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Life Arts    H2'ed 3/28/11

Visiting Annie Salafsky's Organic Farm

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My guest today is Annie Salafsky. Welcome to OpEdNews, Annie!  You run an organic farm outside Olympia, Washington.  Tell us about it, please. 

Hi, Joan! Thanks for having me. My farm is called Helsing Junction Farm. Together with a crew of 12 amazing people and my business partner Susan, I grow 30 acres of certified organic vegetables, fruit and flowers for our 1,000 member CSA program. We've been farming in Rochester, Washington since 1992. Over the years, the farming community in Rochester has flourished and we are now one of several small farms that sell their produce locally via CSA programs and farmer's markets. Our small fertile valley produces some of the finest organic produce available. Here at Helsing Junction Farm, we grow a wide range of vegetables. 
We like to think that we've tried pretty much everything in the seed catalog over the years! Some of our favorites are arugula, sweet corn, garlic, leeks, carrots, sweet onions, delicata squash, spinach, golden shallots and heirloom potatoes.  Some of the more unusual vegetables we grow are bulbing fennel, escarole, French filet beans, radicchio, Italian zucchini, garlic scapes and 10 types of gourmet lettuce. We also raise several acres of strawberries and raspberries and have a small orchard of Asian pears and Liberty apples. In addition, we cultivate several acres of calla lilies, Asiatic and Oriental lilies, gladiolas, lavender and sunflowers and grow 10 different varieties of herbs.    

Yum! What are bulbing fennel and garlic scapes? Those are new for me.

Bulbing fennel is widely seen in French and Italian farmer's markets; recently it has become more widely available in the US as well. It's a relative of the herb anise but forms a large white bulb with a slightly anise taste and a texture a lot like celery.
I like it roasted with a splash of cream, some local blue cheese and a sprinkle of bread crumbs. It ranks as one of my all time favorite vegetables for its versatility and delicate flavor. 

Garlic scapes are the flower buds that hard neck garlic sends up every spring. You have to snap them off if you want the garlic plant to form a bulb. We used to compost them not knowing they were edible, which was too bad as they are incredibly delicious. They have a sweet garlic-y taste and a wonderful texture that is totally unique. Most often seen at Farmer's Markets in early spring, they are worth seeking out!    

Will do. Now, let's go back to basics, if you don't mind, so all of us are on the same page. What's a CSA program?

Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) began forming in the US in the early 1980s as a way for concerned citizens to directly help sustain farmers and farmland in their local communities. "Shares" were sold in the farm and every person who bought one was entitled to a portion of that year's harvest.

CSAs which have since blossomed around the country, currently take many divergent forms but generally if you join one you receive a weekly box of farm fresh produce; vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit and often times even meat, eggs or cheese. On most farms, the weekly box will be accompanied by a newsletter, recipes and photos, providing a multifaceted way for the person with a CSA share to experience the flow of the seasons and get to know the people who are growing their food. Happy CSA members have said that opening up their CSA box felt like receiving a gift each week. Freshly harvested organic vegetables contain greater amounts of vitamins, minerals and sugars, making them more healthy and delicious not to mention beautiful!  

CSAs accomplish many things beyond just delivering fresh local food. They were created as a way to help preserve the foodshed surrounding cities at a time when artificially low prices for produce was making it difficult for many small family farms to stay in business. Because profit margins are so slim, many of these small farms traditionally borrowed money each spring to pay their operating costs, eventually landing most farms in debt. Brilliantly, CSA members collectively become the "bank" for the farmer instead, by paying farmers early in the growing season and allowing farms to pay back the "interest" with extra produce. This seems like a win-win situation for communities. Farmers receive a low cost "loan" and a guaranteed income, CSA members receive holistically grown organic food at reasonable prices and local farmland is preserved.

The way you explain it, CSAs make  so much sense and the members are able to forge a connection with the farmers and the land. What could be bad about that?  Did your farm as a CSA venture?  And how did you get into farming in the first place?     

CSAs truly are wonderful. Running one in conjunction with my business partner Susan, our amazing employees and our loyal CSA members has been a great experience. When I first began farming 20 years ago, almost no one had heard of a CSA so we found it necessary to supplement our income by going to several farmer's markets and selling vegetables to a wholesaler as well. It soon became apparent that CSA was by far the most enjoyable, profitable and fulfilling way to sell our produce. One of CSA's aims is to put the culture back in agriculture, which it really does do. Some of our members have been in our CSA the entire 20 years we have been in operation and now their children are members too! Over the years, in conjunction with our members, we've hosted several art exhibits, a garlic cook-off, a field-to-table dinner, tours and an annual three-day music festival and farm camp out. Our CSA members are deeply committed to our farm which enables us to be deeply committed to our land and our employees. We farm about 35 acres and currently have 1,000 CSA members.   

I'm just a (sort of) nice Jewish girl from the suburbs so it seems ironic even to me that I wound up becoming a farmer. My best friend's old sister was the only hippie I knew on the North Shore and when she told me she was going to move to Washington State and become a farmer I said I was going to, too. She never did either of those things but somehow, despite great obstacles, I did. I studied agriculture at The Evergreen State College for several years and worked on the campus farm. From there, I eventually got a job on a local farm, which meant 12 hour days, six days a week. Despite the crazy schedule, a real love for plants, soil, fresh air and healthy food bloomed inside of me and I've stuck with it ever since.

What a great story, Annie! Is it possible to enjoy what you do, create a community live in harmony with the earth and make a living at it, too? I know that farmers have had a really hard time in recent years, with more and more bankruptcies and forced evictions.

Hi Joan, so sorry for the delay in getting this to you, we are moving (as we do every six months) so things have been a bit hectic!

There has been a real up-swell of support for small organic farms in the past few years which has helped farmers weather the economic downturn. It's not a vocation that will necessarily make you rich, but you can make a reasonable living at it. For me there have been so many additional benefits; from owning my own business/being my own boss, being a part of a really tight knit small town community to having work that is both mentally and spiritually fulfilling. Sometimes I fantasize about changing professions, but as with most other farmers, I seem to be a lifer.

That's lucky, Annie! If I'm not being too nosey, why do you move twice a year? Does it have to do with the agricultural cycles?

My husband owns a business at a ski area here in Washington. We move up there for six months and then live on the farm for six months. It's pretty excellent, though sadly coming to an end as our twins will be school age next fall.

Sounds lovely!  What else would you like to tell our readers before we sign off, Annie?

I would encourage anyone with an interest in agriculture to pursue it as a career, no matter who they are or what their circumstance. Country living is peaceful and working with plants is deeply gratifying. Food is of utmost important to everyone, it's not just a product that you use or wear, it actually becomes a part of our bodies. Knowing where it comes from and who grows it, or even better having the privilege of growing your own provides a profound sense of satisfaction.

Thank you so much for giving us a taste of Helsing Junction Farm, Annie. It's been fun!

Thanks for your thoughtful questions!

Helsing Junction Farm's website

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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