Northwest Washington is the wild berry capitol of the entire country, I’m convinced. Gooseberries, saskatoons, thimbleberries, blueberries, huckleberries and raspberries aside, wild blackberries line the raodways, fields and river like no other place I’ve seen. And they’re so much bigger than the wild blackberries we have at home in North Carolina. These are big and juicy and just as often sweet as they are tart. And they’re just starting to fruit. Other WWOOFer Ashley and I picked about a gallon off of the bushes lining the different fields of the farm the other day; the ones actually making it all the way to the bowl were destined for jam ‘n pie.
One box of Pomona’s Universal Pectin, an odd assortment of canning jars and 2 organic spelt pie crusts later, we had mashed, cooked and jammed berries and oatmeal-crumb topped pie de la blackberry. We left them to cool on top of the fridge (out of little hands’ reach) ready to savor them in the morning as pie and toast and jam with perhaps a blackberry smoothie to round out the meal?
One of the interesting things about working on Highwater Farm has been not marketing through farmer’s markets or CSA but instead, co-op and food bank orders. The main cash crops of the farm – green onions, beets, parsley and peas – we harvested almost everyday of the week to take deliveries to 2 different food banks(Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley), 3 co-ops (Mount Vernon and Bellingham’s 2) and one organic food distributer, Dandelion Organics (kind of like a CSA but with a middle-man who buys from a number of local farms and delivers the box of produce to customers homes.)
The last week of being there was heavy in green onion harvesting. 185 bunches one day, 150 the next, 250 another. We gently tug them to loosen the roots on the largest ones in the field, they pull up quite readily after that, we clip the roots off and box them up to sit in the shade of the barn and peel back the dirty and papery layers til we get clean, shiny, white green onions which then get bundled into bunches of 4-7 depending on the size (the food banks will take the uber-large, and teeny tiny ones.) Then it’s into waxed boxes and the extra fridge in the barn (they have a walk-in cooler but with frequent orders of only a few boxes worth, it’s really not worth it to power the thing up, so a regular household fridge does the job) before stacking them in the car for the 10-minute drive (Mt Vernon/S-W) or 40-minute drive (Bham/D.O.)It’s taught me a little bit on how to plan planting, maintenance and harvesting schedules for marketing to grocers and bulk buyers and wholesaling.
The deal with the food banks is a neat scenario. The state of WA has grant money for the food banks that goes directly to buying food from local growers. It’s a lively amount of somewhere in the $10,000 annually range and they’ll typically buy all vegetable seconds (ones with scratches, or that are too big or have some small defect) and as much as we can fit in the car of a bumper crop that would otherwise go to waste in the field. That’s one important thing I’ve learned to be on the lookout for; an outlet for excess harvests and seconds. In some places that means a road-side stand you can stock with vegetables you bring back from market, in other places there are non-profit ‘gleaners’ who will come by the end of market to take donations of whatever produce you didn’t sell and some will even come out to the farm to harvest and leftovers which is especially helpful when you’re pea-picked-out or the tomatoes need to come up for the next rotation or there are too many peppers on the plants for you to possibly pick before they start rotting in the field. Multiple outlets are a very convenient and almost necessary means for making a living farming (the food banks don’t pay a competetive price for the crops but it’s still something, and you can get a tax write-off for all those donations.)