‘Community-supported adventure’ yields bountiful harvest

SEQUIM — “Naked oats” helped Joe and Lisa Bridge dream up a new farming expression.

The Bridges planted the naked grain — so named because the seeds wear no hulls — last spring.

It was a learn-as-we-go journey, Lisa said, begun with an old seeding machine volunteered by Lazy J Tree Farm owner Steve Johnson.

Lisa had experience working for a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, farm. Some 200 shareholders subscribed to weekly produce boxes, thus sustaining the operation near Northampton, Mass.

Her husband Joe has experience as a Montessori schoolteacher — but he’s the one who came up with the new meaning for CSA.

The Bridges’ dream of local organic oats came true thanks to volunteers and vintage equipment from all over the Dungeness Valley.

This is a “community-supported adventure,” said Joe.

It all began in Massachusetts, when Lisa, a farm manager, met Joe, a musician roaming the country. They married and moved to his hometown of Sequim. They dived into two ventures: purchasing the Rainbow Farm on Towne Road, where they grow organic berries, and planting oats and flax at the Lamb Farm, a lavender operation southwest of Sequim.

Bryon and Colleen Lamb-Gunnerson, the farm’s owners, hired the Bridges because they had known Joe’s family a long time, and because they wanted to see organic grain growing in this valley.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, a few organic farmers cultivate wheat, oats and barley for livestock. If you’re a human wanting to localize your diet, you’ll find plenty of fruit, vegetables and berries for lunch and dinner — but forget about local grain for your breakfast toast or oatmeal.

Until now. The Bridges just harvested 1,100 pounds of oats, and are packaging it to sell directly from the farm and via www.Sequim.LocallyGrown.net.

Getting to this point, however, took an old-fashioned concerted effort.

The Bridges, who are both 31, couldn’t afford to buy a combine, the machine that harvests and separates grain from its stalks, so they talked to friends and acquaintances about their need to rent some used equipment.

Next thing they knew, Sequim’s farming families came to their aid:

John Dickinson and Dave Bekkevar volunteered their 60-year-old binder and thresher.

Norris Johnson and Dana Davis, experts in vintage farm machinery, helped get the thresher running.

And Nash Huber of Nash’s Organic Produce provided the oat-cleaning machine.

“I suspect it was built in 1943,” Huber said of the cleaner, which he bought at auction in Chehalis five years ago.

Neither Huber nor the other farm-implement owners charged the Bridges anything.

Joe had heard stories about the Sequim of 50 or so years ago, when dairies and crop fields blanketed the valley. He did not expect to live a new chapter.

But like the Bridges, the farmers of the mid-20th century couldn’t afford new gear when something broke down.

“Nobody had any money. So everybody helped everybody,” said Joe. “It was like one big farm.”

In three weeks, the Bridges will plant their next crop: red winter wheat, the kind that’s ideal for bread-baking.

They’ll cultivate an acre and a half of it at the Lamb Farm, along with another three quarters of an acre of naked oats.

As for the oats they just harvested — and bagged inside the Gunnersons’ living room — the pair is awaiting their one piece of new equipment, a $350 mill and roller.

As soon as it arrives, they’ll roll the oats and add them to the menu at Sequim.LocallyGrown.net.

The Bridges want to expand their organic operation in the coming years, but not too much. They’re here to farm on a small scale, and hope to form a local equipment cooperative, a group of people with farming machinery and repair know-how.

The Bridges have reasons to believe such a thing will come to pass.

Their first venture bore fruit, Lisa said, thanks to seasoned farmers who got excited about the new crop.

Together they coaxed the elderly thresher to work, and together they learned to gently wash and dry naked oats, which are more fragile than the kind with hulls.

Joe and Lisa both learned to ask for help — and accept it from their neighbors. Lisa, who grew up in a Massachusetts suburb, wasn’t used to doing that.

“It was amazing to see people just come forward,” she said. “So many people we talk to are so excited that yes, you can grow oats here.”

Bryon Gunnerson is one of the crop’s first fans. He called the platform where the grain dried in his living room “a big snack table.”

The Gunnersons and Bridges agreed that the flax crop planted at the Lamb Farm wasn’t as successful.

“It’s really hard to work with,” Lisa said of the half-acre field.

“Just trying to cut it angers it,” added Gunnerson.

The flax was finally used for mulch under the 60 apple trees the Bridges planted on the farm.

The oat harvest, meantime, has also taught the couple something about comfort.

They’re expecting their first child in January, and Joe said their midwife told Lisa that when she gets to feeling uncomfortable, she should try reclining on a big burlap bag of oats.

“She said it’ll give her good support,” added Joe.

His wife just smiled, and scooped up more grain to fill another sack.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

For information about organic oats from the Lamb Farm, phone Lisa and Joe Bridge at 360-683-3712 or visit www.Sequim.LocallyGrown.net.

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