Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Farmer?
It's a bright afternoon in April. The Seattle sun is strong for once, unusually strong for this time of year. The birds swoop, the waves sparkle, and the scents waft from the food trucks outside my office. It's a glorious thing.
Except I'm at my desk. Yes, I just got back from walking a few blocks to get my tacos. But that only served as a tease, a glimpse of the summery season outside. Now I have to scarf these down and head to a meeting. As I proceed to do that, I can't help but daydream about a different life.
Now, I have a great job, full of benefits and just enough stress to be exciting. We not only work and think together here at Allrecipes, we eat and drink together as well. It's everything you want from an office job, if an office job is what you want.
But if you're like me, no matter how good the job, you've spent plenty of time at your desk, on a quick lunch, or commuting thinking about living at the beach. Or remotely in the mountains. Or on a farm. Am I right? We imagine the business we've started from home renting jet skis to tourists or guiding city folk down a river.
But for most of us, the farm holds a certain appeal. Even someone who's never been to one hears about "the farm" every day. "From farm to table," "fresh from the farm," and "organic farming" are terms we hear in ads and see on our food labels. And it sounds nice. We picture sun, fields, and fresh air combined with physical work that's soothing and satisfying.
I had the chance to spend a day at Oxbow Farm recently, and it was the serene scene we picture—at least, on the surface. I know now that's a testament to how well Oxbow does their business; keeping things green environmentally and financially is far from serene.
Watch the video to take a two-minute escape to Oxbow Farm with me, and read on for more on the journey of sustainable produce the from farm to your plate.
Oxbow Farm is about 45 mins east of Seattle, nestled in the flatlands of the lower Snoqualmie Valley and surrounded by other farms and forest. As I arrive, a tall guy wearing shorts and his hair in a bun greets me at my car door, offering a steaming cup of tea. Behind us, a woman pedals a bike down a dirt road, a Sharpie dropping out of her back pocket. She rings a bell on the handlebars and calls to two young girls in tall rubber boots working in a field; they smile and wave back. Ahh, I think; this is what it's like. It's just what we picture—dirty boots and bikes, birds, bees, and big smiles. True, it's only 7 a.m., but I'm on an alliterative roll.
Soon I'm introduced to Sarah Dublin, the farm's assistant manager. She takes us through the processing and packing stations in the barn, and outside past a kid's greenhouse and play area where summer camps and classes take place. Talk about a field trip!
We continue on to a much larger greenhouse, where several people are tending to a large native plant nursery. Here, Oxbow is studying many aspects of native plant production, in partnership with the University of Idaho Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research. These education programs and the research partnership are both key pieces of the farm's business strategy.
As we continue our saunter toward another, more distant greenhouse, Sarah tells us how she became a farmer. When her two kids were young, she took an internship on Vashon Island. After a summer spent planting, weeding, and harvesting, she knew this was what she wanted to do.
Nowadays, she wakes around 4 a.m. at her home in Beacon Hill, just southeast of downtown Seattle. She gets the kids off to school, then drives 45 minutes east to Carnation, always trying to arrive before the field crew at 7 a.m. What?! Sarah and her family don't live nearby in a cute craftsman with their own garden and chickens out back, as I'd pictured a "farmer" living. She lives in an urban neighborhood, and after leaving the farm around 6 p.m., has a long drive home again every day. Who knew? She says confidently the long days are worth it to her to make this lifestyle possible.
Hours later, we're walking backwards down a rutted dirt road, our camera guy balancing gear on his shoulder as I steer him away from tripping hazards. We're interviewing Oxbow's farm manager, Adam McCurdy, and he sounds like a professional podcaster. He speaks eloquently about the holistic approach Oxbow takes to financial and environmental sustainability.
The 25-acre production farm "is the backbone of our organization" says Adam. "We grow certified organic vegetables…through methods that respect and nurture the health of the surrounding ecosystem." Oxbow employees and volunteers all help with ongoing restoration work around the fields and riverbeds, planting natives and removing invasive species. By doing this, a natural food chain within the animal world is maintained, and pests are taken care of naturally, eliminating the need for pesticides. As we're talking, tractors and trucks go rattle by, raking across the ground and delivering huge piles of compost to the fields.
Though this is an idyllic scene, I'm exhausted—and it's only 2 p.m. I think about the farmers and field crew making little more than minimum wage who still have a full afternoon ahead of planting strawberries and picking snap peas one-by-one. The perfect weather we've had today doesn't escape me; I imagine the days when the sun is threatening to scorch the strawberries and the unexpected rain makes the fields a barely passable muddy mess.
It's been a satisfying day, but I'm looking forward to dinner and drinks around 6 p.m., not dusting off my Carhartts and starting a long drive home. I realize with a jolt that the proverbial saying rings clearer than ever to me today: The grass is always greener on the other side.
Oxbow produce is available to the public at local farmer's markets and restaurants, but better yet through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program (greater Seattle area only; find one near you on the US Department of Agriculture website). Joining a CSA gives you the opportunity to partner with a local farm, and that matters. It's also the best way for most of us to access organic produce, connect with the community, and keep dreaming at our desks.
Try these recipes, ideal for fresh, organic produce, inspired by Oxbow Farm: