"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Farmers Market vendors bring something fresh to the local tables

Hope Mountain Farm in Plain — Susan Curtis

By Eron Drew

“Know Your Farmer” is an adage that has been thrown around a lot in recent years.

 As a nation, we have moved away from local foods and have relied heavily on supermarkets and big box stores to provide for our every whim. Seasonal or not, just about everything grown on God’s green earth can be acquired with little effort.

But lately, we have begun waking up again to the idea that seasonal and fresh commodities are something special, something to savor and celebrate.

Farmers markets are busier than ever but often we as customers don’t get the chance to really get to know the producers whose livelihood we are supporting by shopping local.

So recently, I took the opportunity to interview several vendors at the Thursday evening Leavenworth Community Farmers Market in Lion’s Club Park, downtown Leavenworth. Like all individuals, each one holds a unique story and each brings something different and special to the market.

In a region dominated by large scale and export fruit production, a profusion of small specialty farms are carving out a niche for themselves with a reputation for high quality products and sustainable farming practices.

Dan and Becky Wilkinson began Roots Produce and Flower Farm on Icicle Road in Leavenworth after moving up from California to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

While in California, Dan and Becky owned a 10-acre lilac farm and sold flowers at the Los Angeles Flower Market. A former teacher and school principal, Dan now spends his summers tending their one-acre U-Pick blueberry patch and planting beds of cutting flowers for both private events (such as weddings) and for their market booth.

During the winter he drives a school bus for the Cascade School District.

“For years, I was learning about sustainable agriculture and reading about small scale farmers and direct marketing through farmers markets,” said Dan.

“It was something I really wanted to do at some stage of my life. After we moved to Leavenworth and started our little blueberry and flower farm, I was able to get involved in farmers market, which also was something I’d always wanted to do.”

Like most small farms, at least one member of the family has an off-farm career. “My wife Becky is my partner in this project,” said Dan. “Though she works another job during the school year as a counselor, in the summer she is right in the middle of all the farm work and activities of market. Occasionally our kids or grandkids will help out, but Becky is the main source of help.”

During the last 10 years, Dan and Becky have been moving away from conventional agriculture and have transitioned to organic farming methods.

“It is so much more sustainable and better for the earth than industrial agriculture practices. I love being just a small part of a change that I hope is growing and catching on.”

Susan Curtis founded Hope Mountain Farm in Plain after a successful career as a director at Microsoft. The mother of five children, Susan’s love of gardening started in her own childhood and re-emerged after receiving the opportunity to switch careers.

A thriving small business, Susan vends at the Leavenworth and Plain farmers markets, and provides berries, produce, baked goods and bees wax lip balms to Rhubarb Market in Wenatchee.

This season, in addition to growing vegetables, berries and keeping bees, Susan added a large processing kitchen to her on-farm operation.

“I have a food processing license and am working to grow that side of the business, including co-packing for other farms,” she said.

 During the winter months, Susan spends her time working in the Group Sales Department at Stevens Pass Mountain Resort.

However, farming is where her passion lies.

“I love getting my hands in the dirt,” said Susan, “listening to wildlife while I am working, meeting great people, and setting my own course as a small business owner. I have lots of favorite things to grow, but loganberries are near and dear to my heart since my dad grew them.”

Mathew Cox and his family founded Green Bow Farm just outside of Ellensburg in 2012. Green Bow is a grass and pasture rotation farm specializing in raising hormone and antibiotic-free beef, poultry, eggs, pork, sheep, beautiful yarn and handmade herbal soaps.

Add to the mix three small boys and you find yourself admiring the tenacity and dedication of this young farming family.

Although farming is now their family’s primary source of income, it was not a planned career choice.

“After college I fell into installation work with museums and collectors,” said Matt. “My last job I worked for private collectors managing their art collection gallery. That was a great job and I decided to quit while I was ahead and check out farming. I ended up with three chickens, which I’ve always deemed a gateway livestock. Next thing you know we’re uprooting ourselves and starting a farm.

“Our prices tend to be a bit higher than everyone else and there are several reasons for that but primarily we need to be sure that the costs are being covered, including marketing and point of sale costs, and that we are returning enough money to make it work year after year.”

At first, Matt and his wife had hoped to do mainly on-farm sales but found that farmers markets offered them a connection to their clientele that was both pleasant and unexpected. Leavenworth is a new market for Green Bow but they are finding that each week, their customer base continues to grow.

“I see the same customers week after week and those relationships are really important,” said Matt. “Not just for the sake of our business, but for the consumers as well. Having those relationships and being connected to your food and community is just good quality of life stuff.”

Currently, Green Bow is in the process of acquiring a second property in order to expand its farming operations.

“We really do everything we can to produce the best food possible while also taking care of the soil and land. All of that means going the extra mile by moving animals regularly and staying on top of things. That is the only way to accomplish our objectives and stay sustainable.

“It’s a lot of work and that work costs money,” he said. “We put a lot of extra work into the food we produce and when our customers come back to tell us how much they enjoyed our eggs or beef or lamb, it’s really rewarding.”

 Eron Drew lives and farms in Leavenworth. You can find her at the Leavenworth Community Farmers Market every Thursday where she loves to shop for good food and talk to people about plants and growing things.

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