My partner and I both arrived in Oregon at the beginning of the 1970s. For the past 13 years or so, we’ve poured our hearts, our souls and even our retirement into providing raw goat milk and goat cheese to the Eugene community as owners of Ferns’ Edge Goat Dairy.
It was actually my son Tony and his then-wife, Andhi Reyna, who built and started the dairy; Fred and I continued after the first year. If we survive, it’s because of all of you, the stores and their customers — and particularly our beloved Farmer’s Market. If we don’t, you’ve fed our passions and our souls, you’ve appreciated our efforts and you’ve given us unlimited solace when we despair.
My history in Eugene is long — can it really be almost 50 years? My history with the Saturday/Farmers Market is very nearly that long. As a very poor grad student with four kids to support, I was sustained by trades with Saturday Market vendors. Can you believe I traded goat breeding for Dana’s Cheesecake and milk for lemonade?
It was about the mid ’70s when Saturday Market started a tiny farmers’ component. When I was hired to manage it, my job was mostly to beg and plead with a few reluctant farmers to participate. In the early spring, when they had so little ready to sell, their presence was a gift of belief in the future rather than a profit-making endeavor.
Part of my job was hauling a wooden booth in for consignments (no little light pop-up booths in those days!) and to write a weekly newsletter for the farmer vendors. Congressman Peter DeFazio (what a hero!) was one of our first and most supportive customers.
Since then, I’ve worked as the first archaeologist hired by the Willamette National Forest, taught anthropology at Lane Community College for some 30 years and then worked at Oregon Research Institute for another 20 years (yes, some of these jobs overlapped a bit). Along the way I’ve watched the Farmers Market transform from a tentative appendage to the Saturday Market to a vibrant sister and a critical partner. I’ve seen public attitudes toward both markets change from suspicion of the alternative community to fully accepting them as a central icon of the Eugene lifestyle and a magnet for visitors.
The weeks preceding opening day of the market have been a truly difficult period for the farmers. The snowstorm crippled all of us in various ways: destroying crops, buildings and greenhouses and wiping out sales because we could not get products to market. We, along with our fellow vendors, counted heavily on the first market of the season to bring in some critical cash. Initially, it didn’t look good; it was raining heavily. Sprinkles are OK, but intermittent downpours definitely discourage customers. There were few early visitors.
But Eugene came through! By noon, our loyal customers were showing up in large numbers. I, for one, was near to shedding tears of relief and gratitude. “How’s your day going?” I asked my neighbor vendors. “Great,” they replied. “Thank goodness!”
We love you, Eugene!
Ferns’ Edge Goat Dairy sells farmstead artisan cheeses and fresh raw milk at fernsedgegoatdairy.com.