dropping in on seattle

After all my farm visits this summer, I was starting to crave an urban fix. I hadn’t been to Seattle in awhile, my friend Pedro had extended an invitation for me to come down and visit him anytime, plus I was craving just one more little road trip before I hunker down and face the inevitable arrival of autumn. I know, I'm being a big baby. I'm just not ready yet.

My first stop was to the world famous Pike Place Market, sprawling a city block of Western Avenue (between Pike and Pine). Its stalls, shops and businesses sell everything from fresh flowers and produce to antiques and jewelry. Adding to that its many restaurants and bars, there truly is something for everyone. Oh....and did I mention the view?

Family owned Alveriz Farms is situated on 120 acres in Mabton (Yakima Valley), making it one a the largest organic vegetable farms in eastern Washington. Started in 1981 by Don Hilario, it now grows over 100 varieties of organic peppers. Their farm is also the first in Washington to successfully grow organic peanuts. Word is, these tastey morsels are available roasted, ‘baseball game style’ at the market.

Soooo many fresh flowers. Dahlias for sale everywhere.

This beautifully curated stall consisted of all things bee related; honey, soap, salves, candles, lip balm and lotions. Grown and made on a community land trust in Arlington (1 hour north of Seattle), all of Moon Valley Honey’s products are organic.

Sunny honey. Click here to see more photos.


notch hill organic farms

My visit to the conference in Sorrento also included a visit to Notch Hill Organic Farms. Owned and operated by Sue Moore, it is one more glowing example of the beauty and abundance so many of our farmers are creating to share with us, and to feed us. It was a hot and sunny afternoon the day we toured her land, getting a glimpse into just how hard one must work to succeed at such a demanding (and rewarding) lifestyle.

Walking the land with Sue (far left).

Red sun chokes. Most of this crop is grown for restaurants who request and appreciate such unique ingredients.

Orders written up at the packing house. The 'Heidi' order (for Chef Heidi Fink) was used that same evening to become appetizers for our conference's wrap up party.

My dirty foot.

Clean feet.

The strong, silent type.


stellar seeds

Despite my valiant efforts last spring, I remain sadly lacking in the gardening department. Now more than ever, I am in awe of those able to work in harmony with nature’s rich complexities and actually grow something; especially if it is edible. When asked how they do so, these people often tell me how easy it is. I suppose that once one has experiential understanding of its laws, it then has a certain rhythm to it…? Still, I remain convinced that those of you who hold and apply such knowledge are somehow able to access a direct line to the divine.

On day 2 of our conference 'The Power of Food Systems: Forging Strong Relationships', I was fortunate enough to partake in the ‘Field to Fork’ event. Part of the day included a visit to a seed workshop at ‘Left Fields Farm’. Led by Patrick Steiner, founder and operator of Stellar Seeds (all organic), it was an incredible opportunity to learn, hands on, how to sort, clean and preserve seeds.

Patrick's t-shirt. (by artist G. Hill from Alert Bay)

Patrick is both charismatic and enthusiastic when sharing his knowledge, making him a natural as a teacher. As he led us through different stations to collect each seed species, I somehow felt he was teaching us something that deep down, we already knew. We are from seed and we eat from seed and we consume seeds in much of what we eat. We are interconnected to the process on so many levels. I honestly feel that what I was taught that day is one of the most important and potentially useful skills a human being can learn. It touches on health, science, the environment, heritage, community, economy and empowerment. It is our past, our present and, most significantly, our future.

Left Fields Farm is home to both Stellar Seeds and Crannog Ales, which is Canada's only certified organic farmhouse microbrewery.

Patrick takes our tour group out into the field to collect drying bunches of 'Amish snap peas'.

Stomping on the bunches to loosen the peas from their shells.

Sifting the stomped bunches of peas through a screen is the next step in sorting the seeds from the chaff.

Fanning the chaff away from the pea seeds. A second bucket sits directly below the first, catching the seeds as they fall straight down and away from the blowing chaff.

