Val Jorgensen: registered nurse, breast cancer survivor, organic farm owner-operator, mint maven.
We’ve worked with Val since 2003, the year she grew a couple of pounds of organic peppermint for Jeni to use in her first batch of Backyard Mint ice cream. Since then, we look very forward to this time of year, not only so we can have a bowl of Backyard Mint ice cream, but also so we can inhale the sweet, refreshing aroma of mint wafting through the production kitchen.
Founded in 2001, Jorgensen Farms earned organic certification in 2002. Today, Val and 14 workers cultivate the 65-acre farm in Westerville, Ohio, that also produces: heirloom tomatoes; summer and winter squash; sweet potatoes; spinach; swiss chard; kale; bell and jalapeño peppers; garlic; herbs (medicinal and culinary); honey; eggs; grass-fed beef.
And, in addition to peppermint, Jorgensen Farms grows spearmint, grapefruit mint, pineapple mint, and some 50 herbs, including: basil; bee balm; chives; lavender; lemon balm; oregano; parsley; sage; rosemary; and thyme. Wild but cared for edibles include: stinging nettle; violet; willow; yarrow; goldenrod; epazote; burdock; and borage.
Val recently stole a few moments from her very busy schedule to field some questions about her life, her farm, and why she does what she does.
So just how labor-intensive is growing and harvesting organic peppermint?
Growing organic peppermint includes not only the time spent in applying, recording, and reporting the things required to maintain (organic) certification, but also hand-weeding, hand-harvesting, applying compost, and foliar feeding (>feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves).
How long were you a nurse before you went full-time as a farmer?
I’ve actually never stopped being a nurse. Practicing my beliefs about nutrition and whole foods as the source of wellness and making it real in a farm setting are not separate occupations for me.
What do you take from your previous profession of nursing and apply every day on the farm?
The most important is the core devotion to optimal health and responding to the needs of those around me to achieve that health through whole, fresh food. I also apply, on a daily basis, the prioritizing and organizational skills that are part of the mental wiring of any nurse. And finally, there is a very fluid dynamic that is part of farm work that calls for the ability to shift focus and energy quickly. Nursing calls for this same skill so the two occupations, nurse and farmer are perfectly complementary.
As an adult and working a full-time job, were you into farming and gardening?
No. We purchased the farm in 1992 to raise four boys. It emerged as a working, producing farm in 2001. Land records show that this same exact 65 acres has been a farm since the 1800s.
You grew up on a farm. Did you want to become a full-time farmer one day, or was the farm life something to escape?
I never wanted to escape. But in the 1970s there was little support for women farmers, so I channeled my passion for a healthy, close-to-the earth life into a career as a registered nurse.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan. I was the third generation farming that land (it’s now a fourth generation endeavor). I moved off the farm to attend Michigan State, and after graduating I worked as a nurse at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (in Columbus) until our first son was born. My commitment from 1981 until 2001 was to raise four sons and support my then husband in finishing his education and starting his dermatology practice. (I worked as his nurse and bookkeeper.)
I was a totally hands-on mom for 20 years. Part of the tradition I had passing on to the boys was gardening and growing the food for our family. Being outside working in the gardens (tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting) always brought life to my soul. In 2000 our oldest son graduated from high school and in 2001, our second son graduated. The younger boys were in middle school and this is when I made the leap to start Jorgensen Farms LLC, Jorgensen Farms Market, and the CARE (Community Agriculture Research and Ecology) Education Center. I’ve been moving ever since.
Three days before the opening of the market is when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Every day is a gift that I am thankful for. I enjoy every moment that I am farming and sharing the space with people. I have a lot to accomplish, and since I am starting late in life especially cherish every opportunity to grow food and grow the business.
I love to work hard, enjoy a challenge, and especially enjoy sharing this farm and what the land has to give with others.
What’s the biggest reward about your life at this stage in the game?
The biggest reward is seeing the enjoyment of others. When I stand back and watch children and adults at the Sunday Suppers, wedding ceremonies and receptions, Mount Carmel My Time events, farmers market patrons, and see satisfaction it is incredibly rewarding! The reward for me is making this world a better place and giving others satisfaction.
Tell us about the Sunday Suppers you host on the farm. How many people are invited per supper?
The number of guests is directly related to the style of supper we are offering. Picnics and open-houses have us entertaining well over 100 people. The more-formal, sit-down, adults-only events we like to keep more intimate and usually serve between 40 and 70.
What do you most enjoy about farming and about the way you farm (organically)?
I most enjoy the work of providing what I believe to be the best possible food for my community. This food is intimately tied to the cycles of nature, the vitality of the soil, and water.