Category Archives: VIGA News

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Pacific Potager: “That feeling of bountifulness!”

This is the first in a regular series of profiles of VIGA member farmers, producers and craftspeople. If there is a particular business or individual you’d like to see profiled, please email: foodtable@vigavashon.org

On this wet, cold March day, walking by the Village Green, it’s hard to imagine that in just a few weeks, the grey drizzle will be superseded by a vibrant, colorful, noisy community hub – regardless of the weather. On Saturday, April 2, the Vashon Farmer’s Market will be back! One of the driving forces behind the bounty of the first weeks and months of the market is Pacific Potager. Owner Michelle Crawford has been selling at the Vashon Farmer’s Market for 20 years years. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more diverse selection of starts. Greens? 80 varieties! Tomatoes? 50 kinds! 60 kinds of squash! You get the picture. Michelle and her crew are a wealth of information when it comes to selecting the right edible start for your particular taste. Hundreds upon hundred of starts are laid out on tables, accompanied by laminated information sheets highlighting the taste and character of each type of plant. Keep in mind that if you don’t see the start you’re looking for, it probably isn’t time to plant it. Crawford uses her own experience growing to inform what she sells when. Though it may be tempting to get those tomatoes in the ground in the grey slog of March, it’s just not time.

Crawford has been growing on Vashon and advising fellow gardeners for over 20 years. She still seeds each plant by hand. Every plant you see at the market or her roadside stand started in her well-lit kitchen, surrounded by piles of seed packets, catalogs, and evidence of a home full of busy kids. Crawford is a single mother of six. Her two eldest are young adults living on their own, the other four are tweens and teens with schedules to be managed and sports and aerial practice requiring no small amount of driving and coordinating. In May and August, her busiest months, she gets a boost from her parents who come from Texas to lend a hand parenting while Crawford works seven days a week, innumerable hours bringing her starts and fresh vegetables to market.

We asked Crawford what she’d be doing if not farming. She said she didn’t know, “If I wasn’t doing this, I think I’d be wanting to. I’m just so grateful that I get to do this.” She loves both the food production and the nursery components of her business. And she is deeply appreciative of the role she plays in helping people grow their own food. She sees the same customers year after year buying the same variety of starts; in that way, she’s able to support island growers desire to eat well and has a particular vantage point into people’s growing habits and tastes. “Because we’re an island, people eat together. You know who grows your food. We have a culture around food.” While not every Vashon farmer is USDA certified organic (a process both lengthy and too costly for many small farms), she sees organic practices as the norm. She talks of the unique advantages of island farming, and the responsibility of caring for the soil and the water.

There is still room for surprise, and she clearly finds much joy in what she does.”Some things you grow are just so beautiful. I love that feeling of bountifulness!”

Crawford sells starts (and vegetables later in the season) at her stand just north of the Tahlequah ferry on Vashon Highway (across from SW 280th St.). Early starts for spring include greens, onions, and peas. Pacific Potager’s roadside stand is open now!

Larry Korn, One-Straw Revolutionary

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Larry Korn, One-Straw Revolutionary

March 31, 7:00-8:30 PM

Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust

Larry Korn will give a presentation the philosophy and practices of Masanobu Fukuoka on Thursday, March 31st, from 7:00 to 8:30 PM at the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, 10014 SW Bank Rd. The event is sponsored by the Vashon Island Growers Association and is free and open to the public.

Larry Korn was a disciple of Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer who devoted his life to demonstrating a truly sustainable approach to agriculture. Larry lived and worked on Fukuoka’s farm for two years in the 1970s and he edited the English translation of Fukuoka’s best-selling book, “The One-Straw Revolution.” Larry also traveled with Mr Fukuoka, acting as his guide and translator during two six-week visits to the United States. On Fukuoka’s second visit in 1986 he spoke at the Second International Permaculture Conference at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, along with Bill Mollison and Wes Jackson.

