PORT TOWNSEND — At 19, Deirdre Morrison moved from Detroit, Mich., to Port Townsend and fell in love.
“It was such an eye-opener for me coming from the Midwest to the Olympic Peninsula where there is such a robust ecosystem of food,” she said.
“It’s such an exciting place to see all these things really growing and coming on to the marketplace.”
Twenty years later, she has returned to take the reins of the Jefferson County Farmers Markets from Port Townsend native Amanda Milholland, who has served as market manager for the past five years.
“I am really excited that she is the person who is coming into this role,” Milholland said.
“I can already see that she has a lot of connections in our community and I’m super thankful that she has a similar level of commitment to supporting local farms and businesses.”
Though Milholland has already begun working as produce manager at the Port Townsend Food Co-op, she plans to continue training Morrison through the end of the Port Townsend market’s season in December.
Morrison was working as a grant writer for Solar Energy International in Colorado when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the nonprofit was forced to downsize its staff.
“I had friends here in Jefferson County who were inviting me to come and ride out the pandemic on their property,” said Morrison, who had been away for 10 years and hadn’t considered returning.
“The more I thought about it, about getting away from the smoke and the heat and the wildfires, I just couldn’t help but say yes.”
Before moving to Portland in late 2010 to run her own massage therapy practice and later volunteer with the AmeriCorps VISTA program in Colorado, Morrison spent 10 years working on farms and with nonprofits in Jefferson County.
She managed a youth hostel at Fort Worden State Park when she first came to town in 2001. Then, in 2003, she worked as Jefferson Land Trust’s first stewardship coordinator as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
“I learned about the biological features of this region,” she said, noting that her service also afforded her an educational stipend. “It enabled me to go back to school at The Evergreen State College and complete my degree in environmental studies.”
As part of those studies, she worked with Fort Worden’s commercial dining facility to turn food waste into compost that was then used in the state park’s gardens and planting projects.
“I was trying to show that our food waste has a lot of value if it’s recycled as compost,” she said. “It got me more interested in agriculture and how soil health is related to the health of local food economies.”
At the same time, she interned with the WSU Jefferson County Extension office in Port Hadlock, looking into soil health in the Chimacum valley and how crops had changed over time. There, she worked with Harvindar Singh, manager of the Port Townsend Farmers Market at the time.
“He really helped younger farmers break onto the scene and better-established farmers create products they could sell more easily at the market,” she said.
Over several years, Morrison worked on farms locally but also traveled to farms abroad in places such as Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Italy.
“I wasn’t trying to become a farmer, but farming was definitely a strong interest of mine,” she said.
Between 2005 and 2007, she worked for Mount Townsend Creamery, running their booth at the Port Townsend Farmers Market as well as at markets in the Seattle area, expanding their customer base along the way.
Now, Morrison says she’s eager to pick up where Milholland is leaving off by continuing to expand access to nutritious, locally grown food for low-income people while also fostering community partnerships and supporting a diversity of local purveyors.
While vendor sales are down 30 percent this year, Milholland said, dollar-for-dollar match programs supported by state and local partners have doubled the amount of locally grown produce low-income people and seniors have taken home this year compared to 2019.
“For those farmers who depend on the market for a majority of their income, these food access programs allow them to keep operating,” Milholland said.
“They benefit our community by creating access to quality food and they provide needed income to our farm vendors – and when they are successful, the market is successful.”
In its 29th year, the Port Townsend market has been forced to press pause on live music, chef demonstrations and kids’ activities. It got off to a later-than-normal start, established new sanitation practices, spaced out vendors and encouraged patrons to place orders using an online shopping system.
Despite the challenges ahead, Morrison says she’s grateful to be back and to find herself in this role, “engaged with all these things I care so much about.
“I’m so glad to return to friendships I’ve had here for 20 years,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for me on so many levels.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.