Rooting for farmers, and farmers’ markets

Crows peck down the length of a row of perfect, round, ripe melons, ruining each with a large hole and moving on to the next.

Cutworm caterpillars shear off tender transplants just under the soil line, leaving a dead, toppling plant behind.

Rust blight blows in on the wind and takes the garlic crop for three years running, no matter where the the beds are relocated.

Water lines have to be moved constantly in the heat, remay coverings need to be repositioned, weeds threaten to take over a patch of this or that. Long rows require thinning. The peppers suddenly look a little pooped. Why? What now?

And there’s always the weather: a late, cold, wet spring, a summer that’s too hot and dry, an early surprise freeze, stretches of relentless wind, or rain, or chill …

Once a month I get to see the enormous work, or parts of it, on my daughter’s three-acre farm. Rebecca and her farm partner, Carla Jo, and their crew work harder than pretty much anyone I know, and I’m sure it’s the same on every small farm in the country. The tasks are endless, glitches happen all the time, the labor is taxing on every part of their bodies, and the constant battle with the elements is daunting to watch, much less actually do.

Bellingham’s wonderful Farmers’ Market starts the 2012 season this Saturday, April 7. Farmers will probably be selling various kinds of kale, garlic greens, cauliflower, herbs, broccoli sprouts, green onions, collards, mustard greens, and lots of bedding plants for those of us who do gardens of our own. I want to say this: Support these local farmers! Attend our market on Saturdays, even if the weather is not ideal! When the Wednesday market starts up in Fairhaven (June 1 through September 28), go to that one too, behind Village Books. Get to know the people who grow this great food! Go to the market with friends, run into friends there, get lunch from one of the many vendors, make it an occasion. It’s celebration time!

Even if I don’t buy much on a particular market day I like to simply go to the market, take in the sights and sounds and smells, and witness the results of lots of hard work by our small farmers. Our market has grown by leaps and bounds since I moved to Bellingham in 2004. What a vibrant, colorful, joyous scene. How lucky we are! A friend visited here from Los Angeles, where she goes to the sprawling Hollywood farmers’ market and another in Pasadena, and she exclaimed over what a great market we have here, saying it was the best one she’d been to.

On my daughter’s farm I see the back story behind all the beautifully displayed produce at the market. I watch the crew lifting heavy buckets and boxes; standing for hours with hands submerged in cold water scrubbing vegetables before spinning, bagging, or boxing them; squatting and bending as they weed by hand, hoe, plant, and pick; working long days to fill restaurant and co-op orders, make up CSA boxes, or get produce ready for market. They work in all kinds of weather, weather that makes the rest of us schlumps (including me) complain because we have to drive across town or take the dog for a walk.

Small farmers do this kind of work because a) they love what they do, and b) they are proud of what they grow by hand. Plus c) they are independent cusses who, most of them, couldn’t take working for a boss in an office. There is great satisfaction in feeding others, helping the earth by using sane, sustainable farming practices, and feeling that they’re making a difference. And they do make a difference! Completely aside from providing us with flavorful, fresh food, our farmers are a vital part of our community in so many ways.

Many local farmers donate their surplus produce, or grow extra for the purpose of contributing. Volunteers of the Bellingham Food Bank’s Small Potatoes Gleaning Project annually gather more than 60 tons of fresh produce from local farms and deliver the fruits and vegetables to area food banks, soup kitchens, and feeding programs. The Food Bank has agreements with more than a dozen local farmers who want all the food they’ve grown to be put to use. Farmers call Small Potatoes after their fields have been harvested, and volunteers rescue produce for Whatcom County’s hungry.

Some farms offer educational/experiential opportunities for school groups or open their fields for visits from elder groups and others. The Whatcom Food-to-School program is exploring new ways of getting local food into the schools, including a Harvest of the Month effort to feature seasonal local food in all eight public schools in Whatcom County.

When we buy from our industrious local farmers we’re eating food grown right here in the soil of the Pacific Northwest and tended to carefully by people who live in this community, who have a vested interest in the freshness, flavor, and quality of their produce. Their hard work is not the reason to buy produce from them, because all produce sold everywhere results from the hard work of someone. But when you know the source and the someone, it makes a difference. I’m so proud of Rebecca, Carla Jo, and all the others who work on Blue Moon Farm, whose produce and flowers are sold at both the Friday Harbor and Eastsound farmers’ markets.

Having a farmer daughter has taught me a lot—including varieties of vegetables, the whims of the seasons, the vagaries and challenges of farming life, and the dedication it takes to keep it all going. I have a better appreciation for what goes into that bunch of spinach than I would otherwise, and all the farmers at the market have my admiration and gratitude. From that first cabbage toss by Mayor Kelli Linville this Saturday to launch the market season to the very end at Christmas time, I want to go to the market as often as possible—on both Saturdays and Wednesdays—to say thanks to our indomitable farmers.

I hope to see you there!



1 thought on “Rooting for farmers, and farmers’ markets

  1. Rooting!! Ha! Love a wonderful/horrible pun.

    If, like me, you find the Bellingham Farmers’ Market has gotten a little too large and a lot too crowded, I suggest you try the Ferndale Farmers’ Market (it starts on Saturday, April 21st, from 10:00 – 4:00). It’s anchored at the plaza on Main Street, and continues down the side of the Nooksack River on the Riverwalk. It’s small, but I always find something fresh and local to buy, and something fun for lunch. And walking along the river is a joy.

    p.s. If you drive north on Marine Drive, and turn right at the little Fort Bellingham convenience store, then right again just after you cross over the Nooksack, you’ll get to Ferndale the back way, with wide open skies and hawks and sometimes eagles — a little country trip. Or go straight out Northwest; you don’t even have to get close to the freeway.

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