Larry will talk about his recently published book, “One-Straw Revolutionary,” which is an in-depth introduction to Fukuoka’s life and work. Part memoir and part biography, this is the first English-language book that introduces Fukuoka’s philosophy and techniques in ways that are easier for Western readers to understand. Larry will also compare the similarities and differences between natural farming and Indigenous ways, traditional Japanese agriculture, organic farming, and permaculture.

The March 31st event is free, but Vashon Bookshop will have copies of One-Straw Revolutionary available for sale and autographing. In addition, Larry will also bring copies of “The One-Straw Revolution” and another of Mr Fukuoka’s books, “Sowing Seeds in the Desert.”

Larry Korn’s visit to Vashon Island is being coordinated by Mark Musick. If you have any questions about the event, call Mark at 206-463-4736. We look forward to a lively discussion about growing food and living in harmony with the earth.

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Food hub will allow innovation, expansion for local farmers-Dan Carlson

What is a food hub and why care about it?

To answer these questions let’s step back for a moment and consider Vashon Island Growers Association’s (VIGA) mission: To promote farming, access to healthy food and a sustainable agricultural economy. One way we at VIGA do this is to mount a weekly farmers market — voted one of the 10 best in Puget Sound — which brings local food producers face-to-face with consumers. Another way is organizing Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) workshops for farm interns and apprentices to help grow the next generation of farmers. We want to open new markets and additional opportunities for small farms on Vashon; that’s where a food hub comes in.

A food hub provides a place to aggregate and store vegetables and fruit, enabling farmers to extend the life of their produce and to compete in the Seattle metropolitan area’s restaurant, catering and specialty food scene. It enables filling orders at a larger scale and with greater certainty — keys to competitiveness. Another aspect of a food hub is it offers processing facilities that enable farmers and food entrepreneurs to add value to locally grown food. A couple of years ago, one farm started making sauerkraut, but stopped because it didn’t have enough controlled temperature storage space. Had a food hub been available, that new venture might have taken off and grown.

VIGA recently won a USDA grant to analyze the feasibility of establishing a food hub on Vashon Island. In 2016, we will look at the possibility of converting unused space at the old Granny’s site at Sunrise Ridge. We will also look at the possibility of an alliance with Island Spring Organics, which has approached VIGA wanting to help organic farmers by offering some of its unused capacity for freezing and processing food.

Vashon farmers have a history of innovation. The Mukai family invented a way to preserve strawberries and ship them to the Midwest, and Wax Orchards created an apple-based fudge sauce that won national acclaim. This entrepreneurial creativity is what will make Vashon agriculture successful; it will have to because we don’t have rich river valley-bottom soil or large tracts of farmland like King County’s agricultural production districts in the Snoqualmie Valley and Enumclaw Plateau.

But we do have proximity to Seattle; creativity; a disproportionate number of successful chefs, caterers and food people and a special place in the hearts of residents of the metro region. Vashon-grown products have cachet.

Why aren’t we growing black currants? They’re a staple in Europe, flavoring drinks, sorbet, candy and, of course, cassis, the alcohol-based syrup so important in French cuisine and the essential ingredient for the aperitif Kir. Vashon has a history of growing currants. My small farm was part of Kenny Larsen’s 150-acre red currant farm on Maury Island. Until recently, black currants could not be grown in the U.S., banned because they were hosts to the white pine blister, but they’re legal now. And how about guinea fowl? There are lots of chickens on Vashon, but gourmet restaurants in Seattle might be looking for locally grown guinea hens for the “pintard” on their menu.

Let me conclude by asking you, should we change our name to the Vashon Growers and Eaters Association? Many islanders have asked why they should be a VIGA member. After all, if I’m not a grower what’s in it for me? Farming on Vashon is a challenge; it needs all the support it can get. If you like to eat fresh, local and healthy foods, join VIGA. If you like seeing rows of corn and carrots instead of suburban strip malls, join us at vigavashon.org. VIGA represents local farmers and those who eat and use their products.

— Dan Carlson co-chairs the VIGA board. This column is part of a series by VIGA members published by the Beachcomber.