Oregon’s Willamette Valley is an agricultural paradise. Farmers, orchardists, ranchers and producers have flocked to the area since the mid-1800s for the rich soil, abundant rainfall and moderate temperatures. The region’s cultural heritage is rooted in a connection to land stewardship. Pacific Foods of Oregon founder Chuck Eggert has a strong appreciation for local agricultural history. With values rooted in connectedness to cultural and culinary manifestations, Eggert began acquiring land in the North Willamette Valley in 2002. Today the Eggert family is one of the many pioneers bringing organic farming to and sustaining soil tilth in North Willamette Valley.
Pacific Foods of Oregon is a privately owned and operated company that began in 1987 as a food manufacturing and processing facility. With the goal of creating healthy shelf-stable food choices using ingredients grown with integrity, the company developed a program called Certified to the Source, designed to identify exactly where the company’s ingredients come from and how they were grown. Through the program, each ingredient used in Pacific Foods’ products must be approved by Eggert himself.
As the company began to grow, Eggert realized there weren’t enough local, organic producers growing the ingredients the company was looking for, like celery, leeks, cilantro, butternut squash, tomatoes and dairy for Pacific’s creamy soups. To combat the problem, Eggert and his family began buying farmland in the North Willamette Valley, converting it to organic and growing themselves some of these ingredients Pacific Foods was seeking. To date, the Eggerts have converted 3,200 acres of conventional farmland to organic throughout the state.
The Eggerts’ farms include organic crop and livestock rotational operations, with an emphasis on high welfare, pasture-based animal husbandry. The Eggert family also owns three organic dairies and a calving barn. The dairies are large enough to supply all of the dairy needs for Pacific Foods’ creamy soups and other products.
“We know all 1,400 cows the milk comes from, and that’s why our creamy soups taste so good,” says Eggert. “It’s all designed around what goes into the animals’ feed.”
Chuck’s sons Chris and Charlie oversee farm operations. Chris, Farm Director, is responsible for the farm’s feed and seed while managing crop production and harvest, as well as the dairy operations. Charlie directs overall farm operations and manages a growing organic hog farm and breeding facility.
The family farms also grow more than 80,000 chickens and turkeys annually, with neighboring farmers growing an additional 300,000 chickens annually, helping satisfy Pacific Foods’ ingredient need for free-range, organic chickens.
“When one of the oldest chicken hatcheries on this side of the country closed down, our poultry manager talked to them and helped get it up and running again,” Eggert says. “Now, the hatchery is growing the chicks for us, and it has allowed them to stay up and running.”
The farms are constantly experimenting with scalable, sustainable and organic systems and methods. For example, the farms have developed customizable mobile pasture housing systems for poultry flocks. This effort simulates the birds’ natural environment and allows them to grow as nature intended, eating worms and bugs from the soil for protein while fertilizing and grazing on organic pasture grasses.
However, Eggert’s vision has never been to be vertically integrated. His end goal was to stimulate the region and provide a market for the area’s agricultural economy. Over the last 12 years, the Eggert family has cultivated long-term relationships with area farmers, orchardists and ranchers to help grow more of the ingredients Pacific Foods requires. The farms work closely with other producers in the area setting high welfare systems that meet rigorous third-party certifications such as Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and Global Animal Partnership (GAP). The Eggert family also owns and operates meat processing and packing facilities, ensuring that the animals are treated humanely from beginning to end.
All the animals are pasture based. The poultry and pigs are outside year round, while the cows are out for nearly 6 months of the year, across a combined 500 acres of rotational grazing pasture. During the months they are in the barn (due to the rainy, wet seasonality of the Pacific Northwest), the cows eat a supplemented diet of grains and other crops grown on Eggert’s 2,700 acres of cultivated land. This way, the farms know exactly what they are feeding the livestock while echoing Pacific Foods’ values of identifying the source of each and every ingredient. The farms work closely with an animal nutritionist to ensure that the livestock are getting all the necessary nutrients and growing appropriate crops, including organic corn, alfalfa, barley and grass silage.
As a leader in the North Willamette Valley’s organic agriculture movement, Eggert is constantly exploring innovative ways to operate sustainably while remaining commercially viable, following organic practices on his own family farms. Eggert is truly setting a standard in the organic agriculture industry.
Much of Eggert’s innovative inspiration comes from a library of late 19th century books on agriculture. Eggert’s library is dominated by books and periodicals published by Orange Judd Company. These books are known for being practical and reliable guides to understanding all things agricultural, such as conservation land planning, farm drainage, bee keeping, and even the culture of cranberries. Eugene Davenport, a practical, yet philosophical and expressive writer, is also an inspiration for Eggert and many of the area farmers who work with Pacific Foods. Davenport has written many noteworthy stories of farm lifestyle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and draws from his own experience of rural life on the farm.