Suyematsu and Bentryn Family Farms Farm Walk, June 17, 2013

Friends of the Farms: Preserving Agricultural Heritage through Creative Collaborative Farming

Tilth Producers of Washington Friends of the Farm WalkAt Suyematsu and Bentryn Family Farms over 30 people enjoyed a farm walk under blue skies and learned the innovative ways a strong, dedicated group has worked to save this rich farmland on Bainbridge Island.  Attendees, from beginning farm interns and seasoned organic growers, to chefs and Island residents, listened in awe at the legacy of this farm, started by the Suyematsu family in the early 20th century. Akio Suyematsu’s commitment to sustainable farming and wise use of the land lives today, beyond his passing in July 2012. His wisdom and spirit were alive in the anecdotes and lessons from him which were peppered throughout the farm walk, sponsored by Tilth Producers of Washington and the WSU Small Farm Team.

Farmers described their collaboration and operations as we visited each field. Laughing Crow Farms’ Betsey Wittick showed her draught horses and fields, including season extenders and sweet potato crops. She discussed the vineyard and its operations being revived, the layers of regulations required, and the plans for cooperative ownership. Brian MacWhorter of Butler Green Farms shared his experience in accessing land where population and income pushes land far out of farmers’ reach.  He leases many parcels on the island in growing food for the local population. His high tunnels boasted large tomatoes ready to turn green. Brian and Betsey share and organize intern schedules for the Suyematsu and Bentryn Family Farms property. They consult each other on crops, supplies and markets.

Tilth Producers of Washington Friends of the Farm WalkThe non-profit Friends of the Farms manages the city-owned public land and leases it to the farmers. Their involvement is key to the survival of the operations as they support infrastructure, funding, and coordination. Bart Berg shared stories of perseverance and service to make this project happen. There are many more behind-the-scenes players who all contribute to the use of farm land so close to an urban center under development pressure.

Jon Garfunkel of Global Source Education described the exciting connections being made at this farm with area students to create awareness around local, healthy food and bring farm food into the schools. The reverberations of this are palpable in the stories Jon told.

Afterward, fellow farmer Carol Rolph of Paulson Farms served exquisite snacks with farm-grown food and herbal iced tea. Happy participants lingered long to share connections and talk with each other of their own operations.

Summary by Jacqueline Cramer

Funding for this farm walk and other Tilth Producers educations programs are funded in part by the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.

Farm Walk booklet: HERE