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Giusto Farms: a family tradition


Giusto Farms is — and isn’t — your typical family farm.

A man of many facets, Agostino “Augie” Giusto, family patriarch. In addition to being an expert farmer, Augie is a self-taught and natural mechanic, an expert in the construction of farm buildings, a custom woodworker and truck-bed builder, and he also taught himself how to build, operate and maintain cold storage units for his farm produce.
In a photo taken in 1955, the Rossi and Giusto families pose. From left to right, Gerolamo “Jim” Giusto; Agostino “Augie” Giusto, the adopted son of Jim Giusto; Stella Rossi, the daughter of Nicola Rossi; Nicola Rossi; and Paulette Rossi, the daughter of Nicola Rossi. This was the year the partners Jim and Nicola passed the operation of the Rossi-Giusto farm to their sons, Augie Giusto and Aldo Rossi, who would represent the next generation. Like nearly all men of Italian heritage, the older men continued to work for their sons on the farm, even in retirement. The photo is taken in the backyard of the Giusto family home on the then Rossi-Giusto Farm in the Parkrose area of what is now Northeast Portland. The men are returning to work to hoe a field of lettuce after their noon meal. Mornings, the coolest part of the day, were spent harvesting.
Giusto Farms is typical in the way it offers local and regional produce from its location just south of Sandy Boulevard on Northeast 162nd Avenue.

Atypical in that Giusto Farms’ produce barn offers fruits and vegetables later than most other local farms — it’s open from the middle of July to the depths of winter in February.
One thing that customers notice is the wide variety of produce offered at the Giusto Farms produce stand.

“We offer a unique variety of produce,” Dominic Giusto said at the family produce stand shortly before it opened in mid-July. “We do fava beans, basil, fennel, lots of variety. We offer produce that people can’t get at a lot of other places,” he said.

“Basil is pretty common now,” he admitted, “but we’ve always raised it.” Giusto said the farm also grows a new kind of beet called a gold beet.

“We have persimmons in the fall,” he said. Giusto explained that there are two persimmon trees they harvest, both located in Northeast Portland.

“People get a kick out of the variety of produce we offer.” Nearly all the vegetables offered at the stand are grown by Giusto Farms. “We bring in the Walla Walla sweet onions,” he said, “and some of the other onions, and most of the fruit. The blueberries, cherries, pears and apples we get from Hood River, but as far as the vegetables, pretty much we grow them all ourselves.”

Part of the process involves simply storing the picked produce. When it comes to winter squash, Giusto said the farm is able to store them properly so they last a long time. They also pick and store the variety of potatoes offered.

Another key is the weather. “If we don’t get a heavy freeze,” he said, certain other vegetables can also be offered for sale. Winter crops include Brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips and carrots. A popular item during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the fruit basket, which comes in different sizes.

The farm’s produce stand also sells flowers, which are specially planted and grown by the Giusto family. “Two years ago we started growing and selling (them),” Giusto said. Helpers include his daughters, Nicole and Ashley, and niece Katelyn, the daughter of Giusto’s sister, Kimberly Meeks. Giusto does the planting while the girls do the harvesting and bunching. Proceeds from the sale of the flowers are placed in a fund for the girls to be used for their future education goals. They grow zinnias and three different varieties of sunflower, including orange, yellow and brown.

“It’s a good deal for the kids,” Giusto said. “They learn where a buck comes from, and we give them some responsibility.” He sits down with the girls and explains to them how much water and fertilizer is used, “and they come to realize how a business works.”

Giusto said that Nicole and Katelyn also help out at the Giusto Farms produce stand. Dominic’s mom and family matriarch Virginia Giusto, works at the produce stand along with Meeks.

Hours for the produce stand are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Beginning in November, the hours change to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Giusto started working on the family farm at age 10, working the fields of lettuce. He remembers as a youth asking to go play with his friends, but his dad would say, “We’ve got lettuce to cut; after that, you can go.”

Dominic Giusto poses beside his farm’s 1949 Chevrolet one-ton flatbed truck with, from bottom to top, daughters Ashley, 8, Nicole, 11, and 14-year-old niece Katelyn Meeks. Giusto’s grandfather Gerolamo, who partnered with Nicola Rossi in 1917 to start a farming operation in Parkrose that continues to this day, would indeed be proud to see his descendents continuing the family tradition.
“It made us responsible,” Giusto said of those times. He also remembers working alongside the Rossi kids, Nick, Joe and Angela. “We all worked together.”

Augie Giusto, who turns 75 this month, still works actively on the farm. One task is to help set up the produce stand each day. He also calls the wholesale produce houses to take the order for lettuce for the businesses that buy from Giusto Farms. Basically, Giusto said his dad does “whatever needs to be done.”

Wholesale produce sales are an important part of Giusto Farms’ business. Giusto explained that 10 years ago, the farm’s wholesale produce consumed 80 percent of the vegetables grown on the farm, but since the sale of the Fred Meyer chain to Kroger, that percentage has dropped to 50 percent.

Local farmers from Parkrose to Estacada will tell you that when Kroger bought out Fred Meyer, the company stopped dealing with the independent farmers in favor of working with one larger operation. Giusto said that Unified Western Grocers is the main wholesale house that purchases Giusto Farms’ produce. The farm also sells to Sheridan Fruit Company Inc. and Pacific Coast Fruit Company.

Giusto noted some of the challenges of operating a farm within the city limits. “We have about 30 neighbors next to our farming operations,” he said, “considering all the different parcels of land we have. There might be one or two that complain about the dust or the noise, but the majority say, ‘Don’t ever sell, we don’t want to see apartments, we love this green space, don’t ever change it, we love it.’

“The city of Portland,” Giusto continued, “they’d love to see it developed, and even though the city is always talking about green space, how much more beautiful can you have (than) a field of potatoes in front of you?”

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