With Our Powers Combined

If I can’t be a sustainable farmer right now, I can at least be a sustainable shipper!  Meet the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative, a non-profit co-op (transitioning into a member-owned co-op as the resources and legalities present themselves) offering petroleum-free transportation of local food to people in the Seattle/Olympic Peninsula region.

On a crisp, bright northwest Saturday morning, myself and 4 others met at Finnriver Farm to load down our bikes with nearly 300 pounds of farmstead cider to be delivered to the harbor in Port Ludlow where the order would be transferred on board the Soliton to make the 5 to 15-hour sailing journey across the Salish Sea (formerly, the Puget Sound) to the Aster Coffee Lounge in Ballard, WA.

In anticipation of our low-energy future, skipper Fulvio Casali, an Italian-born naval officer turned sailing instructor, is choosing to help his community power-down through sustainable transportation.  Using his home, a Catalina 34 named Soliton, Fulvio makes the 20+ hour trip from the harbor near Ballard (an area of Seattle) to various ports of the Olympic Peninsula (rich in farmed and sustainably produced goods) to load up and sail back again with a cargo of shares.  Over the 2011 season he will have sailed round-trip 11 times, and when he’s not sustainably delivering sustainable goods, he can be found giving sailing lessons or representing the co-op at green-power and sustainability festivals.

In keeping with the fuel-free inspiration of the co-op, the 5 of us made the 3 1/2 hour, 25-mile round-trip bike delivery of hard cider and fruit liquors loaded into panniers and onto a bicycle trailer.  With a couple of stops to regroup and once to swap out trailer hauling, we rode the shoulder of the main highway into town, over slightly rolling hills and with relative ease.  We reached the dock after an hour and a half of pedaling to meet Fulvio, a couple of his volunteer crew and a reporter from Edible Seattle covering the co-op’s green transportation mission as well as Finnriver’s award-winning cider cargo.

Farm to bike to sea to table.  What would you call this? Community Supported Agriculture? Community Supported Sailing? Or Wind and Bike Powered Community Support?

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Life. That’s what has happened for the past 4 months.  Busy-ness. That’s how we roll in Port Townsend.  Fundraisers, dance parties, fundraiser dance parties, volunteer projects, short-term house-sitting jobs, restaurant work, complaining about the weather and trying to sneak a or two into the mix are all some of the excuses I’ve used to neglect this portion of my life.  Those, and the fact that there isn’t really a portion of my life that is farming right now (which was the original purpose of this blog.)  But I’ve been doing plenty of gardening, personal and community, and finally feel rested and ready to reinstate relating to you my reflections on different representations of farming.

This is my community garden.

This is what two straight weeks of sunshine will do for any garden in the Pacific Northwest

Known as Wayward Farm Community Garden, it is one of more than 25 community gardens that have emerged in Port Townsend’s community at large of 8,000.  In the past few years the initiative to create community food security (mainly influenced by this grassroots collective) has simultaneously raised people’s awareness about what a secure food economy and community looks like (thus, all the community gardens and the surge of support the Jefferson County Farmer’s Market has seen the past few years) and raised the bar on relationships between the growers and the eaters (our market was voted the Best Farmers’ Market in Washington state!)

Statistics show that Jefferson County is the county with the highest percentage of its food dollars going to local food.  Folks, that number is a resounding 4%.  Of all the counties in Washington state, none are spending more than 4% of their food-buying power to support local growers and cottage-industry entrepreneurs.

Scarlet runner beans; food and beauty

Now one caveat to take into consideration (especially in Port Townsend)

Blackberries and Scarlet Runners grow towards one another's trellises to create a tunnel

is the amount of community gardens, where money isn’t being used to buy food to eat, but rather to purchase seed, fertilizer and tools to grow our own food.  Those are dollars not accounted for that contribute just as much – if not more – to local food security.  Having an abundance of small farmers and local food producers is a great thing to support, but taking the growing power into your own hands, working your own plot of soil and harvesting a bounty you helped to create, that’s the definition of securing your own food.

And even with the year we’ve had here in the northwest corner of the country (until about two weeks ago our temperatures were topping out in the low 60’s and it has been recognized that this has been the chilliest, wettest year on record since weather records have been kept starting in the 1950’s!) the production capabilities of the earth here are bountiful.

Did you know that lettuce is a cut-and-come-again crop? The heads on the left were harvested last week and are re-growing their leaves.

Eating locally means kale, broccoli, peas, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, arugula, cilantro, lettuce, Asian greens, Swiss chard, potatoes, blueberries, blackberries, string beans, onions, garlic, strawberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, spinach, zucchini, raspberries, orach, cabbage, plums, apples, pears, celery, salad burnet, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, chives, artichokes, and even grains like spelt, triticale, rye, wheat and quinoa.  It also means raw Jersey milk (legal for sale in Washington), artisan cow and goat cheese, pastured lamb and beef, free-range chicken and ducks (and their eggs), beet, carrot and cucumber pickles, jam, hard cider and wine.  (If you have a greenhouse, or a cold frame for starts, it can also mean tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.)

I got lucky and found myself in a community garden that has been taken care of by its members. They have amended the soil, compost religiously, established some wonderful

Triple-bin compost system, some mulch and 'finished' manure

rows of perennial fruits (raspberries, strawberries, currants, blueberries and thornless blackberries) and play well together.  We consist of a landscaper, a dental assistant, a home-designing consultant, a computer whiz, a fiber artist, a full-time mom and her insect- and dump truck-loving 6 year old, a couple of retirees, a rowing club member and me.  Since we began turning under the winter cover crops back in April, we have seen at least 2 sowings come to bear in each of the 7 beds dedicated to annual veggies, with a third promising time to harvest before winter cover crops will again be sown.

We work together on Sunday afternoons and often bump into each other during the week as we stop by to harvest our suppers.  We have potlucked together a few times and some of us have found common interests bringing us together outside the parameters of the garden.  But mostly we all know that our reasons for joining a community garden, whether for human interaction, to learn about growing food, to celebrate good food or just to have a chance to work outside for a while, unite us when we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.

Calendula; a hardy annual, reseeds itself and proliferates when dead-headed