Mike: We sell at the Ballard FM on Sundays. We provide food to a few restaurants in Seattle: Ray's Boathouse, Stumbling Goat Bistro, Art of the Table, Chaco Canyon, and a few others. We sell at the Olympia FM four days a week. Chehalis FM. The Eastside and Westside Coops in Olympia. And then for our CSA program, we deliver to Chelahis, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. This year we've also been supplying some of the home delivery services: New Roots Organics in Seattle and Terra Organics in Tacoma.
PSF: How did you get started with farming?
Mike: I grew up in a blue collar family, and you always had to be doing something or producing something.
I was attending Earlham College in Indiana. Earlham had a defunct ag program. The vestigial remains of which were "Ag Hall" and a beautiful farmhouse located on a 200 acre plot of land the farm owned. Most of the students living there where well intentioned hippies from urban backgrounds. They had a lot of enthusiasm but very little practical experience. I had worked for my father's masonry contracting business every summer since I was 14, and had helped him build my sister's house when I was 15. I had a lot of building experience by the time I got to college and would go out to the farm for their weekly work parties on Saturday
Later, wanderlust led me west. In terms of travel, I am the black sheep iof the family. When my sister moved 20 mi. away from home the family thought that was crazy. But, I cut my teeth on Kerouac and Thoreau and I loved the idea of exploring New America.
In California I worked with a local farm and did farmers markets in San Francisco. There was lots of enthusiasm around farming, the old guard of farmers was moving on and a bunch of young people were taking over the farms and I got caught up in the movement. In my travels, I visited Olympia and saw their farmers market and saw real opportunity to get involved in the development of the fledging farmers markets in the area. I was well positioned and dedicated and enthusiastic. Now, most of my adult life is involved here.
PSF: What's it like running a farm and having a new family?
Mike: It is challenging, like any other business owner I work a lot, and I do have to remind myself that in the final assessment I will not look back on my life and wish that I had grown more beets; that the most important thing I am raising right now is a daughter. She is very good at helping me keep things in perspective. Because we're organic, we can cut her loose to forage in the field. One of the things I love so much about farming is getting children involved with their food. People are disassociated with the source of their food. One year a little boy sent us a picture of carrots growing on a tree. Right now, we're working on a grant project to work with local high school students on stewardship of riparian buffer zones. I feel a sense of social obligation to share the farming experience with children.
PSF: Okay, that's the end of the first part of the interview. Let's move on to some more interesting topics. In 2007, you guys suffered some serious flood damage. I'll include a link to the flood recovery slideshow on your website. How did the floods of 2008 affect you and your farm?
Mike: In terms of the damage from the 2007 floods and our recovery, it's a difficult thing to talk about. We really did lose everything. Close to $80,000.00 in vehicles alone. Five tractors went under water. Our house was unlivable. Our cooler unit measuring 8'x28' floated away and landed on a car. My shop and tools where ruined and on and on and on.
When we sat down for the pep talk our goal was to maintain status quo. I really believed that it would be impossible to increase production or revenue and was only interested in trying not to move backwards. Frankly I thought it was unrealistic to expect us to be able to meet the standards we had set the previous year. I tear up when I realize we exceeded our figures from 2007. I owe it all to careful preparation, hard work, and the determination of the people I work with; especially my wife, my consigliere Hannah, and our field boss Jesus. We owe our very existence to the character and determination of these people, and the generosity of our customers, friends and family. We really tried to keep our chins up. We have a fantastic staff who are really committed to our farm.
PSF: What are three things that you are excited about in 2009?
Mike: I see nothing but opportunity for a business like ours. There was concrete evidence as a result of the response of our customers and our community to the disaster in 2007. I'm going to honor the dedication of our customers. They're going to play a role in the direction of the farm. We are committed to maintaining and strengthening our direct relationship with our customers. We're not driven purely by financial factors. We use the "three a's" to guide our business: accountability, authenticity and altruism. After the flood in 2007, we are concentrating even more on those three things. We are the real deal.
When I say we are the real deal I am touching on one of my pet peeves, that is "greenwashing", or what we refer to as "store shelf bucolic". I think a lot of businesses are capitalizing on the public's desire to get closer to the source of their food to support family farms and to buy local. Unfortunately some of these businesses are owned by larger companies with questionable priorities and practices. The term organic carries with it a lot of consumer recognition now, and I really believe that when the average consumer sees the term organic that they assume a lot about the farm that produces that product. There is a big difference between Big O organics and Boistfort Valley Farm.
Our business grows every year. We have strong controlled growth and we want to offer more opportunities. We want to offer year round work and living wages. But we never want to get so big that we lose our relationship with our customers. They are committed to spending locally. They are directly benefiting a farm that is in their area. Their sense of social responsibility helps spur our projects, like getting high school students involved in agricultural education. Or our barn restoration project, in partnership with Washington Department of Archeology and Preservation, Washington Preservation Trust and the "Barn Again" Program. We put a lot of labor and a lot of capital into our projects **Check the blog**. We market ourselves as a socially and environmentally conscious business. People expect that and they deserve follow through on that.
PSF: Anything else you want readers to know?
Mike: I really do want people to be optimistic. I believe that people are cautious, even a bit nervous right now because of the changing economic climate in America. Though I also believe that what people really want on a primordial level, beyond a tangible relationship to the source of their food, is to feel appreciated and respected. I believe that any business, farms included, that maintains a sense of obligation to their community, to their environment, and to their customers, is going to excel. I believe that people everywhere are going to prioritize the health of their communities and that sustainable local agriculture is in a unique position to contribute to the physical, psychological, and financial well being of these communities.
Copyright © 2009-2014, Puget Sound Fresh
, Originally published February 2009. Reprinted with permission.