By Abra Bennett
From pork to parsnips, Bainbridge grows it all. Daikon, duck eggs, sunchokes or strawberries—it’s easier than ever to eat locally grown meats and poultry, fruit, vegetables, and even dairy products. In this story and the accompanying field guide, we’ll introduce you to some of the island’s farmers, and round up where to buy the fruits (and vegetables and meat and eggs) of their painstaking labor. Oh, and once you’ve got that full shopping basket, you won’t want to miss the tasty recipes we’ve compiled to make the most of your Bainbridge bounty.
The farmers themselves are as varied as the products they raise, having found their way to farming along many different paths. Betsey Wittick of Laughing Crow Farm has parlayed her degrees in plant science and urban horticulture into a life as a farmer and winemaker. Mike Lempriere of Perennial Vintners, who grows wine grapes on the island, describes himself as a former computer nerd-geek. Patty Dusbabek of Holly Lane Gardens calls herself a city person and a gardener, turned small farmer in retirement. Mike Paulson of Paulson Farms comes from a farming family, and Brian McWhorter of Butler Green Farms and Max Sassenfeld of Tani Creek Farm have each worked in farming for many years. Craig Skipton of Heyday Farm was a landscape architect and his wife Alice Skipton did public relations and writing for foundations and nonprofits.
Some of our farmers grow a little of everything, some focus on a few special products and methods. Wittick does her farming with the help of two draft horses. “Because of my science background I spend a lot of time doing research with plants,” she said. “I started out with 5 kinds of garlic, I’ve now expanded up to about 25 kinds, plus now we’re up to about 30 varieties of peppers and about 25 kinds of potatoes. So instead of trying to grow everything, I work with a few crops that grow well with my soil and my situation, and offer some varieties of things that people don’t often find at the grocery store, to make it more interesting.”
Another specialty grower is Kevin Block of Sol Farm. “I got started because I wanted to raise more of the food that I was eating,” he said. “I’d been raising vegetables for years but I wanted to work with animals, and pigs seemed like a good choice. I have 17 on the farm right now and need more. And as soon as I can, I’m going to start getting more sheep and hopefully next spring I’ll have goats for meat as well. I’m also expanding my business model by working with people who have small pieces of property that they need to have cleared, either by pigs or by goats.”
Island farms include small growers like Paulson Farms, where Carol Rolph raises herbs and vegetables. “My most unusual herbs are chervil, horseradish and German chamomile,” Rolph said. “We have a lot of herbs that are great to make teas, and we sell herb plants as well as cut fresh herbs, and I give people instructions about how to dry them for tea.” On the other end of the spectrum are farms like Tani Creek that grow everything imaginable and then some. Ali Odin told us about some of the most unusual products grown on their solar-powered, certified organic farm: salsify, Japanese greens like komatsuna, yakattana and senposai, as well as the Peruvian tubers oca, yacon and mashua. She’ll tell you how to cook them too, if you see her at the Farmers’ Market.
Some farmers turn their produce into artisanal products. In addition to vegetables and herbs, Rolph and Paulson, who themselves are homegrown, having both been raised on the island, make homemade soaps in 14 different scents including zucchini blossom, cedar and saffron, and kumquat. Nancy Fortner of Sweetlife Farm also crafts a wide variety of soaps using intriguing ingredients like the grounds from her morning coffee, as well as jams and chutneys from fruits grown on the farm. Sassenfeld is a seed-saver from way back, so the offerings from Tani Creek include 200 varieties of organic seeds.
The Skiptons are the only farmers on the island currently offering dairy products, in addition to meats, fruit and vegetables. They also offer farm stays, farm breakfasts and cooking classes. Dusbabek runs a bed and breakfast at her Holly Lane Gardens, offering her guests breakfasts of eggs and produce raised on-site, as well as instruction in foraging and wildcrafting. McWhorter raises just about everything you can think of under the Butler Green name, and in addition, farms MiddleField Farm, whose organic produce is grown to order on historic farmland for the Town & Country Market.
Farming on Bainbridge is nothing new—a hundred years ago, folks from miles around knew that the taste of a strawberry grown on the island was about the best there was. We can’t know if those first farmers ever imagined the variety of foods that would eventually be grown here, but we have to believe they’d be as happy about it as we are.