PENINSULA PROFILE: She fills many roles as WSU Extension director

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Peninsula Potluck

A 100-MILE POTLUCK, hosted by Transition Port Angeles and WestWind Farm, is open to all next Sunday, Sept. 15. Guests are encouraged to bring a dish made with a main ingredient grown within 100 miles of Port Angeles, along with reusable tableware. The party will go from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. with live music, a talk by Washington State University Clallam County Extension Director Clea Rome and walks along Salt Creek.

Carpooling will be coordinated at 2 p.m. from the Albertson's parking lot at 114 E. Lauridsen Blvd. to WestWind Farm, 585 Wasankari Road in Joyce.

For more details, email Andrew McInnes at ajmcinnes86@yahoo.com.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Like a centerfielder who catches questions instead of fly balls, Clea Rome sees a lot of queries.

There's a weird mushroom in my barn; is it edible?

How do you can razor clams?

Looks like bees have built a nest in the house. How should I proceed?

Do you have one of those Scotch broom pullers?

Rome has the highfalutin title of Washington State University Extension Director for Clallam County. But as so often happens in rural places like this, the title doesn't begin to cover what she does in her office in the old Clallam County Courthouse.

Rome, 39, is question-fielder to the county's farmers and gardeners.

She's office manager: talking to members of the public who stop by. She fixes the photocopier when it jams. And out in the field, from Sequim to LaPush to Neah Bay, she seeks to bring WSU's resources into schools, businesses and farm fields.

Next Sunday, Sept. 15, Rome will give a brief talk — and answer questions, of course — on one of her passions: growing the local food network.

She's the speaker at the 100-Mile Potluck, a public event at WestWind Farm in Joyce. The event, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., will be a celebration of local bounty, be it berries or fingerling potatoes or grain grown and milled at Nash's Organic Produce. And while not all of the contents of potluck dishes have to be local, participants are encouraged to bring something made with a main ingredient grown inside a 100-mile radius of Port Angeles.

This harvest season is a great time to talk about what we have locally, Rome said.

She's also in the midst of preparations for one of fall's biggest events: the Oct. 5 Clallam County Farm Tour, sponsored by WSU Extension and the North Olympic Land Trust.

The theme for the 17th annual tour is “Clallam Agriculture: Then and Now,” as it encompasses eight farms, from the 103-year-old Bekkevar Farm to the 14-year-old Jardin du Soleil Lavender farm.

With staff colleagues Laurel Moulton and Jenny Schmidt, Rome works with 126 Clallam County Master Gardener volunteers and with 70 more volunteers and 273 youngsters in the 4-H program. All are part of WSU Extension, the public university's program of outreach to all parts of the Evergreen State.

Yet another arm of WSU Extension in Clallam County is the Food $ense nutrition program in Clallam elementary schools. Staffers Meggan Uecker and Janet McDonald do food demonstrations with second-, third- and fourth-graders, chats with students about nutrition and cafeteria food and sets up an outreach table on family night.

Uecker has known Rome almost since Rome arrived in Port Angeles nine years ago. Back then, Rome worked for the Clallam Conservation District; she later joined the USDA's Resource Conservation & Development Council. Following a national search, she was chosen as Clallam's WSU Extension agent in January 2012.

“I find her incredibly inspiring,” Uecker said of her colleague. “Clea's leadership has already reinvigorated WSU Extension's connection with the community,” through workshops for farmers, the farm tour and outreach to schools on the West End.

Rome added that she is working with the Clallam Economic Development Council on a study of agriculture's impact on the local economy.

That impact is significant, Rome said, in terms of farm labor, dollars circulated locally and agritourism such as the Sequim Lavender Weekend.

Like the farmers she works with, Rome has to be an optimist. Fueling that optimism is a fierce belief in growing the local food economy: helping farmers access research-based information they need to be successful; getting more local produce into Clallam restaurants and grocery stores; spreading the word to consumers about the foods grown right here.

Rome has cared deeply about these issues for a long time. She grew up in Rochester, Minn., and went on to earn a master's in landscape architecture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

She chose this because she was drawn to the nexus between humans and the natural world: “where humans meet the land,” as she puts it.

Rome also took part in a study-abroad program in Venezuela, where she worked on a farm at the edge of the Amazon rainforest — and learned to dance the salsa and merengue.

“That intersection fascinates me and excites me,” she said.

The Pacific Northwest called to her, too. She married Chad Theismann in 2004 and, about a month later, moved to Port Angeles — sight unseen.

“We knew we wanted to be in the Puget Sound [area], but not Seattle. We thought we'd start here; find our feet.”

Here turned out to feel right. Thiesmann joined the Clallam County Planning Department, while Rome worked for the Conservation District.

As WSU Extension director, Rome helps farmers develop their business acumen: something Patty McManus Huber, co-owner of Nash's Organic Produce in Dungeness, values.

“We don't necessarily need someone to tell us how to farm,” McManus Huber said. “But we appreciate her expertise on how to market ourselves. You have to be more than just a farmer these days. You've got to be a computer expert; you've got to know how to fix the truck.

“It's interesting that both counties,” Clallam and Jefferson, “now have dynamic young women as Extension agents,” McManus Huber added, referring to Rome and Laura Lewis, Jefferson's WSU Extension director.

“It is really a cool thing for them to compare notes and exchange ideas. We are all on the same Peninsula.”

Rome couldn't agree more.

In her travels, she works with farmers of all political persuasions, with the Peninsula's tribes, with young people in 4-H and with all kinds of people growing their own food.

“Everybody's in this together, and we've got to make it work,” she said.

Rome has to keep things working inside her office, too. The WSU Extension program used to have an administrative assistant, but that position was cut just before Rome was hired.

So as the sole full-time worker here, she's also customer service representative and equipment repairwoman.

Rome and her husband have fond hopes for the Peninsula's future.

They're about to make another family transition: Theismann, a stay-at-home dad since their daughter Elsa was born in October 2010, is about to go back to work. He'll be a preschool teacher at Bonnie Schmidt's new Little Rhythms Learning Center in Port Angeles.

“We feel really lucky,” said Rome, “to have landed here.”





A harvest of farms on October tour

THE 17TH ANNUAL Clallam County Farm Tour on Saturday, Oct. 5, features eight working farms from Agnew to Sequim to Blyn. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the participating farms will offer activities for all ages, music, food and guided tours of their fields. Here's the lineup for the event, presented by Washington State University's Clallam County Extension and the North Olympic Land Trust.

■ Annie's Flower Farm, formerly The Cutting Garden, producing dahlias and other blooms at 303 1/2 Dahlia Llama Road, Dungeness;

■ Bekkevar Family Farm, producing beef cattle, grain, hay and hogs at 273054 Highway 101, Blyn;

■ Dungeness Valley Creamery, producing raw milk at 1915 Towne Road, Dungeness;

■ Freedom Farm, a beef cattle and hay farm and equestrian center at 493 Spring Road, Agnew;

■ Jardin Du Soleil Lavender Farm at 3932 Sequim-Dungeness Way, Dungeness;

■ Lazy J Tree Farm, producing organic fruit and Christmas trees at 225 Gehrke Road, Agnew;

■ Lökalie Gaare, the “Lucky Sheep Farm” with sheep and Border collies at 702 Gunn Road, Agnew;

■ Nash's Organic Produce, with pastured pork, eggs, vegetables, fruit and grain at 1865 E. Anderson Road, Dungeness.

To learn more about the Farm Tour as well as WSU Extension's Master Gardener and 4-H programs, see Clallam.WSU.edu or phone 360-417-2279.

Last modified: September 07. 2013 6:28PM
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