Living

Breaking new ground

During last week’s record-breaking heat, you could almost hear the corn growing at Tahoma Farms in Orting.

Their first year on the farm, Tacoma owners Kim and Dan Hulse are predicting a bumper crop of sweet corn.

That’s due in part to the ready supply of well water that kept the corn and the farm’s other produce well-irrigated as the thermometer climbed to triple digits.

“It’s great for growing,” says Amy Sills, who with her husband, Agustin Moreno, manages the farm.

They plowed in early April, and had their first harvest ready for market in early June. “It’s been a great year to start,” says Kim Hulse. “We started later in the season, so the weather worked for us.”

This week, they’ll have a bounty of produce for sale at farmers’ markets and in their weekly farm share boxes: cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, melons, basil, cilantro, lettuce and more.

They’re planting fall crops next in the hopes that carrots, leeks and other underground vegetables will either be ready to harvest before the first frost or will grow big enough to stay in the ground all winter and be ripe for harvest by spring.

Altogether, Tahoma Farms grows about 50 varieties of produce, including the Ozette potato, an heirloom fingerling potato developed by the people of the Makah Nation on the Olympic Peninsula.

FARM PIONEERS

Recently certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Tahoma Farms is breaking new ground.

The former dairy farm is a pioneer in the Orting Valley Farms project, a partnership between Pierce County, the PCC Farmland Trust (founded by Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets) and farmers like the Hulses.

The project seeks to preserve a 100-acre farm, which would be divided into several ownerships.

Each piece of the acreage would be governed by a conservation easement, which would ensure the farmland would not turn into a housing development like so many other tracts in rural Pierce County.

The goal is to help working farmers like the Hulses establish farms at a reasonable cost. Although the deal is not yet final, the Hulses hope to complete their purchase of 39 acres of the Orting Valley Farms tract soon. They are currently leasing the land.

“We couldn’t be happier with how things have gone so far this season,” says Dan Hulse. He says he looks forward to “years and years of making the most of this opportunity and to continue to work on making Tahoma Farms a model operation for small-scale, sustainable farming.”

SUSTAINABLE COMMITMENT

The Hulses met while working on an organic farm in Puyallup. Kim became interested in sustainable agriculture while taking classes in environmental studies at Western Washington University, and Dan learned a lot while working for an organic produce distributor.

They started Terra Organics, an organic produce home delivery service, in 2004 on a small tract in Enumclaw.

Terra Organics recently expanded its delivery area to Seattle. Tahoma Farms now supplies the home delivery business, although Terra Organics also relies on other farms from throughout the Northwest for its produce. The two businesses complement each other, say the Hulses.

The couple is committed to preserving the Orting Valley’s agricultural heritage, and to sustainable food production. Dan Hulse calls the Orting Valley Farms project “a model for farmland preservation.”

WHY ORGANIC?

Dan Hulse sees the future of farming in organic methods that tread lightly on the Earth – as well as on the health of both consumers and farm workers.

“For us, it’s both a food security and food safety issue,” he says. “With the effects of climate change, and with energy prices rising, a global food supply won’t be so easily obtainable (in the future).”

Keeping food production closer to home can help ease some of those problems, he believes. And food that doesn’t sit in a warehouse for weeks tastes better, too.

“For me, it’s just a better product,” says Sills.

Both the farm owners and managers acknowledge that organic food can cost more than food produced with chemicals and other industrial farm practices.

Organic production is more labor intensive.

Explains Sills: “Instead of spraying pesticides and herbicides, you’re out there killing bugs with your hands.”

And, Dan Hulse says, “Part of the reason we ask people to pay more is so that we can pay our people more.” Tahoma Farms employs about 10 people.

Even with a slightly higher cost, the farmers believe locally produced organic food is worth it.

“What’s more important than what you put into your body?” asks Sills.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.com

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