Mostly cleaned pea seeds. At this stage, the last of the chaff can be removed by hand.

Drying bunches of beans. Separating the bean seeds from the chaff is done by using the same method as for the peas.

Shelled beans.

Fermenting tomatoes (gardener's delight and golden cherry) being crushed for sorting. Next, the tomatoes are divided into 3 separate buckets and topped up with water. The pulp rises to the top, is poured off, and then the process is repeated another 2-3 times, until the water is clear. Then the mixture is poured through a sieve, leaving the seeds ready to spread thinly on a plate to dry.

Tomato seeds drying in the sun.

Farm apprentice, Nicha, scooping out the cucumber seeds.

Cleaned cucumber seeds, drying in the sun. These seeds are separared and cleaned by using the same method as for the tomatoes.

Lucky pigs get (seedless) cucumber snacks.

Sorted corriander seeds. The process for cleaning these seeds is quite similar to the method used for peas and beans, except that instead of stomping on the seeds with your feet, they are rubbed between your hands.


feast of fields

YIKES! Too busy to blog these days. Darn it. Lots to say... No time to say it... I am literally on my way out the door, heading for a conference in Sorrento, B.C. The topic of this all weekend event is 'The Power of Food Systems: Forging Strong Relationships' (I'll explain later).

In the meantime, here are some photos I took last Sunday at 'Feast of Fields', hosted at the U.B.C. Farm. It was a fine way to savour the last days of the season; not to mention a bounty of fine food and drink. Presented by Farm Folk/ City Folk, this sumptious event "emphasizes the farm-to-plate connection". Fun and yum in the sun.


sapo bravo organics

Sunflower @ Sapo Bravo

Am I the only one, or has this last summer flown by even faster than ever? I can’t believe it has now been 3 weeks since I had the great pleasure of visiting Katy and Gabriel of ‘Sapo Bravo’ Organics (‘Sapo Bravo’ means ‘Brave Frog’ in Spanish). Located in Lytton, B.C., getting there from Vancouver was half the fun; a sunny, three hour highway drive along the Number 1, followed by a two-car cable ferry ride across the Fraser River and, finally, an 18 km drive along a dirt road, which runs through the Lytton Indian Reserve.

I have casually known Katy and Gabriel for years, as spirited growers and vendors of beautiful produce, which they bring to town to sell at various Farmers Markets. I had been intending to see them in their natural habitat for quite some time. They are warm, genuine, caring, and good humoured folk; and the pictures they had shown me of their land looked incredibly inviting. It was high time I got my ass up there.

Sapo Bravo

The full size of the farm is ten acres, with the open pollinated produce grown for selling located on five (of that five, half is orchard and half is ground crops). Fruits grown include apples, plums, peaches, and cherries. Vegetables include green beans, dried beans, tomatoes, peppers, fennel, garlic, onions, squash, basil, greens, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, and celeriac. Katy and Gabriel are certainly not afraid of hard work. They seem tireless in their commitment; driving to Vancouver every Friday, where they sell to local retaurants, followed by a day's vending at Saturday's Trout Lake Farmers Market. Such an undertaking is enormous, and would not be possible to maintain without extra help. During the time of my visit, two WWOOFERs from Japan (Aami & Yuko) and two Canadian apprentices (Niomi & Liz) were staying at the farm and putting in long hours, as well.

Yuko's ShoesGrapes @ Sapo Bravo

Katy and Gabriel first met and fell in love 14 years ago, while working as tree planters in B.C. Within two years, they had realized their collective dream of finding and purchasing land of their own, and to begin creating what is now Sapo Bravo. From its beginning, their intention was to create a way of living and expressing themselves artistically through the garden. As Katy said, they are now able to enjoy this living art, and to “experience a way of living and working with the aspects of impermanence, the cycles of life and mortality…..the poetics of life”. Needless to say, Sapo Bravo is something truly special, and I consider myself most fortunate to have visited. (Click here to see more photos.)