Keeping my French heritage alive on a small diversified farm in Oregon

I am a first generation French woman relocated in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I grew up on a produce-horse farm in the Southwest of France in a very unique situation, well not so unique for France, but unique compared to the life I live here today. My grandparents lived nearby and were an instrumental part of my life growing up. I had multiple cousins, aunts and uncles close by as well, which made for a very intricate sometimes difficult, yet beautiful tapestry of life, one that is hard to leave behind and that I have never forgotten.

Although I have now lived in the US longer than I lived in France, I have always spoken French, and embraced the traditions I grew up with, and our small diversified farm is a perfect canvas to make sure I keep some of these traditions well and alive. We are a Franco-American family small farming in the US.

Here, just outside of Eugene in Oregon we raise a small flock of Gotland sheep, we run a small produce-egg-flower CSA, we run a few camps for children, we host workshops and we are in the process of launching a Farmstay experience, all of these diversified offerings really are great platforms to spread some of these traditions and for education, which is a cornerstone of this farming life.

From the garden, we are able to harvest, process and put up a lot of food for the winter to share with our family, friends and guests. Some of our favorites include making and freezing big batches of ratatouille, blanching and freezing French filet beans, freezing peppers and making a base of tomatoe sauce. Another summer favorite is making jam. In our family raspberry jam is a favorite. We also like a mixed berry jam with a hint of anise. I grew up watching one of the elders sitting for an entire day by the cauldron of strawberry jam (a crop we grew on our family farm), stirring endlessly until it reached the perfect consistency, whilst keeping its bright red color. The secret to the best jam is time! Definitely one of my favorite memories!. In the fall we like to make apple and pear sauce that we eat along with yogurt throughout the winter.

From the garden I also harvest lavender. Lavender is a huge part of my childhood where it rhymes with summer warm days, keeping cool in the pool and watching bees and bumble bees at work in the lavender all day long. Some of its easy uses include making lavender sachets to keep clothes fresh, making lavender wands, and drying it to add to wreaths making in the winter.

From our flock of sheep that we raise for breeding stock, wool but also for meat and pelts, each year some of the lambs are sold directly from the farm to customers and help feed families in our community. My husband and I retain at least one lamb and are able to harvest it and process it on the farm in keeping with the traditions I grew up with, when we harvested a pig each year. It was a whole day enterprise where the whole family gathered up and took part in the works to process the meat (cuts, patés, hams among other preparations). The long day of hard work ended with a huge family meal at my grandparents.

In the kitchen and in the house, with the children, we are always tinkering with making a batch of madeleines (stay tuned for the recipe), turning some crepes, felting a little wool, making a small wreath or something else along those lines.

Our small farm definitely illustrates scenes of my French culture, with small touches here and there. It can be as simple as a Fresh lavender bouquet in the summer or some onions cooked in olive oil in preparation for ratatouille, or it can be a jam cupboard (of primitive style) finding its place on our farm, and reminding me of Sundays spent with my mother, travelling the French countryside, going from one village to the next looking for antiques, linens and tablecloth made of heavy cotton embroidered with somebody’s initials with a life of their own.

I am an expat, first and foremost a mother, a shepherd and a farmer, with a deep sense of place. I nurture the place I come from and the place I landed into and I try and blend all these aromas to contribute a sense of aesthetics to the farming life I chose and share.

3 Responses

  1. Stéphanie Schiffgens

    Glad you liked it!

  2. Michael Gliebe-Creech

    Now that the summer is ending for me. I am finally rapping up big projects here on the farm and catching up on all the things I’ve been looking forward to doing. Reading your blog was on the top of my list. To start with, I really didn’t know anything about you. I was so pleased to read that you are French! In high school my family hosted French exchange students who changed my perspective on the world. Then I’m college I was blessed to spend a semester in Montpellier. Many of our friends visit France often for leisure. We collectively have a huge appreciation for the culture…..Just loving what I have read so far and excited read more!

    • Stéphanie Schiffgens

      I am so glad you are reading some of these posts. I love telling the story of our small farm and hope that some of these words convey images of this farm life we are gifted.
      I hope I get to meet you and your family some day.