PENINSULA WOMAN: Chimacum’s Williams farms for the future

The hope and the ideal in these parts: to protect food-producing farmland and preserve the natural food web.

But to enjoy strawberry fields alongside salmon streams, there must be farmers, growers willing to work as hard for Mother Nature as for their own financial futures.

And out here in Chima ­cum, just such a felicitous alignment is taking place, said Jefferson Land Trust president Owen Fairbank.

About three years ago, the land trust began working out an agreement with Karyn Williams, a young farmer with a prodigious desire to start an organic operation here.

“She was looking for land, and this parcel was for sale,” Fairbank said, referring to 23 acres of what used to be the Brown dairy farm bordered by Chimacum Creek, a salmon-bearing stream.

And Williams, though barely 30 at the time, brought to the table plenty of experience: internships on farms in western Europe, plus years at the Evergreen State College’s organic operation in Olympia and on the Old Tarboo Farm in Quilcene.

Based on her track record plus a strong business plan, the land trust made the deal: Williams would lease the Chimacum land for five years with an option to buy and build the organic farm of the future here.

After she becomes the owner in 2012, a conservation easement will guarantee that the acreage is protected for those two precious uses, agriculture and wildlife habitat.

Williams’ operation — which she named the Red Dog Farm — is the Jefferson Land Trust’s first lease-to-own agreement.

“[Williams] is well-suited to take this on,” Fairbank added. “It’s a really exciting example we hope to replicate.”

Now Williams’ fields are abloom — and ready for showing off to visitors, as the Red Dog is one of the stops on today’s free Jefferson County Farm Tour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For details on the self-guided circuit of 18 farms, visit ag.jefferson.wsu.edu or visit the Chimacum Farmers Market, which is open at the Chimacum crossroads of state Highway 19 and Center Road from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and each Sunday into October.

Williams and her 11 employees grow more than 60 crops — including 150 varieties — on what used to be the dairy’s pasture. To build this venture from the ground up, she works six long days a week in the fields, then spends evenings on marketing plans.

Sitting in the barn on a sunny afternoon approaching the peak of harvest season, though, Williams seems relaxed, even carefree.

That may be because she’s found exactly what she wants to do, and she’s learned how to do it well.

But becoming a farmer “was a long process,” she said, flashing her signature grin.

At 19, Williams was living in the Seattle suburb of Normandy Park when she found a Willing Workers on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, pamphlet. That was her ticket to labor in the fields outside Orgiva, Spain, and then Aylesbury, England.

“I fell in love with rural living, more than anything,” she recalled.

After 18 months abroad, she returned to enroll at Evergreen and ultimately earned a Bachelor of Science in sustainable farming.

No other profession has ever called to her the way farming does.

“I love orchestrating each season,” Williams said. “The planning, the biological growing part, working with employees . . . it’s a little bit of everything.”

That includes, of course, a lot of big machinery and a lot of packing up for the Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Chimacum farmers markets plus grocery stores such as the Port Townsend Food Co-op.

There’s much to manage, and Williams credits her family and friends — and the ample encouragement she’s received from the surrounding community.

“I’m really lucky to live in this liberal area . . . if anything, I’ve gotten more support because I’m a single woman,” she added.

When you visit the Red Dog Farm, it feels like a big, happy G-rated movie: a red Border collie named Rupert Dandelion trots up to welcome you, tail wagging, and pastoral vistas stretch out around in four directions.

Then Williams takes you on a color-rich walking tour through kale, spinach and sunflowers, and then over to the farm stand loaded with tomatoes, strawberries and other just-picked products.

When asked why she didn’t give her place a name indicating the land’s history or location, Williams said she mulled it over for long time, discussed it with friends — and chose a name they all felt was appropriate.

And Rupert the red dog is not just her companion; he’s the soul of this place. “He’s out there for the 14-hour days,” said Williams. “He won’t quit till I do.”

And on this land flanked by Center Road and Chimacum Creek, Williams is at the leading edge of organic farming — for which she sees appetites growing.

The strawberries, the green beans, the red peppers, the Walla Walla sweet onions, the raspberries and the big, fuzzy teddy-bear sunflowers — all are hits at the farmers’ markets. And Williams makes “subscriptions” available through her community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program for Jefferson and Clallam county residents.

Shareholders receive boxes full of vegetables and fruits each week for 10 months — April through January — or they can choose to sign up for shorter “sessions” of two months each.

In an effort to make farmshare boxes practical for various kinds of households, Red Dog offers small and large.

One is “designed to feed one to two people who cook half their meals at home and are modest vegetable eaters,” and the other is “for three to four people who cook half their meals at home and are modest vegetable eaters, or one or two voracious vegetable eaters who love to cook,” notes Williams’ website, www.RedDogFarm.net.

Williams also creates a newsletter to go into each share box, with recipes and news about the Red Dog crew.

Complete farmshare sign-up information is available under the CSA link on the website or by phoning 360-732-0223.

This farmer “has great growing skills . . . and she’s a good business person as well,” said Katherine Baril, Washington State University’s Jefferson County Extension director.

“She’s got a good mix of her farm stand, the farmers markets and the CSAs.”

About 100 households subscribe to the farmshare program in winter, Williams added, while half as many subscribe in summer.

She’s working on growing her customer base at the Port Townsend and Chimacum farmers markets, which last just through next month, and the Port Angeles market, which runs year round. Those venues, along with today’s farm tour, provide her with ample opportunity to highlight the connectedness of local farms, food and the future.

Williams’ fondest hope, she said, is “to see the farm be wildly successful: financially sustainable and having a solid group of people who will stay on for more than a couple of years.”

She also envisions a future in which the land stays healthy, as both a farm and a wildlife refuge.

To that end, she’s planting native trees such as mock orange and elderberry, and is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to plant still more along Chimacum Creek. The program makes grants for tree planting and maintenance as well as for fencing to keep livestock out of the stream.

Today is the day, Williams said, to come to the Red Dog Farm and enjoy its flavors in a particularly festive form. Along with music by the local band The Solvents, African drumming and the solo musician who goes simply by Meredith, Elevated Ice Cream of Port Townsend will come out to make pumpkin ice cream, cucumber ices and strawberry-basil ice cream, all with ingredients harvested here.

Williams is preparing for a good turnout, based on the 600 who visited Red Dog during last year’s tour.

The wave of people was a bit overwhelming, Williams admitted. She considers herself an introvert, but once they come, the crowds also energize her.

Tour day “is just a really good day,” she said. “It’s a celebration.”

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