More than 20 people came together at Skipley Farm in Snohomish for a Tilth Producers and Washington Young Farmers Coalition–sponsored, hands-on, all day workshop on May 11, 2013. Billed as a “crop mob” event, attendees were drawn to the event to learn farming techniques and to collaborate with other farmers.
On a warm day, a variety of folks joined the Skipley farmers to learn about perennial and annual food production while putting their hands in the soil. In the spirit of helping fellow farmers, participants expressed a keen desire to help out the Skipley crew.
Introductions confirmed we were a diverse group, with some coming from as far away as Royal City and Everson, and others having not yet farmed. The experienced and new farmers joined in for a ‘mob walk’, during which Skipley farmer Gil Schieber described notable aspects of the farm and which areas needed attention. Then we dropped to our hands and knees to weed as a ‘mob.’ In short time great swaths were liberated, allowing perennial berries and rhubarb breathing room from the rapidly approaching May weeds. Gil demonstrated that leaving pulled weeds (without seed heads) around the plant bases serves as mulch to slow down weed growth and trap in moisture. Intern Tesla Gift shared his appreciation and exclaimed a number of times throughout the day, “Thank you guys; this is SO helpful!”
The farm lay-out is varied and diverse. An irrigation pond is centrally located on a rise. Nearby, Gil explained an ongoing Hugglekulture project, laying down great amounts of wood debris to create more habitat, receive on-farm organic debris, affect the terrain, and create a future planting area that will be nourished by the decaying matter beneath.
Skipley Farm is host to numerous innovative techniques: propagating practices that graft fruit trees for performance; planting multiple varieties for resilience to varying conditions; utilizing space among young orchard trees for heat-sensitive crops; raising fish in an aquaponics set-up, and more. Gil’s many years of experience as an educator, landscaper, horticulturist and permaculturist are evident in his mere five years of building Skipley Farm.
For the bulk of the day, participants were divided into smaller groups to rotate among ‘action stations’. Activities included working in the nursery, managing strawberry beds, prepping planting areas for vegetable production, and tying up apples. Farmers Vince Caruso and Chris Homanics provided expertise and inspiration. Gil explained that the dwarf varieties of apples are ready to produce a crop for a good return on capital. Tying their branches into a horizontal position encourages more fruit production, utilizing the phenomenon of apical dominance.
While ‘potting on’ blueberries, currants and jostaberries, participants learned Gil’s potting soil recipe and techniques to care for the roots of blueberries: in the Ericacea family, they do not like to be disturbed, and he advised not tugging on roots when re-potting. We shared ideas while keeping our hands busy.
Strawberry farmer Deborah Lubbe came from Everson to see how Gil grows his berry varieties, and shared information on her crops and techniques. Petrina Fisher, a newer farmer from Snohomish, came ready to learn about fruit production as she’s moving her farm into more perennial crops. Despite the heat, people plugged on and accomplished a great deal of work while learning. When we finished our work and settled into a delicious pot of soup cooked by Tea Lopez, farmer Gil was still climbing around his green house rafters. When I asked his intern Sam what Gil was doing, he said that Gil was so excited by the productivity of the day that he just had to keep on going. We shared stories over dinner around a bonfire and the falling darkness of night.
Evaluations revealed that people felt great camaraderie and learned a variety of techniques to handle perennial crops.