When I arrived Sunday at 10:30 am, Phil and Anita were hanging what looked like prayer flags along the eight-foot high deer fence. Up close, I could see that each flag had been designed by a community member, and stitched together by Anita. Maybe this is so the deer can see the fence better, or to add one more way that the community gardeners can be part of this wonderful concept.
Located near Battle Point Park on Bainbridge, The Rock Farm is a tidy 1/3 of an acre, but a very productive 1/3 acre. In the fall of 2008, Phil, a former State Senator and now Northwest Power and Conservation Councilmember, and Anita, a retired Washington State Environmental Protection Agency Director, were walking by the empty field to their mailbox, and realized that with the recession, people would go hungry. The idea to open the property for the public to grow food was born.
“In three minutes, it went from ‘Should we do this?’ to ‘you should do this,’” said Anita, “and you will probably need some help.”
The farm is based on three precepts: that everyone makes a commitment to grow food for Helpline House, which provides resources to those in need on the Island; that working the farm will help people understand where their food comes from; and farming in adjacent communal plots will give people a chance to tell each other their stories. Of course, they had me at “story.”
Kathy Moore, a Master Gardener, acted as Anita’s first mentor. Now, Becky Peddy, a volunteer with Helpline House, fills that role. She meets with the Rock Farm gardeners on a one-to-one basis to discuss productivity and suggest ways to improve it. Productivity, says Anita, does indeed go up after these meetings. Everywhere I looked, lush beds of kale, carrots, spinach, and the occasional patch of flowers, spilled over the borders. Bird song filled the surrounding forest of Douglas firs, and the sun was just beginning to break through the cloud cover.
When Anita cannot find an answer to a gardening question, she asks at nearby Bainbridge Gardens, and keeps asking people until a solution is found. When tomato plants began to infect other tomato plants with blight, tree specialist Olaf Ribeiro suggested that the plants be treated with copper sulfate before even planting them.
Currently, 26 gardeners participate in this community project, working sixteen 500 square foot plots. In addition, there are five plots devoted just to produce for Helpline House.
Phil recounted the history of the field, which they have owned for over thirty years. He remembered clearing it of Scotch broom, an aggressive invasive species in the northwest. It served as a pumpkin patch for the Boy Scouts for a few years, before it was left to go fallow. The garden now sends 30 to 50 pounds of produce a week to Helpline House, for a total of around 1200 pounds a year.
As we spoke, Phil began piling ripe raspberries on my notebook, forcing me to eat them until I remembered I had pockets on my cargo pants that would not squish them. I was able to take a few home.
“Feel free to visit any time,” said Anita. “Even just to read or drink a cup of tea.”
I might just do that.