ROSEBURG, Ore. — Jon Riggs was a high school teacher who decided being a small acreage farmer would be a good summer job.
He had worked as a summer road flagger for Douglas County, but then realized he could do just as well financially farming and could be his own boss.
In 1994, he began his new venture on a quarter-acre of ground behind his parents’ house in a secluded valley just west of Roseburg. He admitted his only previous farming experience was helping his grandfather, Charlie Wallace, in his backyard garden, and that mainly amounted to eating the raspberries, corn, cucumbers and “other good stuff.”
Twenty-five years later and Riggs is now 68, a retired teacher and the farmer on a total of 1.25 acres at four different sites. He sells his summer and fall vegetables and melons at the Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market in Roseburg and at the Coos Bay Farmers’ Market in Coos Bay, Ore. He also sells to restaurants in Douglas and Coos counties.
“When you sign up for farming, you need to have some tenacity,” Riggs said. “You know you’re signing up for a bunch of fights with nature, you know you’re going to win some, you know you’re going to lose some. But it is extremely gratifying to start with a seed and to end up exchanging something you’ve grown for money with a customer who is smiling at you. Getting that seed into somebody’s mouth completes the process. It’s the ultimate moment that is hard to explain.”
Riggs said he’s had good success growing and selling salad mixes, red potatoes, squash, tomatoes and a variety of melons.
Amanda Pastoria, the market manager for the Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market, said Riggs has earned a good reputation for the salad mixes and the melons he brings to the weekly market. She noted he usually includes edible flowers in his salad mixes, making them more attractive and flavorful.
“He’s a long-time member of this market and he always has a lot of amazing produce at his booth,” Pastoria said. “He puts a lot of pride into what he does and what he grows.
“From my observations at the market, he’s very engaging and enjoys educating people about the produce, the climate, the soil, the seeds,” she added.
Riggs said that is the teacher in him. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona and earned his master’s degree in education from Southern Oregon University in Ashland. He retired from teaching in 2011.
In his early years of farming, Riggs got help from his teenaged children, GG and AJ. His wife, Akiyo Riggs, has helped at the market booth through the years.
Although the couple’s children are grown and living out of the area, they were able to return last summer for a month or so to help their father, who had undergone surgery for bladder cancer and couldn’t do any heavy lifting.
Riggs has recovered from his cancer scare and is looking forward to another spring of prepping the ground, planting seeds and providing food to market visitors and restaurants.
“I go at it a year at a time,” he said. “I figure out what is the right size for me farming wise versus how old I am. So far so good. I’m limber enough and I have a pretty good tolerance for the aching stuff that comes with farming. I still like what I’m doing and it’s fun when people are smiling at you. I’ll do this for at least another few years.”