Farmer Steve Dowdell, with help from Rocky Roo, samples blueberries at his Gray Fox Farm in Chimacum. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Farmer Steve Dowdell, with help from Rocky Roo, samples blueberries at his Gray Fox Farm in Chimacum. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Gleaning opportunities abound in Jefferson County

Former trial lawyer cleaning up Chimacum farm

CHIMACUM — There’s a lot of food out there right now. Apples, pears, even late-season blueberries — they’re ripe and ready for harvesting, if only the growers can find the hands to do it.

That is the need addressed by Quimper Community Harvest, the group of volunteer gleaners fanning out across Chimacum and Port Townsend.

They harvest from yard trees, gardens and farms to which they’re invited. Then they give it away.

“We send fruit to Quilcene, Port Townsend and Chimacum schools,” gleaning organizer Seth Rolland said.

Freshly picked produce also is given to the Tri-Area Senior Center, local senior apartment complexes and the Port Townsend and Tri-Area food banks.

Gleaning “tapers off by the last week of October,” Rolland said.

He welcomes new volunteers across East Jefferson County, including Quilcene, where more gleaners are needed to take fruit to the school campus.

He added that would-be volunteers — and people with fruit trees — can find out more by emailing [email protected]. Since this group is under the umbrella of Local 20/20, Jefferson County’s organization devoted to sustainability, more information can be found here.

Steve Dowdell of Gray Fox Farm in Chimacum has met several gleaners during the past few weeks. They’ve come to pick blueberries at the front of his field on Beaver Valley Road, and he’s thoroughly enjoyed their visits; these volunteers are representative of a generous community, said Dowdell, who purchased his land two summers ago.

“I wanted to have a more diversified small farm,” he said.

Dowdell, a former Washington, D.C., trial lawyer, and his partner chose Chimacum after traveling around the West in their camper van.

The story of Gray Fox’s blueberries is a circuitous one. Dowdell rescued several hundred bushes from a farm in Skagit County that was switching to potatoes; he brought them home and planted them at the front of his property.

Meanwhile, Dowdell also keeps chickens, ducks and bees, and he sells eggs and honey at local outlets, including the Chimacum Corner Farmstand.

He has a surplus too of blueberry bushes he’s offering for sale or for donation to an organization that can replant them; the farmer can be reached at [email protected]

How Gray Fox Farm became this incarnation is another winding tale. The property was a junkyard, Dowdell said.

“I’ve taken about 20 tons of garbage to the dump,” and that was just in the first few months of ownership, he said.

Between truck rental and dump tipping fees, it wasn’t cheap.

Dowdell wonders if there could be some kind of incentive — a break on fees, perhaps — to help those who grow produce for the community.

In any case, this is a whole new life for Dowdell. He grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, got an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked on natural gas power plants. Then he went to law school. For 11 years, he worked with agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

“I wanted to do something new,” he said, adding he no longer had the desire to “squeeze life into nights and weekends.”

In his time here, Dowdell has come to care about this place — and notice that its people care about one another. It feels different from the anonymity of his former, urban life.

The people “have such a wealth of experience and know-how,” he said.

“There’s been no shortage of learning experiences.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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