Good Things Come In Small Acres
Tucked into the Mount Baker foothills, Small Acres Farm grows vibrant and nourishing food using renewable energy and sustainability practices – and their impact on this community is anything but small.
Chris Henderson and Mia Devine, co-owners and farmers, have grown Small Acres slowly over the years, operating the farm with a humility and respect for the environment that translates into delicious produce and a reduced energy footprint.
Their journey to Small Acres began far from Whatcom County. Mechanical engineers by training and trade, Chris and Mia spent a year traveling in Central and South America, where they volunteered on off-grid renewable energy projects. “We were around a lot of agriculture during that time and became interested in it,” Chris recalls. “When we got back to Seattle, where we were living at the time, we started a garden. It turned into our whole backyard. I took a year off my job to work at Cloud Mountain Farm Center as an intern. We stumbled into the property we have now through a lot of good luck.”
Mia adds, “We wanted to be more hands-on and work outside, doing things where we could directly see the results of our labor. I did a lot of volunteer work for Seattle Tilth, read dozens of homesteading and gardening books, and took lots of classes. We bought this property in 2013, and 2014 was our first growing season.”
Small Acres started small, focusing on intentional and community-based growth throughout the years. “We had a tiny CSA at first,” Chris says. “And we’ve grown year by year, slowly expanding the area we’re growing in and expanding our staff.”
Mia adds, “We were hesitant to hire employees for many years, wanting to do all the work ourselves. But after bringing a kid into our lives, we realized that we needed help in order to maintain a reasonable work-life balance.” Small Acres hosts one or two interns each season and hired a former intern, Boston, as Assistant Farm & Sales Manager. “The interns bring fresh energy and perspectives to the farm each season, and Boston has been great about identifying areas for improvement from one season to the next and is passionate about keeping things clean, organized and efficient. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great people helping us along the way.”
Small Acres is one of the founding members of the Twin Sisters Market, which started in 2015 as a collaboration between farmers to bring a mobile farmers market to food desert areas of Whatcom County. “It’s gradually grown over the years; some farmers have left and new farmers have joined,” Chris explains. “It remains a collaboration between 5-6 core farms and local vendors. The market is in Deming and Kendall every Saturday and Birchwood every Sunday until the end of October.”
Mia notes that in addition to providing produce to the county, Twin Sisters Market benefits new and beginning farmers – as well as creating greater ease for established farmers. “It’s really good for new farmers, who maybe aren’t growing the variety of crops or quantity necessary for a whole farmstand. They can pick a couple of crops and try them out. At the beginning of the season, all the participating farmers do crop planning and split up which crops each farm will supply. That way it’s a full farmstand, but farmers don’t have to work it every week. We all take turns.”
While the market has always been “bootstrapped”, according to Chris, they’re about to get a new mobile market truck, thanks to an infrastructure grant from the WSDA. “It’s a fun addition!” Chris says. “We have an old box truck right now that was donated from the food bank. It’s got almost 300,000 miles on it and it’s not refrigerated. Now we get to build this custom truck that will transform into the market stand. It’ll make things a little better for the customers and a lot better for the people working those markets.”
In addition to selling at Twin Sisters, Small Acres also operates a CSA, has contracts with the food bank, and sells wholesale to restaurants and other CSA delivery businesses. Their veggies and fermented products are also available to purchase through their online store.
Small Acres grows their food using renewable energy and sustainability practices. Chris explains, “We have a 10-kilowatt wind turbine on site, and we have another 10 kilowatts of solar. We use biodiesel in one of our big delivery trucks and all our tractors. We have an electric truck we use, as well. Between all that, we’re generating about two-thirds of our electricity on site and reduced our direct petroleum use to almost nothing.”
Mia says, “We’re certified organic, and we make our own compost on-site from local dairy solids. We use drip irrigation, too, which uses less water and less energy to move the water.”
In addition, Chris and Mia have done native plantings and removed invasive species all over the property, interplanting flowers with their crops to attract beneficial pollinators. They use a lower tillage system and rotate cover crop and production plots to build soil and manage weeds.
Small Acres is farmed in the “market garden” style, which is human-centric. They use hand tools, beds are placed so people can easily reach the center of the bed from either side, and weeding is done by hand or hand tool. Chris explains. “We’re able to grow a lot more in a small space with these methods. Our goal is to see how productive we can be with the small space we have.” Small Acres feeds 90 CSA members on their acre-and-a-half of production.
Chris and Mia’s passion for sustainability goes hand in hand with their love and support of their community. “One of the great benefits of operating this farm is being connected to the community,” Mia says. “Our customers come to the farm and see our practices. One of the rewards is seeing peoples’ reactions to the produce – knowing that we’re providing fresh, local produce that people are amazed by.”
One such veggie? “We just harvested a bunch of romanesco, which is a crop that blows people’s minds,” Chris says. “We’ve been eating it on pizza, in pasta, stir-fries, eggs… It’s just cool! Psychedelic, fractal-looking – you don’t see it often in the grocery store.”
“My personal favorite crop is not an edible one,” Mia shares. “We grow luffa, which are grown similarly to cucumbers. They are dried on the vine, harvested, peeled, and sliced into sponges. They’re a unique crop in our area, and another crop that blows people’s minds. They’re the best sponges, and last forever!”
Chris and Mia’s joy and dedication extends to a vast network of farmers and customers in Whatcom County and beyond.
As Chris says, “Community is all the people we interact with in our social and work responsibilities. The farm ends up touching a lot more people than we would otherwise. We’re out at markets, the food bank, and the community of farmers in the area. We support each other in lots of different ways – socially, but also lending tools to each other, helping somebody out if they have an injury or a piece of equipment fails. People really share their ideas and their knowledge. We’re part of an open and sharing community.”
Learn more about Small Acres and their community here.