Winter Veggies with a Passion
By Alex Smith
One of the special aspects of Northwest Washington is the seasons. During summer, it may be the most pleasant place on earth. Winter also brings snow in the mountains, and the occasional sunny spring and fall days remind us of the beauty of the region. It’s a common complaint that we get 6 months of cold rain, but that rain and snow is what makes the area so lush and food so bountiful.
The long, cold, rainy stretches do present a challenge when it comes to food, though. While the summer months are loaded with everything from berries and plums to tomatoes and squash, it can be more challenging to find fresh, locally grown food during the winter. That void is being filled by Boldly Grown Farm in Skagit County.
Operated by Amy Frye and Jacob Slosberg, Boldly Grown has been growing vegetables for 5 years and has found a niche in providing good food through the winter months. The ultimate goal is to create a real change in the food system by making locally grown food available to everyone. “We’re very passionate about feeding the community quality and healthy food,” Amy explains as we sit in the shade. “If we really want to change the food system, we have to meet people where they’re at.”
Amy and Jacob met while in school at the University of British Columbia. Amy was working on a Masters thesis interviewing farmers on the edge of urban areas. She grew up on her grandparents’ farm in Minnesota and discovered the campus farm while out on a run and eventually became the director. Meanwhile Jacob, a native of Seattle who has always had the goal of farming, was also attending UBC and teaching a practicum on agriculture.
The complementary skill sets are the key to their success. Jacob is an expert on equipment and uses his experience to create efficient systems so the farm can be productive. Amy’s experience in marketing and administration provides a guiding vision.
This synergy is what allows the pair to grow high quality vegetables and fill a gap in local food production. Growing vegetables in winter is hard – that’s why it’s often hard to find them from local farms – but they take a creative approach. They grow storage crops like onions and cabbages that can survive harsh winters. But they also grow radicchio that works well as a salad base. Recently they took a trip to Italy to meet with seed growers and see different varieties. A good selection of winter squash is a must for the dark months, and they are constantly trying new varieties to get tasty squash that will stay fresh and delicious for a long time.
Beyond the food they produce, what clearly stands out is a commitment to farming responsibly. Both Amy and Jacob have been involved with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) which teaches ecological principles and leadership. Both self-described “outdoorsy” people, they take an ecological approach to farming. “We knew if we wanted to care about the planet we had to be involved in agriculture. We have a great opportunity to produce food with a low impact.”
The ultimate goal for Amy and Jacob is to have a property with pollinator habitat, hedgerows, and other systems to create a farm that is in harmony with the natural environment. Currently they farm at Viva Farms, an organization that leases land and provides infrastructure, equipment, and market support to beginning farmers.
Beyond being ecologically sustainable, though, the goal is to sustain the farm and strengthen the community. They currently have three employees, and all are returning from the previous season. Watching the crew plant new rows of cabbage, it’s clear that they’re valued and respected. Parents of a two year old, Amy and Jacob know that they need to keep good employees and are willing to pay living wages for quality workers.
Social commitments don’t end with payroll. Boldly Grown Farm has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where members subscribe and get a box of food delivered biweekly at locations from Bellingham to Seattle. Members have the option to also contribute to a financial aid fund for people who can’t afford their own share. This year Boldly Grown used this fund to provide one free share and also donated a share at their expense. “We’re excited about reaching people on the edge – people who aren’t already shopping at the farmers market.”
Farming is a tough profession. Long hours, uncomfortable working conditions, and fickle markets are just some of the challenges. So it’s inspiring to see farmers who are not just succeeding at farming, but finding new markets, looking to provide food to the less fortunate, and working to heal the ecosystem. In a world where not everyone has access to good, local food, Boldly Grown Farm is working toward a solution.
You can find Boldly Grown Farm produce at the Skagit Valley Co-op, select local restaurants, or subscribe to their winter CSA now.