It is practically an obligation and comes with the promise of unmatched flavor next year.” Some of their favorite varietals include brandywine, black krim, green zebra, cherokee green, rosso sicilian and Matt’s wild cherry.
Tomatoes are just a part of their overall business strategy. “Every piece is important for a small farm,” says Poulos. In addition to the CSA and farmers’ markets, the couple, both 42, grow hay for their two cows, raise pigs for their own table, and are continually improving their greenhouse and irrigated pastures. Last year, they took their first vacation since 2007.
Twice a year, they invite their CSA members to a day on the farm. “What I liked so much was the relationship of my food, my farmer and the dinner on my table, says CSA member Madge Peinkofer of Salem. “I loved that it was organic, local and delivered. Also, it was so wonderful to be hugged by my farmer.”
Standing outside their greenhouse in rubber boots, covered in muck and wrapped in wool to keep away the afternoon chill, these unlikely transplants are a reminder that behind every produce stand is a way of life that strives to preserve the land for generations to come. “CSAs and small organic farms are powerful supporters of and investments in a clean state,” says Gouin.