Story by Stephanie Guerrero

Photo by Melissa Haskin

In the rural city of Dexter, approximately 20 minutes from Eugene, a quaint farm is hidden through a set of winding roads and a long gravel path.  Rows of lush, green tangled vines and leaves surround a weathered crimson barn and greenhouse.

This is the face of Excelsior Farm, the source Excelsior Inn, Brindiamo Catering, and Ciao Pizza use to create mouth-watering meals. On Friday the University’s Green Business Initiative Student Association hosted a tour to witness what makes the farm special.

The Excelsior Farm adheres to sustainable practices popularized by the “farm-to-table” movement, which emphasizes the sourcing of locally grown food to consumers. Maurizio Paparo, owner of Excelsior Inn, Brindiamo Catering, and Ciao Pizza, has broken ground on this movement to give his customers the best his farm has to offer.

Jeremy Mueller, Head Farmer, says the idea for the farm came naturally,

“[Maurizio] is buying all this organic produce from all these local farms and he is like, ‘I have 5 acres that just sits in front of my house.’”

Maurizio’s idea of building a farm began over 4 years ago with the intention to provide produce for his restaurants. When his crops started providing more produce then he needed, he entered the farm in a Community Supported Agriculture program that allows consumers to receive organic produce at wholesale prices when they pay for a share of the harvest.

With limited space, every inch of the five acre farm is utilized to cultivate vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The farm produces over 20 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

“We do a fair amount of preserving, canning, pickling, and quick pickling,” Mueller says.

Among the favorites are pickled green beans and peppers, but the bright colors that makeup the farm can’t only be attributed to its produce; it also houses a flower-cutting garden. When the flowers are in full bloom, they are harvested and put on display at the Excelsior Inn.

The farm also boasts 50 chickens. “They are as free roam as you can get,” Mueller says.

The chickens are kept healthy with feed and food scraps from the compost at the Excelsior Inn.  Although the only thing they take from these chickens are their eggs; Maurizio’s restaurants have outside sources for poultry and meat.

The farm is successful year-round because of it close attention to sustainable farming practices. They use reusable drip tape to water their soil, which has a low-pressure system and greatly reduces water consumption. Drip irrigation also helps with preventing weed formation, as water is only delivered topically.

The farm composts the restaurants waste, pull out crops, and chicken manure. For insect prevention they use nematodes, a type of roundworm, to refrain from using herbicides on their crops. Excelsior Farm is not yet certified organic, but they are in the process of filling out the paperwork to obtain stricter regulation.

Excelsior Farm pays close attention to more details that larger industrial farms can afford to. Mueller handles all the farming practices and monitors everything from start to finish.

“[I am] wanting to grow into developing the CSA program a little more and doing the downtown farmer’s market.” By getting more public involvement, the Excelsior Farm can continue to sustain itself as well as its crops.

The event concluded with a visit to Excelsior Inn on 13th Avenue to taste the monthly crop. The greenhouse peppers seen ripening on the farm were cooked into Peperonata with caramelized onions and garlic. Butternut squash draped from vines at the farm’s soil were transformed into a rich filling for stuffed mushrooms.

“Farm-to-table” may be a buzzword that restaurants use to entice customers, but the principles behind it are here to stay. Knowing a food’s origin is a powerful thing, and if the Excelsior Farm is any indication, the farm-to-table practices might be catching on.