The Sustainable Future of Farming

by Evie Maxwell, Staff Writer

“It’s not just one thing, and that’s part of what makes it so cool. Farming here is fluctuating and changing. It’s become really unique.”

So says Amanda Milholland, the manager/director of the Jefferson County Farmers Markets. Hers is an opinion that echoes throughout the mosaic of our local farming community. From traditional farming of just a few decades ago, Jefferson County landscape has blossomed into a multitude of enterprises. They range in size from one to hundreds of acres, and encompass everything from mushrooms to corn, cattle to flowers, homemade breads, salmon, peas, pigs and ….

You name it, we got it. The majority of our farm prod- ucts are both delicious and organically grown (though not always organically certified). Part of the reason for this bounty is in our rich soil and generally propitious weather. Another part lies in the type of farming practiced in this region. The typical Jefferson County farm has nothing in common with the sprawling factory farms that treat animals as commodities and raise vegetables that taste like sawdust. Instead, we have an incredible variety of enterprises which work together, collaborate with each other and produce some of the finest food stuffs in the world.

Within just 25 miles of Port Ludlow, for example, you will find more than 30 individual farms. A few, Milholland notes, are operations run by “people who have been in farming for a long time.” The remainder includes “a mid-range of people who have been operating here for 10 to 15 years, plus a large group of younger people who are new to farming.”

Jules Spruill-Smith
Space Twins Farm

Within this younger group you will find engineers, teachers, computer scientists—in short, a very well-educated group who come to farming with a desire to be close to the land and a passion for participating in the future of our planet. Says Jules Spruill-Smith, a former teacher who co-owns the Space Twins farm with her partner Cass Curl, “The sustainable aspect of growing food was our record ethic for making the move to farming. We’re invested in learning about sustainability and moving forward in this world, especially with climate change coming.”

Thus the Space Twins tend their crops by way of permaculture, a style of land management based on ancient indigenous practices. While permaculture is generally well established among the farming newcomers of Jefferson County, most are quick to note that, as its original practitioners were well aware, it’s an evolving enterprise. Says Niall Motson, a trained engineer who runs the White Lotus operation with his wife and fellow engineer Natalie, “One thing I’ve learned is that there is nothing permanent in nature. Such practices as organic, permaculture and regenerative agriculture all offer great tools. But as their indigenous originators were well aware, interconnectivity and adaptability are also needed to survive in a world of change.”

Thus learning from indigenous land stewardship and applying it to current needs is one key. Collaboration is another.

Says Milholland, “Many of the newer farms are really taking a different approach by working closely together. You may have multiple farms operating off one property, forming work parties to help each other or otherwise pooling their resources.”

In fact, Space Twins credit the nearby Compass Rose farm with helping them get started in the business. As their enterprise grew, they arranged a property-sharing agreement with White Lotus, which had begun its own operation just a few years earlier. Today, Space Twins and White Lotus operate a joint CSA and dub their collaboration “Space Lotus.”

Says Motson, “This area has become a hotbed of people” interested in the collaborative advantages in farming, as well as sustainability and new/old practices.

Among the larger farms noted for their ability to foster innovation and work as a collective are Red Dog, FinnRiver, SpringRain, and others. Red Dog, for example, has spawned new farms in this area by helping former employees start their own enterprises. One of these is the Creaky Knees Farm.

“We helped them at the start by loaning out some of our equipment and they’ve proven to be fabulous partners,” says Red Dog owner/operator Karyn Williams. Williams is also part of a cost-sharing group for the purchase of fertilizer and other supplies. “Going together can save us all a lot of money,” she says.

The list of local collaborations could go on. But the key is this: While farmers in this region represent just a drop in the sea of agriculture, their practices offer a new (though in some ways ancient) way of looking at farming. The dream is that this could grow into a bona fide competitor for those sprawling acreages owned by corporations. The seeds for this are already planted. Notes Motson “There is an emergent national conversation around food sovereignty.” Via massive online forums, ideas for regional meetings and innumerable conversations, the goal is to bring all sides of the food chain together to create a sustainable food future.