Chimacum Corner is more than just the busiest intersection in Jefferson County. It’s a yellow-walled farmstand where tomatillos from Finnriver Farm meet Roma tomatoes from SpringRain and where bread from Pane D’Amore bakery can find Cape Cleare tuna or cheese from Mt. Townsend Creamery. And it’s where locals can find the ever-growing bounty of the local farms and fisheries.
The market is just two years old. And with the motto “Eat your food from here” it grew out of a need for the small-scale producers in the region to reach customers outside the farmers’ markets. Rather than one day a week at the farmers’ market stalls, customers can find local produce at the corner whenever they want.
Because it’s a sign of the evolution of the local food scene, it’s a necessary stop on a recent tour of the area with Laura Lewis ’96, the Jefferson County director of WSU Extension. The county is an interesting mix of people. Long-time farmers and residents intermingle with newly relocated and often active retirees who chose the area for its beauty, outdoor offerings like hiking, gardening, and sailing, and the bounty from the area farms.
“And look at the things we have,” says Lewis as we walk past the kimchee and hard ciders to peruse the free-range chicken, grass-fed beef and organic eggs. But there’s still more to come.
Last spring, WSU hosted a meeting for Washington’s farmers from both Eastern and Western Washington and vendors to talk about WSU’s organic research efforts and what the college should be pursuing and supporting. “What is it that you want?” Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, asked the group gathered in Seattle.
“We’re looking for a return to food with a sense of place,” said Denise Breyley, Whole Foods’s “local forager.” She regularly traverses our region from Oregon to British Columbia in search of new, fresh, and local products, from line-caught tuna to locally-roasted nuts. Her customers have some definite desires. “There is a shift in the culture,” she said. “More people are interested in knowing how the animals are cared for, how the environment is considered.”
Trudy Bialic, the director of consumer affairs for PCC Natural Markets said the shoppers are interested in diversity, “in the unusual and the varietal,” she said.
The group, which included farmers from the Columbia Basin and Skagit Valley, also mentioned an interest in seeds and plants bred or selected to match our state’s microclimates.
Lewis, who was at the meeting, saw many links from what the attendees were saying with what was going on out on the Olympic Peninsula. Jefferson County’s high resident demand for local food is met by a steadily rising number of local producers as well as an increase in households growing their own food.
Tapping into these communities, John Navazio, a WSU plant breeding and seed specialist and author of The Organic Seed Grower, works with Clallam and Jefferson County farmers to find varieties that do best in those climates– right now some of the key crops are squash, chicory, and carrots. They’re testing established and heirloom varieties, as well as making unique selections to find what does best where. Navazio is also leading an effort to help farmers do their own on-farm plant breeding for organic produce.
This is really local, says Lewis. Even a few miles make a difference. Look at the rainfall, she says. Port Townsend gets 16 to 18 inches of rain, where Quilcene can get up to 60. “We’re not a Mediterranean climate, but we’re not maritime West Coast,” she says. “We’re a hybrid of the two.”
Just a few miles up the road from the Chimacum farmstand is what may be WSU’s newest tool for working with the local food economy—Twin Vista Ranch, a 30-acre farm on a hillside above Mystery Bay. Owner Lisa Painter is retiring from ranching and will donate the property where she and her partner Jeanne Clendenon, who died in 2011, had lived and worked for 40 years. “It was wonderful,” she says. “We worked hard and we loved it. We knew that a lot more could be done with the land.” She doesn’t want to see the property broken up into lots or turned into vacation condos, she says. Instead, in the hands of WSU, it can be a place for farming and learning, a resource for the community.
In addition to the ranch’s existing heirloom apple orchard, cattle operation, barns, and gardens, “we can use it to create a germplasm hub for the peninsula,” says Lewis. “It’s a place where we could potentially curate and store species.”
“Farmers on the peninsula want to have a really diverse agriculture system,” says Lewis. “That includes multiple varieties within a species.” And overall, the area is at an interesting point. Since the farms are about 50 miles and a ferry ride to another customer base in Seattle, “we have so much potential growth in front of us.”