Photo and text by Kathleen Bauer
When Manuel Recio and his wife, Leslie Lukas-Recio, had the sudden opportunity to buy her family’s farm on Grand Island in Oregon, they saw it as an opportunity to work for themselves as well as a way to include their love of food and the culture of Spain.
Fortunately for them, no one else in the area was growing the special Spanish peppers, beans and other vegetables used in Spanish cuisine, so they tore out farm’s old berry bushes and called their new venture Viridian Farms. Planting the seeds they’d brought back from Spain, that first harvest they started selling their produce at the farmers’ market.
Their market goods got the attention of the city’s chefs, who haunted the market’s stalls for new and different ingredients to feature on their menus. Word eventually leaked out about some of the extraordinary produce grown on the farm like ficoide glaciale (glacier lettuce) and oyster lettuce—it actually tastes like oysters—and they now count nationally known chefs from California to New York among their customers.
Additionally, they’ve started drying some of their peppers and grinding them to make paprikas and a chile mix called Piments Basques that are sold in area specialty markets, and which they can ship to their customers outside the region.
Recio laughs when he recalls how little he knew about farming when he started the process.
“I didn’t know anything at all about setting up an irrigation system, driving a tractor, learning how to plow a field, how to grow things from seed,” he said. “I learned by researching things online and talking to the old-timers around Grand Island.”
Sometimes in the winter when it’s 36 degrees and he’s been out pruning trees for four hours, he starts thinking fondly of his old office job in the advertising agency. But all in all, he and Leslie are very satisfied with their new lives as farmers.
“It’s great being out here in the farm,” he said. “I love the sense of satisfaction I get looking at this big open field and producing food that goes to chefs and customers, and when they enjoy it, it’s very rewarding.”
Kathleen Bauer is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, focusing on agriculture and field-to-plate issues. Her blog, Good Stuff NW, is about her journey to connect the dots between what happening in the field and what she’s putting on her table, including stories about people who are making a difference in our local food system, about eating sustainably and locally, and about the political issues affecting the food we find at our markets and stores.