The Root Connection - Holding Veggie Starts

It was June of 1984………………… when I drove my battered little 1972 Toyota Celica down the Woodinville-Redmond Rd trying to find a driveway obscured by tall weeds. Once there, I followed the narrow road as far back as I could go. This was an adventure for me, as a friend had just given me the car. I had always said that if I ever got a car, what I wanted to do was rent some land to grow organic food. So here I was, looking out over 11 acres of what used to be a Christmas tree growing operation. The trees were crooked and unhealthy, the ground was cracked and bore the signs of excessive herbicide use. Surviving weeds of quack grass and amaranth were chest high. There were no birds or signs of insects. Deadish. Was this my piece of paradise? I grabbed a shovel and marched out into the field and started digging, chopping tree roots as I went. One foot. Two feet. Then! Dark moist soil with no sign of hardpan. Things were looking up. Further exploration of the property turned up a small shed with an electrical cable to it. Inside I saw equipment and a pipe coming out of the ground with water seeping out. It was a well! And not just any well, it was an artesian well! Now the moist soil I found made sense. Could there be artesian streams running under this property? Now things were getting exciting.

An agreement was made. I was allowed to rent the land in increments, so I would only pay for the portion that I was able to clear each year. Which was a good thing. I had no equipment and no money. I wondered if my 38 year old body could deal with the work and if my efforts at organic reclamation would be successful.

Was this my piece of paradise?

1986 …….. A ½ acre piece of the land was thriving with vegetable seedlings. I was able to sell to some small groceries in Seattle and Edmonds that were interested in trying this “new” organic thing. I had long ago switched my daytime cleaning jobs to night-time janitorial work so I could spend more time working the farm during the day. The Celica was cheerfully running here and there stuffed with wet boxes of produce and did not take offense that there were mushrooms sprouting in her trunk and back seat. I was opening up more area by using manure topped with rye grass seed. Lots of it! Called composting in place. In those days, there was Bill’s Dairy just to the west of the farm with lots of good product that he was happy to deliver for free. I planted the rye grass thickly, as each plant has several miles of roots which helps with drainage, and secretes an enzyme that retards the growth of quack grass. I also planted clover and other cover crops that attracted the insects and birds back. Lady bugs welcome! It wasn’t easy. At first, the things like aphids thrived and did a lot of damage to the crops, but gradually, that ceased with the ecosystem getting healthier and the plants getting stronger. I also discovered the magic of floating row cover to help keep bugs off. So things progressed. I purchased an SUV and gave the beloved Celica to my son. He then had a way to drive from Buckley (50 miles) to the farm to work for his Mom. (Heh, Heh – he’s still here) Then the wife came along and when school was out, all 5 of the grandkids came too. (How many people can you stuff into a tiny Celica? – a lot, but only if some of them are small!) They learned to work very young………

The Root Connection Row Cover
Row cover protects from frost and insects.

They did come, and in another 7 years we were in full production.

Oh, the wonderful year of 1987 ……………. When I read an article about a CSA that had started back East, which was an entirely new concept.  I was already getting irritated at growing for the “niche” market – baby vegetables, radicchio, etc. I wanted to grow healthy food for people who wanted to get healthy. This was it! A small ad in the PCC newsletter garnered 20 people who were willing to send $475 in the mail to someone they hadn’t met, a place they hadn’t seen, a promise of fresh vegetables that were not grown yet. Following the “build it and they will come” philosophy, we pulled more trees, turned more ground from sterile to an oasis. They did come, and in another 7 years we were in full production with over 300 CSA member families. The first CSA on the West coast was a success.

The Future…………… After the successful years and the increase in more farmers coming back into the Sammamish Valley, one would think that our local food production areas would be safe and valued by the local community. What an asset for a region to have! Over the past 3 years things have changed. Memberships have dropped so much that we are struggling to keep afloat. Some of our land is fallow. Other farmers are experiencing the same thing. According to several surveys, the main reason is ordering food from large corporations instead of supporting local farms. The survey stated that nationwide, the percentage of families that participate in CSA’s or Farmers Markets has shrunk down to only 2%. Many people of the younger generation that don’t know how or don’t want to cook. Housing changes from homes with yards to apartments, where folks don’t crave the step of the foot on soil, watching things grow, picking a flower. A lot of our core group is aging out- children gone, relocating, etc. They are not being replaced by enough people who want to experience really fresh food and the educational opportunity it provides children.

So new members, we value you and hope you will return for many seasons!

The Root Connection Mother and Son U-Pick Greens
Mother and son enjoying the farm experience.

The other and more ominous threat is land use changes. The County is not holding up their obligation to protect the food production districts. There is a plan presented to the County Council to change the zoning on some of the land currently zoned for agriculture.

How do we save the future of “one of the 10 most fertile valleys in the United States” (according to a USDA survey done many years ago)? Public support. There are thousands of people that live within 5 miles of this valley. Support farms if we want to keep them! That means buying from them. Enjoy the healthy benefits as well as the experience of getting outdoors and seeing what this land that has been made for us can do. If we don’t ruin it.

[Nationally] the percentage of families that participate in CSA’s or Farmers Markets has shrunk down to only 2%

You can change that message by supporting your local farm––right here, right now.

The end of 2019……………. So with much appreciation, thank you to all our members. Thanks for spreading the word. Thanks for helping to save an asset that cannot be replaced.

With gratitude, Claire and the rest of the crew!

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”   Wendell Berry

Man owes his existence to a few inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains” ― Wendell Berry