news from island meadow farm
Greenhorn Chandler Briggs of Island Meadow Farm, on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, passed on this little note about their first season, and some nice local press!
It's a process & I'd say for our first year we're doing just fine. With the extra cabbage we made kimchi & sauerkraut, so we'll stock that in our farmstand on Monday & hope that goes over well. Chickens & ducks are just starting to lay, the pigs are getting bigger every day. We're still a little in our summer lull, which has been nice. I'm taking the weekend off (for the first time in a long while!). And we got some press in the local paper!
Newly Reborn Island Meadow Farm has Plenty to Offer Islanders
By MARY BRUNO
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Contributor
Jul 07 2009
If Island Meadow Farm could talk, oh the stories it would tell.
For more than a century, this 10-acre spread off of Cemetery Road has yielded up its bounty — from nuts and flowers destined for the Pike Place Market to the first certified organic vegetables on Vashon. In 1992, it notched another Island milestone, becoming the first local farm to offer a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA), where subscribers pay up front for weekly supplies of fresh produce.
Now, after laying fallow for two seasons, this celebrated slice of Vashon’s agricultural history is producing once again, thanks to the arrival of three dedicated young farmers.
Chandler Briggs, 25, Caitlin Arnold, 26, and Roby Ventres-Pake, 19, swapped babysitting for plowing, ponied up $5,000 of their own money and in just six short months successfully resurrected Vashon’s beloved Island Meadow Farm.
On an overcast afternoon, the trio took a break from their chores to talk about the paths that led them to this gentle, south-sloping farm just west of Vashon Highway. They gathered around the huge, roughhewn picnic table that sits above the one-acre main field. A half-acre of chard, cherry tomatoes, Walla Walla onions and other organic produce stretched out behind them in long, neat and mostly weed-free rows to the south and west.
Chandler Briggs grew up in Hermosa Beach, Calif., where he spent more time surfing than gardening. In college, he helped out at a friend’s gardening business and found that he really liked growing things.
In the summer of 2006, fresh from the University of California at Santa Barbara with an environmental studies degree, he spent a week volunteering at Vashon’s Hogsback Farm. From there, he worked a full season at Persephone Farm on the Kitsap Peninsula. And that was it, said Briggs: “I fell in love with farming.”
While he was at Hogsback, Briggs met farmhand Caitlin Arnold. A Seattle native, Arnold spent many childhood summers at Camp Sealth. She hadn’t been back to Vashon in 10 years. But when she got a general recruiting e-mail from Hogsback — they were looking for a farm intern — she decided to check it out.
“It was perfect timing,” said Arnold, who had just graduated from Seattle University with a degree in international studies and a growing aversion to city life. “I rode my bike out to Vashon. Rode up the crazy hill. Went to Hogsback and, I don’t know, I just decided to do it.”
She spent two seasons (’06 and ’07) at Hogsback, where she worked alongside veteran farm manager Brian Lowry. In 2008, Arnold left Hogsback to help Briggs revive Island Meadow Farm.
When the pair realized their new Island Meadow venture might benefit from another pair of hands, they tapped the vibrant, global organic farming network. About 15 prospects responded to their posting on a U.S. government-run site that carries listings of apprentice-seeking farms. Oregon native Roby Ventres-Pake passed the can-we-work-with-this-person test. (Because rents are high on Vashon, the three share a group house.) Ventres-Pake arrived last spring from his own apprenticeship on an organic farm in India.
The three partners are the latest links in the Island Meadow chain. In 1988, then- owner Bill Iles sold his flower and nut farm to recent arrivals Bob and Bonny Gregson. The Gregsons christened their new purchase “Island Meadow,” and gradually transformed it into one of Vashon’s first certified organic produce operations.
A decade later, the Gregsons sold Island Meadow to Greg Kruse, an Iowa native who had spent the 1998 season there as an apprentice. Kruse and his wife Julie worked the farm for 10 seasons. They decided to take a break in 2007, shortly after the birth of their second son. In January, they turned day-to-day operations over to Arnold, Briggs and Ventres-Pake.
The three found the idle farm in surprisingly good shape. The soil needed little amending. The farm had lots of infrastructure in place — fencing, tools, a hoop house, Greg’s tractor — which saved thousands of dollars and sped the startup process. By spring, they had cleaned up the property and the outbuildings, planted their first salad greens, onions and leeks, and accepted shipment of 43 chickens, 12 ducks and three little pigs. The pigs are “an experiment,” explained Briggs, as he emptied a bucket of scraps into their shady pen.
Island Meadow’s season-one business plan focuses on the farm stand and the Saturday Farmers Market. “We decided not to do a CSA this year,” said Arnold. “This is a totally new space and we just didn’t want to commit to that.” Not yet, anyway.
Because of its location just off Vashon Highway, the farm stand does a brisk business. With no CSA to divert the harvest, Island Meadow was one of the first farms selling early spring produce at the Saturday Farmers Market. One of their best sellers was an eye-catching turnip, a sweet, all-white variety called Hakurei that is bred in Japan.
“You can just bite right into them,” said Ventres-Pake.
Island Meadow’s salad greens have also won a following; the farm has been selling them to La Boucherie, The Hardware Store Restaurant and to some of the food vendors at the Saturday Market. Island Meadow will have eggs for sale soon. The farm alerts its fans to what’s being harvested and posts photos and commentary on its blog — islandmeadowfarm.wordpress.com.
Between farm stand and market sales and the nascent restaurant business, Island Meadow has been grossing about $800 a week, said Arnold.
At that pace, the partners recently recouped their initial investment and have actually begun taking salaries, albeit modest ones. They plan to stay open through the winter, offering a full complement of cold-weather vegetables, including salad mix, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower.
“When I came here in January there was very little local food available,” said Briggs. “I went to farm stands and tried to seek it out. It wasn’t around. That’s a niche.”
Farming is hard, year-round work, and the three say they rarely take a day off. They never really get their hands clean. Despite the quick success of Island Meadow, they struggle to pay the bills. “My parents think I’m crazy,” said Briggs.
But organic farming has its rewards. Ventres-Pake loves the simple joy of harvesting.
“I like pulling root crops, especially carrots, because they make a really good pop when they come out,” he said.
Arnold likes the rhythms of a rural lifestyle. “I’m not a city person anymore,” she said. “And if I’m going to live rurally I want to grow my own food.”
For Briggs, it’s about the satisfaction that comes with knowing you are laboring for a greater good.
“Locally grown food is just a better choice for lots of reasons,” he said. “We can complain all we want about how screwed up the food industry is, but I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to be a part of this change that’s happening.”