“There was never a time where I knew a farm was going to be offered to me,” says Lisa Perry of Odell, Oregon, the heart of orchard country, “But I was willing to put in the sweat equity into operating a farm anyway.” Today, you can’t point to just one farm or business that Perry is involved in. From making plans to carry on her family’s farm stand, Cody Orchards Farm Stand, to planting trees with her husband Ricardo on his uncle’s farm to tending to their newly purchased acreage and helping out with her stepdad’s orchard business, Perry lives and breathes the orchard life.
Perry is a fifth-generation farmer—but the path to becoming a farmer and landowner was not clear, or easy. Perry loved the chores on the farm even as a kid, laying irrigation pipe and fertilizing the trees. Every school project she could, she linked to farming; how many 6th graders write a report on NAFTA? After college, Perry worked alongside her mom at the family farm stand and became more involved with her stepdad’s orchard and business.
Her stepdad, Glen Cody, said, "I knew I needed to expand the farm acreage in order to provide for the family. Neighbors approached me asking if I would lease their farms because they had witnessed how I had farmed for the last 30 years.”
Cody offered his son and Perry each a lease. “The leased locations worked out perfect to allow my kids to gain some independence,” he said.
It was also was important to see if they were really serious. As Perry puts it, it’s one thing to show up for work every day, it’s another to manage the orchard. She leased the land for five years and gained a solid reputation.
“People in the community know that I want to make sure the farms stick around here in Hood River,” she said. For a county that faces the highest agricultural land prices in Oregon, that’s no easy task.
For the first year, Cody covered some of the up-front costs. After harvest, Perry paid him back for labor, all expenses, and paid him an additional 5 percent of the crop for equipment. Perry says, “This allowed us to get our foot in the door without going into debt.” Leasing also provided an opportunity for her to, step by step, build her own tool box and her skills as a worker and manager. She worked with a solid crew of one family. “I am thankful to have an established rapport with the crew, it made it easier to step into a leadership role,” she said. “I grew up working with them. As a female it can be difficult to be the one in charge and giving orders, but because they knew me, and they knew I would work alongside them, it worked.”
And family was watching. Perry’s husband, Ricardo Galvez, is a second-generation farmer. Perry says, “The Galvez brothers came from Pihuamo, Mexico, in the 1970s. They worked on several farms and in the Hood River Valley before buying their own farm in the early 2000s.” Galvez’s Grandpa Calvin recognized both Galvez and Perry’s hard work ethic and ability to work at every level on the farm, and he offered them 12 acres for purchase.
A workshop on farm succession put on by Oregon State University’s Austin Family Business Program, titled “Family Agricultural Enterprise Succession Management Transition Seminar,” helped make the transition successful. Perry says, “they provided talking points and broke down all the job responsibilities, so we had a clear sense of what needed to be done and the awkward conversations we needed to have.”
“This is our third season operating Grandpa's farm, and we are still in the infancy of transitioning into the more complex Galvez farm,” Perry said. “The goal right now is to simplify ownership on one piece of the farm by buying out one uncle this year.”
But as she says, they will have to get creative—Hood River has some of the most expensive agricultural land in the state. “If the future allows, Ricardo and I will have the option to buy out other uncles on the remaining acreage. This stair-step approach may be the best option for us young farmers with low capital, and for the uncles who have different reasons to retire at different times.”
One thing is for sure, Lisa Perry is in this for the long haul, for her community. As she says: “An apple a day allows the farmer to stay.”