A Farmer's Faith in the Mustard Seed

David and Nancy Brown grow Mustard Seed Farms 15 fold in 40 years

By Sara Kelm

It’s a cool summer morning, and David Brown (G65) an organic farmer in St. Paul, Ore., stands with a sprayer, gently soaking the small, individually planted kale sprouts in his greenhouse.  His clothing – collared shirt and knee-high rubber boots – is an interesting mix of board member and laborer, a fitting image of the various tasks he completes as owner of Mustard Seed Farms. His calmness belies the busy day ahead. First, the lettuce needs harvesting. Then cabbage needs to be packed, irrigation pipes need to be moved, fields need to be weeded. . . . The “to do” list appears infinite.

After more than 40 years on the farm, Brown still works 15-hour days, greeting his crew at 6 a.m. He barely stops between coordinating his paid and volunteer crews, tending to new sprouts in the greenhouse, and completing invoices and seed orders. After dark, he does a last irrigation pump switch before coming inside to check price lists and finish paperwork. Just keeping track of what he needs to do is a full-time job.

Family Facts:

Children – two sons: one who graduated from George Fox engineering program, one who works in produce for Fred Meyer

Favorite produce – sun gold cherry tomato or a nice fresh cantaloupe

Church – Newberg Friends

Trivia – was the student body vice president to Ron Stansell’s president in 1964-5

To find out more about the community garden program, visit mustardseedorganic.com.

“I’m a big believer in notes,” he says.

And naps. When he can, he ducks into his living room, sits down in his big brown leather chair and shuts his eyes. Until his phone rings again: It’s Omar asking where the crew is scheduled next.

Keeping to the schedule as much as possible is a vital part of his business, something Brown learned as a child. After growing up on a farm near Sacramento, Calif., Brown attended George Fox University, where he majored in psychology. During his senior year, he helped farm a piece of land near St. Paul that his father owned. Brown chuckles recalling the sheep operations he ran while living in Edwards Hall. After graduating from George Fox on Sunday and marrying Nancy (G65) on Monday, the Browns moved out to the farm, and they have lived in and farmed around the Willamette Valley ever since. St. Paul is now the home of Mustard Seed Farms, the name a reminder “that God would help us figure things out and make the farm grow,” Brown says. “From as little as 5–6 acres, up to 75 acres, it’s been the Lord’s doing.”

Brown has dabbled with other jobs – raising goats, digging for worms, growing giant pumpkins – and tried seminary for a year. He loved those experiences but never felt fully at ease. The Lord has continued to bring him back to the land, and he loves it. Despite the hectic schedule, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I got a psychology degree from George Fox, and I’ve been playing in the dirt for 40 years,” he says.

Farmer Brown and his Mrs. let other people play in the dirt, too. A popular Mustard Seed Farms program is its community garden. In the summer, people pay just $10 and work 12 hours for a weekly share of produce. More than 40 families participated this year.

The Browns’ farm has become a respected organic farm in Oregon, and their product ships to major grocery chains. Brown produces the Fred Meyer newspaper ad from under the coffee table and grins at the photo of the organic leaf lettuce from St. Paul, Ore. That’s his lettuce right there. Mustard Seed Farms has been certified organic since 1991, a decision that developed out of lifestyle changes the Browns made. The farm provides organic produce for the three major Portland co-ops as well as Fred Meyer, Safeway and Albertsons. Brown says he is “working with God’s creation to feed people. By farming organically and sustainably, we’re working with the way that God made things.”