Conservation Neighbor Leslie Van Allen and the Agrarian Way of Life

Leslie displays one of her gorgeous gourds. © T. Matteson
Leslie displays one of her gorgeous gourds. © T. Matteson

The agrarian way of life appears romantically pastoral to the passerby. Few people understand the physical demands, market complexity, and vulnerability to risk that many farmers face. Fortunately some dedicated souls endure the farm’s challenges to bring the bounty of the Earth and good will to our community.

Leslie Van Allen, farmer, manager and marketer is one such soul. Many say farming is not a job, but a lifestyle. Leslie appreciates how the farm’s workload varies with the seasonal cycles.  During the production and harvest seasons, she spends long days at La Mancha Ranch & Orchard, Brooklane Orchard, and Brooklane Farm, which is her own agrarian adventure. Up early on Saturdays, she heads for the Newport Market as a direct sales vendor to share and glean the rewards of her trade. She cherishes the social networking of Market: the opportunity to make special friendships around growing food, the pleasure of familiar customer faces, and their sincere appreciation for her mindfully-grown produce. She treats herself to a walk on the beach before driving back to Willamette Valley agricultural chores. She also wears her retailer hat at the Brooklane Orchard Stand. Her shopkeeper’s demeanor is graced with humble patience.

In the winter Leslie spends much of her time pruning apple trees and the shorter days allow her time inside to reflect and plan the next season’s work: crop rotations (alternate alliums with tomatoes; popcorn and squash), cover crop management, manure application, and weed control measures. As the weather warms in April and May, there is plenty of lush spring grass to mow and she is busy with blossom and fruit thinning.

Growing up in Maryland, Leslie attributes her love of Planet Earth to a childhood blessed with outside activities including summers filled with family camping trips.  She moved to Oregon in 1997 to study environmental studies and after taking an urban farm class realized her passion for agriculture. Prior to working at La Mancha and Brooklane, she gained experience on many farms including local Denison Farms and Gathering Together Farm. She also managed the Starker Arts Garden for Education (SAGE) for a year.

Her favorite conservation practice is cover crops to increase organic matter and soil fertility. She has undersown clover in her popcorn rows, and appreciates the increase of soil organic matter that result from sequential plantings of buckwheat. She marvels at the haze of bumble bees in the Phacelia tanacetifolia, a cover crop that is well known for its benefits to pollinators. Another one of her conservation goals is to minimize reliance on petro-chemicals. For example, she seeks alternatives to the use of black plastic for weed control and increased soil temperatures.

Phacelia_tanacetifolia_with_Bombus_terrestris © Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons
Phacelia_tanacetifolia_with_Bombus_terrestris © Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons

As a younger farmer she liked the physical work of the field and being worn out at the end of the day. Now, a good day’s work includes watching honey bees as they pollinate her squash crops, meeting a tree frog hidden in an artichoke, and the beauty of her vegetable harvest.

Thank you, Leslie, for growing our food.