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Jeff Falen and Elanor O'Brien Oral History Interview

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Jeff Falen and Elanor O'Brien Oral History Interview


This interview begins with Jeff Falen and Elanor O’Brien both briefly discussing their family backgrounds and childhood experiences with farming. O’Brien notes that she grew up in a very urban environment, while Falen states that he was raised in the suburbs but spent a great deal of time camping and exploring nature with his family. They both reflect on the food cultures they grew up with: O’Brien explains that food was important in her family, while Falen says he did not think that much about food when he was young. Falen also notes that he had lost his sense of taste by the time he turned twenty, which led to a disinterest in food.

The interview then turns to the origins of both O’Brien and Falen’s careers in farming. Falen reflects on when he bought the land that was later turned into Persephone Farm and describes his early plans for it. He also discusses what organic farming was like in the late twentieth century, when he began his career, and how the industry has changed. O’Brien evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of Persephone Farm’s location and talks about the growth of consumer interest in organic products. The narrators also reflect on the differences between organic and biodynamic farming, and their views on different agricultural styles.

Next, O’Brien describes the farming strategies employed at Persephone Farm, emphasizing the cultivation of beneficial insects. She describes how their strategies impact the different crops they grow, and how their strategies have changed over the years. Falen then explains that these strategies are motivated by a desire to farm sustainably, in a way that is beneficial to both people and the environment. He notes that, in order to do this, Persephone Farm focuses on sustainable resource use, and has begun transitioning to the use of solar energy to serve this purpose.

The interview then moves toward a conversation about employment practices and the division of labor at the farm. O’Brien and Falen discuss their approach to apprenticeship programs and other forms of employment and note that they have a special focus on passing knowledge on to the next generation of farmers. Falen also talks about what he believes farmers should do to encourage interest in the agricultural industry, and how farming should be portrayed to those who are unfamiliar with it. The interview closes out with a brief discussion of the most significant difficulties facing farmers, including economic challenges and hard labor.

Jeff Falen was born and raised in Mount Prospect, Illinois. He spent his childhood exploring nature with his family, which gave him an early interest in farming. He attended Reed College, where he studied chemistry and began working on farms, a career he decided to continue after graduating. With the assistance of his parents, he purchased land near Lebanon, Oregon that he turned into Persephone Farm. He continued this work for the rest of his life, becoming an important figure within the Pacific Northwest natural food industry. He died in 2020.

Elanor O’Brien was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where she developed an interest in farming. She decided to pursue this interest and began her post-college career traveling and working on farms throughout the United States. In 1990, she moved to Oregon, where she began working at Persephone Farm with Jeff Falen. They later became partners, and she continued her work on the farm.


Jeff Falen and Elanor O'Brien


Oregon Tilth Oral History Collection (OH 40)


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries


July 2, 2019


Tiah Edmunson-Morton and Mellisa Thibeau


Born Digital Audio




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Tiah Edmunson-Morton and Melissa Thibeau


Jeff Falen and Elanor O'Brien


The Valley Library, Oregon State University

Original Format

Born Digital Audio



OHMS Object

Interview Format


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  1. persephone.jpg