Blong and his wife See, who married in 1995, have been farming since the early 90’s. That's when they moved to the United States having lived in refugee camps in Thailand. Like many other Hmong farmers, they fled Laos (and before that China) due to war. Blong doesn’t speak much about it other than recognizing they have faced serious hardship. They have been able to trace their family heritage back 9 generations to China—Family and history being major themes to this family farm. “I don’t focus on the money. I focus on happiness. Family is the sunshine in the house. My kids are what motivate me.”
Blong grows both flowers and vegetables in Carnation, Wa, right in the heart of King County. They don’t have access to any water rights, so they farm “with mother nature. Life is different than on paper!” Blong farms with experience and the knowledge that their success is dependent on time management and understanding consumer demand, “It’s all about time management. Don’t wait. Do it right away!”
They spend much of their time from March-December surveying and studying fields and crops knowing that it’s just as much about the day to day as it is about the whole year…including the upcoming season! Over the years, Blong has been able to streamline some of the grueling tasks like weeding by farming in wider rows so he can fit a tiller in between rows. That said, what would take an average person a day to weed, Blong and See can accomplish within an hour.
Their primary cash crops are peonies and dahlias, both of which happen to be their favorite plants to grow. Flowers are their focus, as they takes less time than vegetables for them to grow and harvest. Because time management is key to this two person operation, they often find themselves picking only 30% of the vegetables that they grow. Time is not the only factor in this limited harvest. Customer expectation around the perfect, clean vegetable also comes into play. It’s a hard mental barrier for us consumers to break…What is perfect?
At the end of a hard day, Blong and See enjoy what they are doing, and we can tell. “I have fun out here every day!” This is a testament to what these stewards to the land and community do for all of us. Not only do they nourish the soil and our bellies, they bring their positive spirit and beautiful flowers to four Seattle farmers markets.
While they could take their flowers to wholesale dealers, they come to the markets to earn not only a living, but also to be a part of something larger than their individual business. “We are a part of a system. Each vendor makes me better.”
In the Market world, we refer to this as the Market Magic where one can FEEL the energy, SEE the collaboration and VISUALIZE the possibilities of what we create together, every week, rain or shine, at the Farmers Market. We hope to see you at the Farmers Markets, and be sure to stop and smell the flowers!
Photos and Article by Ivy Fox
May 10th marks Seattle's biggest giving holiday, GiveBIG, which will give you the opportunity to support your favorite non-profits all around the city. With that, we wanted to show you how your support of us here at Neighborhood Farmers Markets supports Washington farmers as well.
Read more to see how farmers have benefited and re-grown after tough times thanks to the help from supporters like you and the Good Farmer Fund, our emergency relief fund for farmers in our market system.
We have stories from Little Wing Farm, Glendale Shepherd, and Tieton Farm + Creamery... All amazing farmers who have gone through hard times and have been kind enough to share their stories with us.
We recently visited Glendale Shepherd on Whidbey Island to see a bit of spring on a sheep farm. Enjoy this visual tour of their beautiful farm!
Nature’s Last Stand is a 25 acre farm that sits on one of King County’s most scenic farm landscapes - Snoqualmie River Road. Practically encircled by water, the farm land sees annual floods which bring about additional challenges when you are raising pigs.
John has been farming for a long time, over 20 years, and he started by growing row crops finding success in growing large, beautiful beef steak tomatoes and potatoes.
Much like the ancient cabin that still sits on the farm, through time, the farm has transitioned, adapting to changing climates, life, and customer demand. You can still see the greenhouses John used to fill with tomatoes that now act as covering from the elements. Farming is challenging, and as a one man show, something had to give, thus the tomatoes were left behind.
Today, John sells breakfast sandwiches with the pork he raises while the rest of the ingredients come directly from the other farmers, processors and bakers present at the market - Samish Bay cheese, Tall Grass Bakery brioche buns, River Farm chicken eggs, Woodring condiments. This is truly a farmer’s market breakfast.
Written by Ivy Fox, U-District Market Manager
As the Puget Sound region continues to grow, it’s not uncommon to see housing developments emerge from open space that was once used as farm land. What you don’t see every day is a farm emerging from a development and reclaiming the land as its own. But that’s precisely the case with The Farmstead, a goat creamery and homestead 20 minutes outside of Olympia.
The Farmstead entered our market system in 2016, bringing with them homemade chevre, feta, and halloumi, a fried cheese that remains soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. The cheese, often made with herbs from their garden, is a small window into what’s happening on their 11 acres in Thurston County.
