Once-troubled teenager stays rooted with love of farming

jdodge@theolympian.comApril 28, 2013 

Katie Gubbe has big dreams and a chosen path that begins and ends on an a beautiful, abandoned dairy farm in South Bay.

Today, she has just a toehold on the old Point Meyer Farm, a 94-acre spread with million-dollar views of the entire length of Henderson Inlet and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance.

Her grandparents live as caretakers on the property owned by Washington State University, and Katie spends a lot of time there, building gardens, tending to her chickens and dreaming of the day when the property is a full-fledged organic farm and outdoor classroom modeled after the Garden-Raised Bounty school program for at-risk youths.

Gubbe, a diminutive 16-year-old with an engaging smile, mature demeanor and freckles splashed across the bridge of her nose, is enrolled in the GRuB program at Olympia High School. But she had grand plans for the South Bay farm even before she joined the GRuB summer program last year.

“I figured out last summer that I want to stay here forever,” she said during a garden tour last week. “GRuB has just kind of rocketed me forward.”

Last summer Katie was just coming up for air after a tough couple of years watching her family lose their home and her parents divorce. An “A” student in middle school morphed into a troubled teen with crummy grades in high school. Her future looked bleak.

You’d never know it these days. She’s back on track with a 4.0 grade-point average her junior year at OHS, thanks to her farm dream and GRuB.

“Katie’s a superstar in the program,” said Blue Peetz, youth program director for GRuB. “She was born to be a farmer.”

She credits her grandfather, Dennis Fenton, for instillinga love of farming in her. It all began with his stories of life on a dairy farm in Minnesota, most notably taking over farm operations at the age of 14 when his father grew ill. Her favorite books from childhood were written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. Her fondest memories are of time spent at her grandparents’ place in South Bay.

Katie’s garden is off to a modest start. She has two raised beds, partially filled with garlic plants, a flower and herb garden, a 300-square-foot vegetable garden that needs to be rototilled to break up the clay soil, and another 300-square-foot area set aside for a pumpkin patch.

She had three chickens, but one died the other day. She’d like to add some goats and pigs to the mix at some point.

First things first. With all the deer and other animals around, Katie needed to build a fence around her gardens. But she didn’t have any money.

Undaunted, she produced a flier seeking donations from neighbors and community members. She explained a little bit about herself.

“I’m the kind of person who craves getting dirty, weeding and watching plants come to life. At school, I go through the recycling bins and take off the caps on bottles. I even take compostables out of the garbage cans so they won’t end up in a landfill. … I dream of a world where there are more farmers markets than supermarkets, and pesticides are out of the question. … The more food that I can successfully grow, the more organic food I can share with others, and that’s what I find important.”

In her flier, she asked for $5 donations to pay for fencing materials. After a slow start to fundraising in early March, she passed the fliers around at school and added her request to her Facebook page. Last week, she topped her $500 goal with $620 and counting. In case you’re wondering, she plans to spend the extra money on bird netting or a worm composting bin.

“She wouldn’t touch the money for anything else but the garden,” said Denise Gubbe, her proud mother.

Katie wants her successful fundraising to be a lesson for other low-income kids who feel limited in pursuit of their dreams by lack of money. Her advice to them?

“You have to be excited and stay hopeful the whole time,” she said.

As for her long-range goals, Katie wants to finish high school, then attend The Evergreen State College to major in sustainable agriculture. She also wants to earn a teaching certificate so she can turn her farm into a GRuB farm that’s so successful WSU will want her to stay on the farm.

“Blue thinks I can do it,” Katie said. So does Karen Dawson, the grandmother of one of Katie’s buddies.

“The first step to success is her vision,” Dawson said in a note introducing me to the enthusiastic young farmer. “I can only say: Go Katie!”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service