Kitsap's Redefinition of 'Farmer'
April 16, 2009 · Updated 2:42 PM
With the return of the farmers market season, we look into the crop of small scale farmers growing intensively in Kitsap.
They don’t wear bib overalls or drive big tractors. Neither spat or spoke in a countrified dialect, and neither was seen with a stalk of wheat grass in their teeth during the course of the interview.
Sara and Jared Hankins, of Poulsbo’s Hand Sewn Home Grown Heritage Farm, are not exactly the image conjured by the word “farmers:” (except, maybe, for Jared’s beard) they’re both on the younger side of 30 and Jared has a second job as a sound engineer, touring with the Sub Pop band Fleet Foxes.
But they are part of a growing crop of unique small-scale, 21st century farmers sprouting throughout Kitsap with an emphasis on sustainable, organic and local practices.
“In Kitsap County almost all farmers are ‘small farmers,’” said local farmer Diane Fish. “Because the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) defines all farms making less than $250,000 as ‘small.’”
Most of Kitsap’s farms are also small in actual size, with “urban” farmers growing bio-intensively — harvesting more than one crop, often 10-20 different varieties — on an acre or two. “They don’t look like your typical farm,” administrative director of the Washington State Farmers Market and Poulsbo Market director Jackie Aitchison said.
“We have a diverse group of farmers doing everything from growing veggies for farmers markets to shellfish farms and Christmas tree farms,” Fish added. “Did you know that Kitsap is home to the largest Holly Farm in Washington?”
According to the USDA’s most recent official Agricultural Census (from 2007) there were a total of 664 farms in Kitsap County, accounting for about 15,000 acres — a 13 percent increase from 2002.
Given the number of small farmers who may not have responded to the last survey and the farms that have sprung up in the past two years, that number is probably still substantially less than the number of actual farms, Fish noted.
“Based Upon my experience teaching Small Farm classes for WSU Kitsap Extension, the kinds of folks moving into farming have some land and are wondering what they can do with it,” she said.
For example, though its not technically a full-fledged farm, this writer dug up his back yard this past weekend to plant a few rows of produce of his own.
For the Hankins, Hand Sewn Home Grown began as sort of a backyard hobby. And it’s become their passion. It all started because they wanted to grow their own food. Now they’re growing fresh, local, organically-grown, affordable food for the community through a new Community Supported Agriculture program — commonly known as a CSA — in which subscribers/customers buy a share in the garden in advance for bags of fresh produce throughout the harvest season.
Three years ago, before that first year’s garden, neither of the Hankins had any agricultural experience to speak of. They’d both been accustomed to city life — Sara in Seattle, Jared in San Francisco — until Jared’s day job brought them out to the rural country of North Kitsap where they became inspired.
Inspired by the land. Inspired by intrigue. Inspired by taste, and self-sufficiency, they tried for an exotic array of crops that first year — growing everything from cabbage to garbanzo beans, to varying (sometimes humorous) degrees of success. They farmed a small plot on less than an acre of land which they were renting to live on and wound up harvesting more than they knew what to do with. So, they started selling produce at the local farmers market every couple of weeks.
“And the next year we were at the market every single week,” Jared said.
Now, with farmers markets ramping up (or already rolling) around the state, the Hankins are readying for their third season, planning for another summer’s residence at the Poulsbo Saturday Market and hoping to spend a few other days elsewhere in the wealth of farmers markets slated around Kitsap this year.
With brand new markets starting up in Kitsap — including one in Suquamish and one in Hansville — there’s a market almost every day of the week somewhere in county, Aitchison noted.
There are 10 new markets across the state, “that we know about,” she added.
With vendors up some 20 percent, seeing an increase in farmers as well as bakers, despite the lingering cold that stayed well into spring, it’s panning out to be an exciting summer at the market.
Find more state farmers market info at: www.wafarmersmarkets.com.
Find more on eating local at: www.buylocalfoodinkitsap.org.
Follow the Hankins this year on their blog at www.freshmanfarmer.com