Noteworthy Farming, Organic Style ~ Vernon Peterson
Stroll onto the Peterson Family Farm and you’ll feel the song of work; the buzz of farm activity, the tractor rolling through the rows, and a melody… a bit of an old hymn, sung by owner, Vernon Peterson, as he moves about his ranch. If there is a man that is characterized by a musical note, a beaming smile, and an open heart, it’s Vernon Peterson, who with his wife, Carol, son, Erik and daughter, Heather, form The Peterson Family Farm.
Proud of their Swedish heritage, the Peterson’s have owned and farmed this land for many years. In 4 generations we’ve only moved a quarter of a mile! Vernon declares, a large smile spreading across his face as he gazes at his orchard. I’ve been farming for 31 years; I started at age 5, out in the field, grading cannery peaches, across the street from where I live now. My dad farmed tree fruit, grapes and chickens. We all pitched in that’s just how a family farm works. I never thought of my dad as having a different occupation from me! We all just worked the farm. Dad allowed us boys to work, make mistakes, and learn from them.
From him I learned so much, but mostly, he was a genuine man. He loved life and loved to help people. In fact, in a nutshell, that’s what we do on this farm today. We take entry level people, help them get a foot in the door of American society and learn to work hard. The people that started with us years ago are: doctors, lawyers, and teachers today.
After high school, Vernon kicked around the idea of both dentistry and veterinary medicine, but the amount of schooling and time spent indoors made him think twice. He prayed and felt the calling to farm. He attended Reedley College, then Fresno State University, and while majoring in agri-business in his junior year, his father was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and someone was needed to farm the ranch… that someone was Vernon.
Seven short months later, his dad had passed away and he was in charge. What was it like? Scary!! I can remember a crew of men walking toward me, coming to prune. I was in charge of them, but they knew more about pruning than I did! Not long after, a wonderful man named Richard Milton taught me how to prune. In one hour I had a skill I could use for the rest of my life. So, looking back, I say, “You play the hand you’re dealt.”
Vernon’s smile disappears. After 10 years of farming, we went broke…started over completely in 1985. Vernon then built a packing shed that runs all summer; like so many farmers, he had to do something to supplement the farm income in order to keep the ranch. In the last 30 years he has put 100% of his effort into maintaining his family farm and all his growers, and has, for years, felt a heavy burden to not only steward his farm, but to help his neighbors be successful. These guys are working 2 and 3 jobs to keep their family farms alive! About 3 years ago, I felt there was a wall of impossibility in front of me. I asked myself, How can I help the growers not only survive, but thrive!
Vernon flashes a big grin. About that time I sensed an opportunity with organics. I talked to the growers about transitioning between conventional farming and organic, a 3 year term in which yields will decrease by as much as 25%, while the farmer gets paid only at the conventional rate. It takes guts to make a move like that, but he and his growers have made the change and couldn’t be happier about it. Abundant Harvest Organics is the creation resulting from taking the produce from the soil to the dinner table in the simplest possible way. Says Vernon, “We don’t need the packer, the warehouse, the salesman, the driver, and the grocer…that leaves a way for people to get the finest, fresh organic produce at a good price, while keeping the family farm profitable. Everybody wins!”
The joyful music of farm work hums on as Vernon and family continue to grow fruit and help people… organically!
View a video below about Abundant Harvest and Meet Uncle Vernon Peterson and his hard working family.