I am going to try my hand at writing a series of blog entries that I hope will serve a few purposes. I hope that this blog will help people get to know our farm a little better, and understand my approach to the farm and farming decisions. I hope this will serve as a reference when people are curious about farm specifics and there isn’t time enough in the moment for me to explain adequately. I also hope that this blog will help me personally sort out my thoughts, as they can be jumbled and disparate; by writing things down from start to finish, this blog will be a relief for me.
The first blog entry will be about Who we are, What we do, and Where we are going. Lots of people know the basic history, but I will give it the quick rundown, and spend a little time on my vision for the future. Also, I will write mostly in the first person, but know that the farm is composed of many people, to varying degrees, and there is a great deal of collective effort that has gone into the farm.
Jubilee Farm is a family farm that my parents started in 1989. They had no farm experience, and at the time there wasn’t much of a community to help aspiring farmers; most people wouldn’t have given the farm much of a chance. My Dad was 38 years old, and in the middle of a fishing career in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Incidentally, he has finished his fishing memoirs, and I am hoping to have copies in the barn for those of you who may be interested in what Farmer Erick was up to before he was Farmer Erick.
I hate to over simplify or to be pedantic about my own parents, but the first few years they mostly muddled along. Adding infrastructure, building a beef herd, and cutting lots of square bales. They experimented with different crops, sold eggs, tried u-cut flowers, and grew a few pumpkins. That’s a lot of work! How could I call that muddling? My parents were hard working, but hadn’t developed an overarching vision for the business side of the farm. At this point the vision of the farm was family based. The farm was a great place to raise their four kids, of which I was the youngest. The business side would come in 1995.
I like telling people the story of how my Dad would tell me that there was “big money” in beets one week, and “big money” in radishes the next week. He said this so often, about so many things, that it has become a standing joke. The last time he said this was October of this year, when he told me there was big money in almonds and spent days attacking his almond trees with a rake, harvesting, and sorting almonds. He has since admitted that maybe there isn’t big money in almonds.
In a micro sense there is not much truth in the idea that there is “big money” in beets or radishes. But, in a macro sense there is a lot of truth to the idea that there is a business plan to be made in diversity. Not beets or radishes, but beets and radishes…and corn, and leeks, and squash, and cows, and tomatoes… This business plan was found in the CSA model of farming.
We started our CSA in 1995 and it grew steadily for many years. Meanwhile we raised a lot of livestock, both prior to and during the years of our CSA. We raised a beef herd, hundreds of layer hens in the old red barn, (which burned down when I was 15), replacement Holstein heifers, pigs, sheep, and goats. We all participated in 4-H raising Holstein and Jersey Heifers which we took to fairs. My sister Julie even went on to be the Washington State Dairy Princess, and spent a year traveling and promoting dairy.
In the early years, we leased a fair amount of land to Hmong farmers, and they grew a mix of flowers and veggies for farmer’s markets. And saw a successful model for intensive farming.
Our pumpkin patch started small and has grown over the years. The Seattle Times ran a feature on us in the late 1990’s and that gave us a big bump in pumpkin sales that has continued to this day. Our pumpkin sales and numbers of farm visitors has been fairly consistent over the years, and I always enjoy ending the growing season with a bang.
When Kristin and I bought the farm from my Dad at the end of February in 2019, the farm was a diverse and many-sided business, though the three main areas of business are the CSA, Pumpkins, and the Beef herd. By far, our vegetable growing operation is the most intricate and time consuming. Each part of the farm contributes to the overall success, and each part contributes to the other parts as well. A farm is an ecosystem in which systems that are integrated work best.
The other day I was asked for my farming philosophy, and on a macro scale I can answer that pretty quickly: Farms produce food or fiber. Maybe there are exceptions to this, but generally speaking, that’s how I define it. Nothing comes from nothing, so all the food or fiber a farm produces comes from somewhere else. I want Jubilee Farm to be a farm that produces food, and the fertility it takes to grow that food.
Nature is a complex relationship between plants, animals, and seasonal cycles. My goal for Jubilee is to mimic nature in that we create systems that are interconnected and woven together to the flourishing of the whole. My goal is to move away from arbitrary systems and move into systems that have a logic and productivity at every level; nature wastes nothing, so why should we waste time and energy? This interconnected flow is a high goal, and will not be completed in my life time, and may always need to be adjusted. Once I admit that the goals of the farm will outlast me, then I need to consider the further dynamic of the life of the farmer. The social needs of the farmer add a whole layer of complication to farming, but as the saying goes: if you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together. I want the farm to go far on the journey towards sustainability and flourishing, so the needs of farmers David, Kristin, Micah, Grace, and Fern are all taken into account.
So, when considering a new farm project, I think about how the new project adds to the diversity of the farm, how the new project fits within current systems, how the new project may be beneficial on multiple levels, and how it affects time commitments of the farmers. All these things need to come together to develop this harmonic cycling that is my goal. I tend to fail to achieve this more often than I succeed, but once I find something that works, it feels good, and its on to find the next complimentary layer.
So, Where are we going? For my tenure as the steward of Jubilee Farm, we will be a family farm that sustainably produces food, fiber, and fertility. My hope is that a harmonious farm will be such a deep joy, that my children will take it over and continue the long, intergenerational journey of overseeing, directing, and improving its natural systems.