Seeders: Chrissie & Koorosh Zaerpoor, Kookoolan Farms
The Farm: 5 acres in Yamhill – vegetable CSA – co-op of farmers producing high-quality grassfed & pastured meats – on-farm store & meadery
What They Seed: organically grown vegetables, grass fed beef & lamb, pasture-raised organically fed chickens & eggs, pastured pork
What They Feed: Farm-fermented Mead & Kombucha
Where You Can Find Them:
Farmers Markets: Hillsdale (Sunday), Bethany Village (Wednesday)
Retail: Barbur World Foods (Portland), Harvest Fresh (McMinnville), Know Thy Food (Portland)
On the Farm: Self-Service Farm Store
Online: CSA Sign Up & Meat Shares
Over a decade ago, as a processing engineer at Intel living the corporate lifestyle, Chrissie took an interest in nutrition to improve her own well-being. She began learning about organic fruits & vegetables and grass fed and pasture-raised meats and wanted to adopt a healthier diet. It proved to be more challenging than anticipated (pasture-raised meats were unheard of at her local natural grocery store at the time) and so she and her husband Koorosh (also an engineer at Intel) took matters into their own hands. Leaving their Aloha, Oregon apartment, they purchased a 5 acre farm in Yamhill in 2005. They had no farming experience but a lot of ambition and a great amount of transferable skills (it turns out a few of the things you learn as an engineer come in handy as a farmer, to say the least!)
They started out trying a bit of everything: cows, dairy goats and chickens. They were learning a lot, including that 5 acres wasn’t enough land to raise such a variety of animals on. In 2006, Chrissie left Intel to be on the farm full-time. The Kookoolan Farm Store opened for business: a self-service on-farm store open 365 days a year, offering products they had grown and raised. They also started an organic vegetable garden, while continuing to work out their systems and prioritize projects that were proving successful.
One day, a conversation with a neighbor sparked an idea for a new business model. Their neighbor was running sheep on his property to get a break on his property taxes and keep his pasture down. After he was done with the flock each fall, he would drive the animals to auction. With what he was paying for feed through the winter and gas for the trip to the auction, the per pound dollar amount he was getting in return didn’t even cover his tax break. In Chrissie’s mind, here were these beautiful 100% pasture-raised animals that her customers would appreciate and pay a fair price for but they were undergoing the stressful handling and transportation going to market as commodity meat. Koorosh and Chrissie soon realized there were other farmers in the area with great integrity that were not interested in the entrepreneurial and marketing side of getting their product to consumers. Gradually over several years, Chrissie has cultivated relationships with local neighbor farmers, providing a rigid framework of pasture-based and antibiotic-free and hormone-free husbandry guidelines so that a variety of meats are now offered under the Kookoolan Farms brand. They now work with a handful of producers to offer 100% grass fed beef & lamb, pasture-raised organically fed chickens and eggs and pastured pork, all direct to consumer through their on-farm store, farmers markets and area buying clubs.
Chrissie considers herself a bilingual/bicultural translator of sorts: she works hard with the farmers to provide a high quality product that is processed and packaged to Kookoolan’s standards; the other side of it is marketing and educating her customers on the products they offer. Chrissie was once her own customer: new to the world of organic food and pastured meats, needing to learn how to find and cook it at home. She’s very active with email campaigning and provides customers with all of the information and tools they need to enjoy the Kookoolan meats, eggs and vegetables. Kookoolan Farms now produces and sells about 8000 chickens, 120 pigs, 72 cows, and 72 lambs each year, and have a 40-member vegetable CSA. Chrissie is also very passionate about mead and has her own on-farm winery where she personally produces mead and kombucha.
In early May 2015, Koorosh left Intel and became a full-time farmer at Kookoolan, almost a decade after they originally started. Later this year the Zaerpoors will no longer be considered “beginning farmers” by the USDA definition* but Chrissie says they still have plenty to learn. You can be sure that Kookoolan Farms will continue to grow and evolve to offer great products and improve the food system of the Willamette Valley.
*The USDA defines “beginning farmers” as an individual or entity who: “has not operated a farm or ranch, or who has operated a farm or ranch for not more than 10 consecutive years”
Advice to New Farmers:
Throw out the net and see what you bring in. Start by bringing in every dime, then decide what resonates with you. Take a couple of years to figure it out and then start saying no to some of the dimes.
Every January, sit down and look at your systems. Look at it as if you’re defending your business to investors or a potential buyer. Look at what parts of the business should be killed.
“I’ve pulled more all-nighters as a farmer than I ever did as a student”
“It definitely takes a village to run a farm”
“In another 6 months the USDA won’t even consider us new farmers and it feels like we still don’t know what we’re doing”