When thinking of the lifestyle cultures that we share as part of the Cascadia community, agriculture culture is definitely one of the aspects that every Cascadian should be aware of if not a part of. With features like advantageous geographic features, weather conditions, and residents deeply invested in buying local, the Cascadia bioregion is an obviously place for an agriculture culture to develop.
Today, in the heart of the Cascadia bioregion, just a one-hour drive away from the city center, the view can be totally different. There are no tall buildings, just farms, side by side, residing in a quiescent valley. Everyday, varieties of agricultural products go out from here to people’s dinner tables. Or simply in a city neighborhood, one can also easily find P-Patch community gardens and the weekly farmer’s market providing extra fun for food shopping.
Although there are more and more people wanting locally produced, organic products, a lot of those people have little knowledge of how to get truly locally produced organic products. Buying agricultural products in the supermarket labeled “local” or “organic” does not mean the same thing as buying directly from farmers. Communicating directly with the local agricultural community is the best way. to better understand the local agriculture culture.
For sharing and educational purpose, CascadiaNow! Communications Intern Yingjie Gu made a video about her experience opening up those lines of communications with local farmers. Since Washington State itself has over 33,000 farms, she decided to reach out to farmers in Washington, Cascadia to learn more about agriculture culture through farm visits and interviews. Narrowing down what farms to contact by researching online and utilizing CascadiaNow!’s social media network, among fifteen farms that contacted, two farms replied and showed willingness for summer farm visits. Summer is a busy time for farmers. Everyday, a farmer can harvest ten or more kinds agricultural products.
Skinny Kitty Farms is the first farm that we visited. It is located in the Skagit City, Mt Vernon. Bonnie Briggs and David Mackie are the owners of Skinny Kitty Farms. Skinny Kitty Farms is a diversified small farm, which is not common for small farms. David told us that even though the diversification made the farm less efficient, less profitable, they feel that it’s an important thing to offer. They like doing experiments on planting new kinds of nutritious products to see if they can expand the varieties of their products. If a new specie is successful, they will grow more of them.
According to David, Skinny Kitty Farms is not certified organic. However, they are strictly practicing organic farming. So what’s the difference between certified organic and their practices of organic farming? David said that it would mainly be the budget. As a small start-up farm that is still exploring, Skinny Kitty Farms choose to spend more on ensuring the quality of their farm products instead of giving away considerable fee to get the organic certification. Customers are buying their products through their CSA programs and farmer’s markets. They love communicating with their customers at the farmers market.
Helsing Junction Farm, also a small farm, has a different story. Annie Salafsky and Susan Ujcic founded the farm in 1992. This year is Helsing Junction Farm’s 25th year. When Annie and Susan first started farming, the concept of organic farming was not so prevalent like today. However, as soon as they started their farm business, they started to realize that water conservation and chemical pesticides substitutes would become increasingly important as people’s environmental awareness rise. Until now, they have made great progress after all these years’ practices of organic farming.
In the interview, Annie and Susan also told us that they really pay attention to maintaining a good relationship with their customers. They regularly send out newsletters to keep their customers informed and hear their feedback. Different from the supermarket, since they sell directly to their customers, they try their best to meet customers’ requests such as allowing CSA customers to exchange specific kind of vegetables that they don’t like.
What we learned in our interviews is that if you want to buy high-quality local fresh organic produce and support the local agriculture as well, buying directly from the farms through CSA programs and farmers’ markets is the right thing to do. Although supermarkets also have products that label “local organic produce”, the farms they partner with usually compromise in their choices of production. Super market suppliershave to first consider growing products that can endure long-time transportation without being squeezed instead of truly nutritious ones. Also, they have to offer a low price to the supermarket which shrinks the money they get for their goods. Direct sales not only ensure the quality of the products but also give people the unique opportunity to truly know about the product from farmers that actually grow them.
If you have time for a trip, go out to visit the farms to see by yourself how the local organic farming truly works. Cascadia is rich in agriculture culture but we only reached farms in Western Washington for this project. However, we share so much of our lifestyle as part of the Cascadian family, there should also be many farms and farmers’ markets out there in other ecoregions waiting for your visit. By spending a few hours with our Cascadian farmers, you will become more confident in what you eat every day! You can also find community P-Patch gardens and farmers’ markets around you. Either way, you will know more useful information about the food you consume which directly relates to your health.
A very special thanks to Skinny Kitty Farms and Helsing Junction Farm. We encourage you to learn more about these awesome Cascadian farms on their websites and social media:
Raised in China, Yingjie has just completed her undergraduate study at the UW. With her strong belief that communication can make the world a better place, she always tries to apply what she has learned from her communications classes to various social practices such as participating in activities that facilitate community engagement and environmental awareness. With her passion for agricultural culture as well as knowledge of a sustainable environment, Yingjie will devote her summer to getting connected to the agricultural community in Washington State with CascadiaNow!.