• Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Meet your Local Oregon Farmer

Thistledown Farm is a family owned and operated business where the peaches drip off the trees and the Walla Walla Sweet onions pluck themselves right out of the ground. The Henderson family does an amazing job of making you feel like you’ve found that quintessential farm stand you’ve looking for before you even pull into the parking lot. Some of the first things you see when you arrive are the beautiful red barns and the large lush fields full of thriving plant life. If you look out across the fields as you drive up, you can spot the ruby red tomatoes speckled amongst their long green vines and the Indian corn growing so tall that it looks like their reaching for the clouds. At the fence line of the property, you are immediately greeted with more amazing sights and smells of the things that Thistledown Farm has to offer. With the property being over 600 acres, from the highway to the river, the farm has a lot of room for delicious things to grow. In the heat of their busiest season they will carry most of the 70 different varieties of crops they grow in the storefront at once. From hanging flower baskets, to boxes of peaches, to flats of bell peppers… they really seem to grow it all.

The Farm is located towards the end of River Road in Junction City and the history of this piece of land goes well back into the 18th century. The Vitus family, who were well known, at the time, originally owned the land. The Vitus’ used this property mostly to dairy farm and after the Vitus’ had moved off the land, the property was taken over by the Bond family from California. The Bond family began ownership in 1930 and hired farm managers to work the land for them. In 1981, Pam and Randy Henderson bought the land from the Bonds and have since turned it into the Thistledown Farm that everyone loves today. Over the years, the Henderson family has made a lot of changes to the farms’ land. Not only have they turned most of the property into arable land, but they have also added barns, greenhouses, their home and several other structures to help the property thrive.

Contrary to what some might think Pam and Randy weren’t always in the farming business. They used to own a much smaller farm, in 1973, that was actually located down the road from where Thistledown Farm is located today. Before purchasing Thistle Down, Randy spent his days teaching biology to High School kids at Willamette High School. After about 7 years of teaching he knew that teaching wasn’t the thing he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Randy says, “I remember staring at the tiles on the floor one day and I knew that if I didn’t do something else soon, that I was going to be staring at those two exact tiles for the next thirty years of my life.” He quit his day job, exchanging his teacher’s desk covered in chalk for a diesel truck covered in dirt. Having a passion for biology and having owned a smaller farm before made it an easy transition from teaching to farming for Randy and his Family.

Pam and Randy have three sons, along with seven grandchildren. Jared and Ryan are their two sons that have partial ownership of the business. One of them manages the storefront and the other works out in the fields. However they both have a heavy hand is what goes on around the farm. Actually, almost everyone in the family plays a part in helping the farm operate. Even some of their grandchildren, ages 6 through 12, are begging to help out with some of the day-to-day tasks. Pam and Randy work around 12 hours a day almost every day of the week. That equates to about 4,200 hours of work a year that just one of Hendersons puts into the family business. Sooner or later, Pam and Randy plan to hand the farm over to their two sons; but neither Pam nor Randy seems to have any idea when that day is actually going to come. Pam describes Randy as the kind of guy that could never sit around in a rocking chair watching his sons do all the work. She says, “If Randy is able, he will always be out there picking the crops with the rest of them.” It’s this kind of hard working mentality that has lead the Henderson’s to be such a staple farm in the Southern Willamette Valley for so many years.

Thistledown Farm is open everyday from 9am – 6pm and they are constantly running specials on their freshest produce. Pam and Randy are always there doing something and if you’re lucky enough to catch one of them sitting still, ask them some questions about the farm… you won’t be disappointed with their answers.

Photo Gallery || Photos by Abby Park, Revolution Design Group

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