Dave Oien is the Founding Farmer and President of Timeless Seeds. In this episode he reflects on decades of organic pulse crop production, breeding, handling, and marketing. He helped to pioneer the US market for growing pulses as an organic cash crop, then began selling seed to other farmers, and ultimately has grown a business of selling lentils, chickpeas, and other crops to consumers around the world. Dave’s story was even captured in a book called “Lentil Underground”.
“These lentils are absolutely nutritious food, great for our livestock, good for our rotations, good for our farming practices, and as luck would have it, the organic industry was really kind of starting to get some legs. So the markets were expanding and we discovered that in fact, there was a need in the food market for certified organic lentils and peas.” - Dave Oien
Dave shares what it took to figure out how to grow some of these crops organically, how he has built and evolved his business over the years, and why he prefers the term resiliency over sustainability. Dave doesn’t recommend the cold-turkey approach to transitioning to organic that he took. He shares that it came with some lessons from the school of hard knocks. He quickly learned that in order to make an organic system work it was going to have to start with healthier soil and he would need to find sources of organic nitrogen.
“The more I read, the more I learned, the more I practiced, the more it seemed like, wow, we need to change the way we do things both to meet the growing market, but also just to pay greater attention to the health of the soil.” - Dave Oien
His organic lentils were discovered by “a relatively small chain store” at the time called Trader Joe’s. That connection at a trade show led to a long term relationship that expanded Dave’s market especially as Trader Joe’s also expanded their reach. Dave now also sells his products in other natural food stores, to the restaurant industry, to stores that cater to bulk orders and ships them internationally.
“The organic food market is a worldwide phenomenon with a worldwide demand. You gotta learn how to grow it, to meet the organic specifications and to be successful doing it, but the processing and marketing infrastructure is increasingly available.” - Dave Oien