Ever wonder how those beans dry? We took a peek at how Dorcas from Lesedi Farms does it and then shucks them by hand! An amazing farmer with an amazing product. Stop by her booth at the University District Farmers Market any Saturday and starting this week, West Seattle Farmers Market on Sundays.
Winter isn’t always the best time to visit a farm, especially if you’re hoping to see the verdant abundance that populates our romantic notions of the good life. Instead of robust fields full of the promise of crops to come, you’re more likely to see the remnants of a fall harvest, with hardy brassicas picked thin and the remaining plant material decomposing back into the soil.
But there are also many reasons why winter is an ideal time to visit a farm. Without the adorning foliage and technicolor fruits and flowers, one can view the operation in its most stripped down form, much like viewing the blueprints of a building. Plus, winter is also when farmers have the time and capacity to plan, dream, and show the odd visitor around their fields and home. Such was the case when the NFM showed up at Skinny Kitty Farm in late January.
We asked some of our farmers to recount their love and how it connects with the farmers markets and the community we all create. There is so much love at the markets and growing on these farms that it's impossible to tell them all, but here are a select few to brighten your Valentine's Day.
Ruth and Lori of Tieton Creamery
Ruth and Lori were just starting to date around Valentine’s day , 21 years ago. They met the cheap way, at work! While they had desk jobs with 9 to 5 sentences, Ruth desperately wanted to farm. They both wanted to be around animals. They had a chance to practice with an urban farm in Bellevue on their cousin’s property where they farmed veggies and raised chickens, turkeys and a few goats for about five years, while working full time jobs. They searched most of King and surrounding counties for land they could afford to farm, never finding anything. Thanks to a meeting with Michael Pollan at Lark Restaurant, they were seated next to friends of the Mighty Tieton folks and things started to fall into place. They found land that had not been in use for over seven years, and it was ready for a pasture. In 2008, it was near impossible to find a bank to lend money, so they funded the building of the creamery and setting up all the pastures. It was all a labor of love for each other and for what they loved doing. Ruth does all the animal husbandry, Lori manages the milk. They did not want anything but a chemical free farm with a happy, healthy life for the animals and to do things in cheese making that respect the ancient ways of food preservation. So far, so good.
Brent and Kira of Olsen Farms
Brent and Kira met at the Capitol Hill farmers market where he was vending and she was a manager with the NFMA in 2010. After a few failed attempts by Brent to get Kira to grab a beer after the market, Kira finally snagged Brent to come out after a long summer market day at U-District. They continued to flirt, exchange notes, and Brent even gave Kira potato hand warmers for the colder days, all the while attempting to keep their fondness for each other on the down low. Despite Brent's dream to get married at the U-District market, with all their friends and customers throwing potatoes down the aisle, they eventually took their love outside the farmers markets and instead to the farm. They now work together on the farm and raise two girls, Nora and Lila, who often join at the market.
Chad and Brooklyn of Iggy's
Chad says, "Working the markets alongside Brooklyn has been a beautiful experience. Brooklyn and I met just a few months before we started slinging our fermented creations at the Seattle farmers markets. So, our relationship has grown around our weekend grind of slinging sauerkraut. For me, every customer is a new chance to hear how Brooklyn explains what she deeply loves; connecting people to herbs, plants, and probiotics. Even if she tells the same story twice, it's never the same. Before we met, I dreamed of learning more about plants, and how to heal myself through their gifts. The farmers market has provided that stage. Our customers are the instruments. And I am the audience. Thank you very very much."
George and Eiko of Skagit River Ranch
George and Eiko met when they both worked for a large fishing company, George as a captain of a fishing vessel in the Bering sea, Eiko as a marketing executive traveling overseas. They fell in love and got married. When their daughter, Nicole, was born, they wanted to stay home and watch their daughter grow, so they started farming their Skagit River Ranch. That was 20 years ago. Eiko says, “We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, we still love farming together. Our Farmer’s Market customers have become our extended family. We have 2nd and 3rd generation market families at our booth! Life is good!”
In this week’s 'Behind the Stand', Siri Erickson-Brown gave us a peek into her farm Local Roots and gave us some tips she hopes you’ll use on your next trip to the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market.
How the Farm Took Root
“Luck of the draw.” Siri found herself working as an apprentice at Nature’s Last Stand, a farm located in the Snoqualmie Valley who also happens to be a vendor at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market. Surrounded by other Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance (NFMA) farms, Siri’s excitement for the field grew.
