Dharma Ridge Farm
Zach Wailand & Haley Olson-Wailand, Member Spotlight, October 2012
Dharma Ridge Farm is a certified organic vegetable farm about 20 miles outside of Port Townsend. Farmers Haley Olson Wailand and Zach Wailand started farming in high school and recently consolidated their operation from multiple leased parcels to a single 100-acre parcel of leased land in the fertile Leland Valley.
Is your family involved on the farm?
Zach – We have three kids that work on the farm over the summer in different degrees, Shai (6), Asa (9), and Farryn (12). We do have four full time crew members over the summer. Some of our employees have been with us 3-5 years. We’re getting to the point where we can delegate more field work allowing us to stay ahead of our crew on ground prep and cultivation. This year we had about 20 acres of vegetable production and the remainder in hay and plowed fallow land for future production.
Haley – Our middle son, Asa, is learning how to drive the tractor and talks about taking over the farm. Farryn, our daughter, is great at farmers markets. Once she’s old enough to drive, she’ll be able to run markets on her own. She is really good with customers and making change. I really think people appreciate change being counted back to you.
How do you market?
Zach – About 70% of our produce goes through wholesale accounts; the Port Townsend Coop, grocery stores, and the Bon Appétit catering company. We deal with several stores locally and over in Seattle and Kitsap. We participate in five different farmers markets. We gave up on our CSA because it never reached the critical mass, so we are just focusing a lot more on wholesale accounts.
Zach – The certification is really important for doing business with our wholesale vendors.
Haley – My Grandpa was a conventional orchardist in Yakima. He died of multiple cancers in his 50s. Seeing that when I was younger, made me realize the dangers of conventional farming. We have always strived to produce high quality food using methods that are healthy for our family and environment.
What goals do you have for the farm?
Zach – We definitely want to come up with a good long term rotation which will include vegetable crops, grass hay, and cover crop or grain . We just got an old John Deere 30 combine from Sequim which is opens up some new possibilities. I would like to establish a system that keeps about 40 acres in crop, 40 acres in hay and 20 in grain and cover crop. It will take at least a few years till we are able to reach that point. Diversifying and falling into a good rotation will keep the weed and disease pressure down as well as allowing the soil structure to be improved by having land kept in perennial hay crops for several years between vegetable cropping.
Haley – We started raising pastured pork over the past two seasons. This fits in well with the vegetable production. The pigs can be used to clean out fields that have been picked out. As this part of the operation grows, it will become a good tool for maintaining fertility as well as a profitable enterprise.
We want to set up our operation in a way that our children see it as a viable business, not just hard work. If they see that it can sustain a family, they can respect that and there will always be a place for them on the farm. Not having land in the family is hard if you are interested in farming.
What advice would you give to new farmers in your area?
Zach – Start out at a reasonable scale. Start at farmers markets because it’s a great way to not be locked in to having certain products consistently. You have a lot more flexibility.
Haley – I hadn’t thought that much about the business component of farming. If you don’t have that kind of background or classes there is a huge learning curve. Young people now will have an edge on that, especially if they’ve gone to college. We still struggle with getting our availability list out there. Those are things you don’t think of when you’re growing and harvesting vegetables—how to run a business, run a crew, how to market, taxes, payroll. You have to be a jack of all trades.
What’s your favorite piece of farming equipment?
Zach-For this year I’d say the winner is our two row multivator. We find it extremely adaptable. It exterminates weeds without throwing a bunch of soil in the row so we can run it tight to the seed line without burying newly germinated crops. It can also be used really aggressively on larger crops where you have bigger weeds without plugging the way sweeps or sideknives do.
Can you talk about one of your greatest successes as a farmer?
Zach-One of the things I’m pretty excited about is our ability to do more dryland vegetable production. We’ve always done winter squash and potatoes without irrigation. Over the past two seasons, we have pushed this include crops like brassicas, lettuce, carrots and beets. We can get into some of our fields early because we have pretty good drainage. We take advantage of early season rains, allowing the plants to establish strong root systems that can tap into deep water reserves. Once the top layer of soil dries out, it becomes dust mulch which help to suppress weeds. That’s one of our biggest successes—being able to have high production land that can be farmed without a lot of supplemental water, due to either no water access or the need to share water resources.
Why are you members of Tilth Producers?
Haley – Because it’s a good organization and I like the things that it does. If I can help an organization like that by all means I am going to. We always go to at least one farm walk and take our whole crew. The conference is great! It’s a wonderful educational resource.