In 1969, Ken Corricello was drafted into service for the Vietnam War. A well-worn story, his life was changed by uncontrollable circumstances and a bit of luck. Opting to add an additional year of Officer Candidate School (OCS) after basic training, Ken and Ted—Ken’s co-farmer and best friend who was also drafted at the same time and went through OCS—awaited their lottery assignments in 1971. Both were sent to Germany. Both brought their wives. Both were forever changed. “It was the worst and the best experience of my life,” he said. “An awful lot of junior officers like myself were in the front of the battle in Vietnam…it was always on your mind, ending up where you would end up. You were just torn thinking, ‘What the hell did I do to be here?’” Corricello asserts that he got some lemons, but he got a life’s worth of lemonade.
Today, he sits outside his Tuscan-inspired home just inches from trees he hand planted with his best friend, their wives and families over 20 years ago. “Participating in Oregon Tilth’s farmer veteran program has been wonderful,” he said. “Especially since I’m too dumb to have known that we weren’t supposed to be able to grow filberts organically when we started.”
With a customer list that includes Chez Panisse, Lucques, Craft Los Angeles and Blue Hill at Stone Barns—over 95 percent of the farm’s harvest goes to restaurants—each year top chefs around the country call Corricello to see how the year’s harvest is shaping up. When they first started out, famed chef Charlie Trotter, called the farm to rave about these amazing nuts he was able to use on his menu for the evening. Now as a primary marketing strategy, Corricello combs food and wine magazines to find top chefs to send product samples. “I thought it was a prank since it happened to be my birthday when Charlie called,” said Corricello.
As the day winds down and the filbert trees shine with sunflower golden color, Corricello leans forward to share a final thought about luck and kinship. “Being a part of this community and this movement, it’s special. We need to keep finding ways to come together.” For a man who knows an awful lot about what it means to be grateful, Corricello’s advice is as rich as one of his Trufflebert’s hazelnuts.
Oregon Tilth supports veterans by exempting farms that are owned or operated by a military veteran from paying base certification fees. Learn more at Oregon Tilth.