Just one year into her apprenticeship, Siri was approached by a landowner who was looking to start a new farm. “We had no idea what we were doing. [It was] an unofficial incubator type situation.” A situation in which many talented farming hopefuls find themselves when faced with the steep start up costs of a new farm. After farming the land for 4 years, Siri and her husband, Jason, went from incubation to a full-fledged farm.
Is Local Roots Organic?
Local Roots isn’t certified organic, but their practices sure are. “We’ve been growing with certified organic growing practices since we started,” Siri said. The main reason farms like Local Roots don’t get certified is the cost, which can include everything from the time it takes to maintain records to the various application fees. Since Local Roots sells direct to customers via the farmers markets, they are able to tell the story of how their produce is grown to each shopper.
“My favorite [response] to people when they [ask], ‘Are you certified?’’ is ‘No we’re not. What are you concerned about?’” When people look for the organic label, they tend to care about pesticides, labor practices, and the carbon footprint of the farm. The list goes on. With the organic label, the only guarantee you have is on the matter of pesticides. “There’s no labor standard associated with organic.” An organic tomato available elsewhere could still have been grown using exploitive labor practices.
“If you’re driven by ethical or health concerns, the best place to buy food is the farmer’s market because you can have a face to face conversation with the person who grew it. Maybe you can even go to the farm and see for yourself.” Siri’s farm has an open door policy... “Just email us before you show up on my driveway,” Siri said with a laugh.
What Makes Local Roots Stand Out?
“Every single week we will have the best lettuce you can find.” Salad greens, escarole, frisee--if it’s leafy; Local Roots does it right. “We really love it and we have an expert crew. We plant fresh crops of lettuce once every week, but there’s really one day a week where every head of lettuce is at its peak. Sometimes the stars align and the perfect day for a particular variety of lettuce is the day we pick for the market. Just ask [us which variety]. Don’t be afraid!”
This is especially true of their radicchio, a farm favorite. Siri drives their passion for radicchio into practice by both providing the same care they put into their other greens, and by selectively sourcing their favorite seed varieties from Italy. Local Roots greens aren’t just fresh produce, they are the culmination of experience and painstaking decision making. Now that’s a salad to sink your teeth into.
Any other produce I should check out at Local Roots?
Local Roots also grows a lot of other delicious produce. Garlic, fennel, peppers--there are a lot of options. The zucchini they grow is dense and sweet with few seeds. This is in stark contrast to the watery, seed filled, and blander zucchini you tend to find elsewhere.
“We started growing melons for the first time last year and holy smoke, I thought I didn’t like melon.” These new melons might not be displayed front and center, so be sure to ask what’s available when you stop by their stand.
Want to get in touch with Local Roots?
Stop by the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market! We’re open every Sunday, 11 AM to 3 PM. When you come make sure you follow Siri’s advice:
Thanks to volunteers John Espinosa and Ricky Wozniak for sharing this story!
Checking out their stall at the Friday Phinney Farmers Market, you see two things: a large and varied row of potatoes on one table, and an array of deep freeze foot lockers on the other two tables. Not very picturesque, compared to the displays of other stalls, but the proof is in the eating.
Brent and Kira Olsen’s family farm, located near Colville in the mountain valley in Northeastern Washington, comprises about 300 acres, plus much more leased land nearby. According to his wife Kira, Brent started farming in the mid 1990s with a vegetable crop, then switched to growing potatoes, then to hayfields. Sticking with the potatoes and the hayfields, he then got interested in raising livestock.
Today their cattle are raised on green grass pastures and are fed their hay and potatoes in the winter. “We feed the cows only what we grow on the farm, no outside food sources or animal by-products,” affirms the farm’s website. “Our pigs are fed barley grown just across the road from where they live and our lambs are moved throughout the region to remain on pasture for as much of the year as possible.” The farm’s animals are naturally raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
Kira Olsen is one of those multi-taskers: farmer’s wife, mother, and office worker (including at the farm’s USDA-certified meat processing plant nearby). And with Kira there’s a personal connection to our farmer’s market: She managed it in 2009, then met her husband through that connection. With all that, the couple have two daughters, 15 months and 2 ½ years.
Oh yes, the potatoes…the farm’s huge variety in both flavor and color lends itself to tasty recipes—suggested likewise on the Olsen Farms website, www.olsenfarms.com.
Oh and heads-up: there are only three more Fridays left for the Market this season.
story by Dick Gillett