by Luisa Anderson
First he looked at the pale yellow silk coming out of the ear, and then the anthers coming out of the tassel. Workers had sprayed glyphosate, an herbicide used to kill weeds and grasses, all over the fields that day. Jason Waligoske knew that the patch of corn was alive, but he could hardly tell. The crops looked sick and ghostly.
Waligoske says his time at DEKALB-Pfizer Genetics Corporation, now the Monsanto Company, was one of the best jobs he has ever had, but also one of the worst. He says the pay was good. He enjoyed living in Hawaii, and there were also orchards of tropical plants that weren’t being genetically modified or exposed to chemicals. What makes Waligoske different, however, is his concern for the effects agriculture has on people and the earth. Without this concern, he would have never moved to Eugene, Ore. years later. He would have never become the manager of New Frontier Market on West 8th avenue and Van Buren street; a business that he says is “the best thing for me that I could possibly be doing.”
New Frontier Market buys food from local farms, prioritizing fresh and organically grown products. This is part of Waligoske’s mission to connect people back to their food. He wants to learn more about sustainable food methods and bring food to people who have less access to it.
“It’s really doing things that are good for me, good for the planet… and good for all the other people too,” Waligoske said. “It just feeds something in my heart.”
Waligoske was born in 1973 in Rapid City, S.D. and spent his summers helping out around his grandparent’s farm. Even as a teenager, Waligoske was interested in the outdoors. He would go on long walks by himself in the countryside, track and trap animals, and build forts and tree houses from wood and old junk. Waligoske saw images of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as a kid, and wanted to be a farmer or mountain man. He was taught to revere nature and appreciate freshly grown food, and by the age of 13, began to work in research nurseries.
Years later in 1995, Waligoske moved to Hawaii to work for Dekalb-Pfizer Genetics, which was bought by the Monsanto Company in 1998. The company was employing the new practice of genetically modifying food and Waligoske couldn’t support it. He was disturbed when he noticed pregnant women around him become sick.
“We’ve got a depleted environment that’s full of toxic chemicals and now we’re having depleted bodies that no one really knows the chemicals building inside us,” Waligoske said.
He was offered to work with the company for longer, but having always disdained chemical use, he was not interested.
Waligoske left Hawaii to pursue his passion for the outdoors. Traveling around the U.S. with only a backpack, Waligoske was homeless, or “home-free,” as he prefers to call it. Living out of dumpsters and food boxes, the quality of food became a greater concern of his, though he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life.
Finally settled down in Eugene, Ore. in 1997, Waligoske became a regular customer at New Frontier Market. He worked his way up from an employee to the manager in 2002.
“I always came into this store because that’s where I wanted to be,” Waligoske said.
For the last few years, Waligoske has been learning about permaculture and aquaponics. He believes that both methods are the end goal of the future of agriculture. Both systems focus on the symbiotic relationship of food and cultivation elements as they are placed together. Waligoske says that when these systems are developed correctly, they can heal and change the earth in a sustainable way.
“It’s on its deathbed right now,” Waligoske said, referring to the U.S. agricultural industry. “We just can’t keep doing this the way that we’re doing it, there’s just no way around that.”
Today, Waligoske sits in his office overlooking the inventory floor of New Frontier Market. The sun hits his curly brown hair through a skylight. A world map hangs over his desk. Jimi Hendrix’s guitar wails downstairs through speakers as customers and employees socialize during a wine tasting. Waligoske wants New Frontier Market to continue to be successful, but he also plans to go further with sustainable food production. He hopes to create non-profit business models so that he can bring food to places of less access, like areas of high unemployment rates.
“Without turning around the scene for food and water, there really won’t be a future of anything else to worry about,” Waligoske said. “Just get people aware of the situation and put out simple ways where they can be apart of the solution.”