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Posts Tagged ‘farm tours’

The National Chefs Collaborative Summit took place in Seattle this week, and I’ve enjoyed many thought provoking tidbits posted on Twitter by participants.  On Monday during Ruth Reichl’s keynote address, New York Times writer Kim Severson broadcast a statistic that certainly got my attention, and was re-tweeted by 25 others:

Kim Severson ‏‪@kimseverson

Stunning stat: ‪@ruthreichl says only 2% of Americans have been to a farm. ‪#natlsum12

I did some very quick and unscientific fact-checking which was inconclusive about how many Americans have in fact visited a farm.  The 2% number is frequently sited as the percentage of Americans who live on a farm. But I’m not going to get hung up on the validity of that number; that’s not what motivated me to write today.

My first (and online) reaction to this small percentage of American farm visitors was this: it’s definitely not for lack of interest.  We field farm tour requests on a daily basis.  And when our city customers come to the town of Vashon and visit our butcher shop and restaurant, they frequently remark –usually with a detectable note a disappointment– that they were expecting the enterprise to be located within our actual farm.

The fact is we offer tours on a very limited basis; about four times a year, and this schedule falls woefully short of the demand.  If we could fling open the gates to every request, we’d be doing so every weekend, to dozens of farm-curious folk.  And it’s this very non-existent openness that our customers expect.  Isn’t that what healthy, small-scale farming is supposed to be about: transparency?  But it’s more complicated than that.  As I explain to many, we have electric fencing.  We have a bull.  Neither should be experienced on a self-guided “tour” of the farm.   Which means farm visits require a docent of sorts, and therefore one of our already-stretched-thin employees must stop milking the cows, feeding the pigs, moving the chicken tractors, etc. to serve as farm guide.  We’re not there, yet.

For now, the limited and scheduled “farm events” must suffice.  In fact, we are holding such an event next week and 36 guests will join us for a full tour during the afternoon milking, plus barrel sampling and cheese tasting from the cellar, followed by a harvest feast at the restaurant.  The event sold out quickly, affirming what I already know.  People are hungry for more than the food.

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One of the great things about having a farm is meeting other people who desire the same.  We are often graced with visitors that have the gleam in their eye, who almost always ask first, “So, did you grow up on a farm, doing all this?” (The short answer is no.  For the answer to the follow-up question, see Claire: The Urban Chicken Experiment.)

It wasn’t that long ago when George and I were making the Saturday day trips to Vashon Island ourselves, delighting in going from farm to farm, marveling at the honor system of making your own change in the self-serve farm stands, drunk on the heavenly produce and bucolic scenery.  Some farms even invited the visitor to help themselves in the garden and harvest their own.  I was hooked.  On visiting farms, at least.

One Saturday, the Vashon Island Growers Association sponsored a Farm Tour weekend.  Even though we had been conducting our own weekly farm tours, this trip we would actually meet some of the folks that were so conspicuously absent from their Point of Sale.

I giggle remembering the visit to Island Meadow Farm.  At that time, the farm was owned and operated by Bob Gregson, and it was a vision in both beauty and organization.  The kiwi arbors, the curving beds of salad greens; everything looked whipped into shape and under control (something our farm never seems to be!).

“So you think you might want to do this? Become farmers?” Bob asked.  I looked behind me to see who he was addressing, expecting someone wide-eyed with enthusiasm.  Nobody was behind me.  But George was next to me, with exactly that expression.

Do we want to become farmers?  Honestly, that had never really occurred to me.  I loved Vashon Island, I loved visiting other people’s farms.  But could I create this?  Could I live this?  The feeling was reminiscent of when you settle into a roller coaster seat, just moments before the ride begins and the safety bar clicks into place, locking you in for the duration.  Wait!  We’re really doing this?!

Yet anyone that is married can attest that binding your life to another’s means that you will go on rides and down paths you never imagined or even intended.  And not every path is a beautiful garden trail complete with trellises and aromatic herbs.  Nor is it always a death-defying “amusement” ride.  Starting a farm on Vashon Island –fueled by George’s passion and vision, bolstered by optimism and a good measure of guts– has been an experience more rich, at times terrifying yet more life affirming, thrilling and satisfying than any course I would have charted for myself.  And now, when I see that gleam in the eyes of others, visitors or employees envisioning a farm business for themselves, I take stock.  Of what we have created, how far we have come from that day at Island Meadow.  Will this person before me do the same?  Why not?  What do you have to lose?

Lucca at Sea Breeze Farm

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