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Passing the baton – Seasoned farmhand embraces Gardenripe ownership

By Brenna Wiegand

As he considered retirement, Bill Schiedler, founder of Gardenripe Produce in Silverton, hated the thought of closing the business he’d nurtured for 23 years.

The answer came unexpectedly in the form of Melissa Pylipow, one of many WWOOFers in the program known as Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In it, farmers open their land to people who travel from all over the country to provide labor in exchange for food, accommodations and the experience.

Pylipow first visited the farm five years ago.

“WWOOFing provided me a neat schedule,” she said. “I worked from 8 to noon and had the rest of my day and weekends off so I was able to take a part-time job and save a lot of money.”

Her third year, Pylipow rented a small plot of ground from Schiedler to grow flowers, but decided she preferred growing vegetables.

“When she said that, the light bulb went on,” Schiedler said. “I didn’t want the business just to die; it’s a big part of Silverton Farmers Market with quite a loyal clientele and I’d been hoping to transfer it to someone who could take advantage of that.”

Gardenripe has been refined by trial, error and lots of hard work.

Shortly after he started Gardenripe, Schiedler added a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in which customers subscribe to a weekly box of farm-fresh produce, a concept in its infancy at the time.

They also took their wares to farmers markets across three counties but couldn’t build the type of loyal clientele they enjoy in Silverton. As the CSA numbers grew, Schiedler found himself having to hire several full-time employees to meet the demand.

In the last few years, he closed the CSA and decided to sell only at Silverton’s Farmers Market and to local restaurants.

“That’s when we went from full-time paid employees to using WWOOFers,” Schiedler. “I like to have two or three here but in summer we’ve had up to eight, which gets a bit hectic.

“It tests your managerial skills far more than your gardening skills because you’re constantly prepping the next project for whoever’s finishing something in order to have a productive day,” Schiedler said. “You also have to realize that they’re not experienced and many of them know nothing about farming, but that’s OK.”

Last year Schiedler and Pylipow built new WWOOF quarters with yurts, a separate kitchen, shower house and outhouse.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to think I just started here as a WWOOFer five years ago and now here I am running the business and hosting WOOFers, booked at least through August,” Pylipow said. “It’s still very hard for me to believe.

“I feel good about building on Bill’s legacy by continuing to provide good, delicious, healthy, organic food at a reasonable cost so everybody can afford it,” Pylipow said. “I wake up and I’m so excited to come out here and work with the plants and work with the land and be able to give back to the community; it has just brought so much purpose to my life, and it just brings so much joy each day too.”

The greenhouses are filled to the brim with premium vegetables with many more behind them and the flowers Pylipow put in not so long ago are putting on their show.

“I have a really wonderful mentor,” Pylipow said. “Bill has really established such a wonderful relationship with the community, and I am so fortunate and grateful that they have continued to support Gardenripe, and I think they’re all very thrilled to see that the abundance is still there.”

In addition to the produce, Pylipow will keep growing flowers, both for the Market and for local florists, and increase her business extracting herb oils for products such as her lotion bar.

“I plan on expanding all my products and doing a lot more herbs and tea blends and lotions and salves so people can use these products on the regular basis to really help themselves in a nice healthy organic way,” Pylipow said.

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