Genetheil pifviv

Gene Thiel

Image: Jai Soots

You might not know the name. But if you’ve eaten in Portland’s best restaurants, you’ve tasted it. The complex potatoes that launched a thousand great dishes. The striped, dark purple carrots seemingly conjured by Tim Burton. The sweetest garlic you can imagine, their delicate bulbs guarded by local chefs like a state secret.

When people talk about Portland’s vaunted food scene, they’re really talking about places like Prairie Creek Farm. Fresh, beautiful, passionate food, yanked from the ground by hard-working farmers who deliver to restaurant back doors and stand on concrete all day long at markets, sharing their souls. 

No place better exemplifies this life than Joseph’s Prairie Creek Farm. Up until his death three years ago at age 77, farmer Gene Thiel was an O.G. farmers market icon—a guy with cockeyed glasses and an amazing cache of wild plums plucked from canyon walls in Eastern Oregon. No one was more engaging on the subject of food. It was Thiel who helped develop the standards for Oregon Tilth organic certification… from requirements scribbled on a napkin. 

His son Patrick, the longtime right-hand man, has bravely carried on the family business since Gene’s sudden deterioration. This spring, as PSU’s Saturday market blossomed anew, there was no sadder sight than the absence of one of its longest-running stands.

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Prairie Creek Farm

Image: Patrick Thiel

According to Patrick, crops failed and debts mounted when the family took care of Gene. Then disease wiped out the family’s fabled potato crop in 2014, adding more debt. At this time, he can’t afford an operating loan to produce this year’s crop.

The family has been too humble to ask for help. Until now. In a new GoFundMe, Patrick explains why he’s trying to carry on Gene’s legacy in the field. Having the seed to plant in a timely manner is huge, he says. Donations are already coming in for seeds. But the shopping list is long, including things we diners never think about: fertilizer ($2,400), hand removal of weeds ($15,000), and harvesting help ($15,000).

As the world grows increasingly fractured and chaotic, people ask: “What can I do?” Here’s one small idea.

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