Monday, January 27, 2014

Small Farm Serves the Community In Its Own Big Way

Above: Evan Berry of Ladyberry Produce washes carrots she just harvested from her farm's garden last Friday.
by Janine Unsoeld

At an agritourism panel discussion a couple years ago involving six local food producers and consumers, Sara Rocker, a staff advisor to The Evergreen's State College's Flaming Eggplant Café, said that the college was producing graduates who were creating a new workforce in the area of agriculture sustainability and restaurant management.
One of those graduates is Evan Berry, 26, who graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2008, receiving her B.A. in Chemistry and Sustainable Agriculture.
She is now the farm manager of Ladyberry Produce, and leases land on the 84 year old Esterly family farm in northeast Olympia. She has created a successful business for herself on two acres of land that produces her crops.
I love growing veggies...there is a need for the community farm. I love meeting people. Being here on this land, you really see that heritage - it's quite an honor keeping the local community supplied with food. It's pretty cool," said Berry.

Berry’s future ideas include welcoming Boston Harbor elementary children to her farm to learn where their food comes from. For now, she's willing to stay small.
I'm still getting the fundamentals down and getting dialed in, but in the future, I want to be involved in the school lunch program, and other public education opportunities," Berry said.
When I first stopped by her farm in December of 2012, she showed off her 24 varieties of garlic that were just beginning to sprout their green stems out from the straw.  Her Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) options usually include beets, cabbage, carrots, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, garlic, potatoes, and more.
Chatting with her, she said she would be interested in providing her produce to area restaurants, and learning more about how to do that.
Above: Ladyberry's kohlrabi in December.
A whole year later, I caught up with her again this past week, and found Berry busier than ever. She just completed servicing her winter customers though a pre-paid CSA program, and still provides a substantial amount of produce to the nearby Gull Harbor Mercantile, and folks driving by her farm stand.
Overall, she had a great year. During the summer, she harvested about 1500 pounds of garlic, her main crop, 200 pounds of tomatoes a week, as well as leeks, beets, broccoli, eggplant, beans, peppers, lettuce, peas, potatoes, salad greens, summer squash, zucchini, strawberries and more. 
Her 12 week winter CSA program with 20 customers just ended this last Wednesday. With only half an acre in production for the winter, Berry turned down 15 potential CSA customers this year.
“It was the biggest winter operation I’ve ever had ….I’m realizing it’s a niche thing – I definitely now realize people are not gardening in the fall so there’s been a lot of interest and support,” she said this week.
Her winter crops took a hit last month.
“The early freeze in mid-December took out all my cauliflower and chard, so when you emailed me this week and asked me how my cauliflower was this year, I was like, ‘AAARRGGG,” she laughed. Despite the 11 degree weather that hit parts of the South Sound during that freeze, Berry says she still had enough produce to keep her going.
“I lost a lot of greens too, but I had Brussels sprouts and carrots – about 100 to 200 pounds of carrots.”  She’s still giving carrots away, and has discovered yet another niche customer – those who buy and use boxes of vegetables for their fresh smoothie and juice regiments. “Kale, chard, cukes, beets, carrots, greens…they’re all good!"
Eighty percent of her business income is derived from her farm stand and CSA program, and 20 percent is derived via wholesale sales to local businesses.
“The Mercantile has been great, and my carrots and beets go to the Blue Heron Bakery each week. Lisa, the owner of Nineveh, the Syrian food truck, is so supportive – she buys my eggplant, cukes, anything! She says, ‘I’ll buy it!’ when I call her. That’s been great!”
Berry says the soil is good despite the dry winter and she’s looking forward to tilling the ground in late February or early March to get it ready for spring plantings. For now, she says she’ll start seeding tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, and more to germinate under lights in the barn, and then transfer them to the greenhouse.
She says she’s looking forward to the next season. “People new to my winter CSA program want to become summer CSA customers!”
Still, despite Berry’s ready smile and upbeat demeanor, she admits, when asked, how she keeps going despite weather problems and other challenges.
“Farming is a gamble in general, making a commitment to sow those seeds, keeping at it every day, to keep working….”
By all accounts, Northeast Olympia and Boston Harbor area residents are happy that she's doing a great job doing just what she's doing.

Above: Evan Berry of Ladyberry Produce shows off her bumper crop of cauliflower in December 2012.
Women In Agriculture Conference
The third annual Women In Agriculture webinar conference will be held on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The location in Olympia will be at South Puget Sound Community College.
Through a combination of in-person networking and presentations, and the viewing of webinar broadcasts, the conference brings the best of national and local speakers to easily accessible locations in Washington State.  Participants will have an opportunity to meet other local farmers and offer inspirational stories and practical advice on how to improve your management skills.
Last year, nearly 500 women at 20 locations in Washington heard a national speaker offer advice on improving farming skills, marketing, labor issues and work-life balance. Financial information and networking with each other about challenges and risks was valuable to everyone who attended.
The localized format of the conference is designed so women producers can benefit from a statewide conference while still meeting their on-farm duties at home.
For registration information, go to, or contact Donna Rolen, or Margaret Viebrock, Conference Director, WSU Extension, (509) 745-8531 or