Think Globally, Eat Locally

In Support of Local Farmers

By Sarah Koenigsberg 

 

                            

              Rich soils and a favorable climate have made the Walla Walla area an excellent site for many types of agriculture.  The low elevation of the valleys between Hood River, Oregon, and Lewiston, Idaho, paired with the influence of Pacific air currents that flow eastward through the Columbia Gorge, create what the Sunset Western Garden Book terms a “banana belt.”  The average growing season in the western U.S. is 160 days, but Walla Walla's lasts almost 220 days. [i]  Even so, some crops are susceptible to dehydration caused by the intense summer sun and heat and by the cold, dry winter winds.  Other concerns are the steadily decreasing water table, water rights issues conflicting with endangered species regulations, soil erosion, and noxious weeds such as the puncture vine. [ii] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

Three main forms of agriculture exist in the Walla Walla area: commercial level operations, fruit orchards, and low acreage farms of row crops, referred to in farmer slang as “truck farms.”  There are also several vineyards, but, because they are a part of the wine, not food, industry, I will not include them in this discussion.  The commercial operations typically grow mass acreage of a primary crop, such as wheat, which is exported out of the valley.  Truck farms operate on a much smaller scale, growing a wide variety of produce.  These crops, such as asparagus and squash, grow in rows (hence the term “row crop”), are harvested by hand, and are typically sold locally.  The orchards can vary in magnitude from one family’s backyard pear trees to acres and acres of commercially marketed apples. 
           
This web page focuses on how to support the little guys: the small-scale farms that sell locally, the ones who maintain the wholesome American tradition of passing down the family farm, the endangered species of farmers who, far too often, are slipping between the cracks and stomped out by corporate, mono-crop, grandiose agro-giants.  I hope that this will be a helpful inspiration to quit the chain-store habit and support your local farmers. 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gap

The missing link between local farmers and local eaters is an infrastructure of easily accessible vending sites.  Chain grocery stores, such as Albertson's and Safeway, are more appealing to the one-stop-shopper, but with 85 to 90 percent of their retail coming from one supplier, they rarely do business with local producers. [iii]  Most chain store managers aren’t educated on how to do business at the local level, and the necessary paperwork and marketing often prevents such business from being economically feasible for small-scale farmers. [iv]  Ron Klicker, owner of the Klicker store in Walla Walla and of a five-acre farm, said that trying to do business with a large chain would end up being a mess not worth the hassle. 
           
In many European cities, it is common to have several locally-owned shops located within the same vicinity, each specializing in different types of food.  This setup is easily paired with the sale of local produce; it makes sense to sell things near to where they are grown, especially if they are perishable or fragile.  Yet rarely, if ever, in the U.S. do we encounter a bakery, a butcher, a dairy product vendor, a produce stand, and a pharmacist on the same block.  Consequently, Americans face the idea of driving to the outskirts of town to buy vegetables, or worse yet, getting up at 8 a.m. to get the best selection at a Farmer’s Market.  Many seem to decide that this is too much of a hassle. 
           
But we should do it anyway!  Walla Walla features an abundance of opportunities to buy locally-grown food directly from the people who grew it, and there are many benefits to doing so:

            *  Fresh produce has a higher nutritional content than that which is picked green. [v]
            *  Nutrition steadily decreases post-harvest, in direct proportion to time, so the fresher the produce, the better it is for you. [vi]
            *  Open-pollinated, heirloom seeds (which are often grown by small-scale farmers) grow into crops with higher nutrition than modern hybrids or genetically engineered “terminator” seeds (which are increasingly common among commercial farmers). [vii]
            *  Small-scale farmers, even if not certified organic, often use less chemical pesticides and fertilizers than commercial farmers, which benefits both the environment and your health. [viii]
            *  Less tractor trailers on the highway!   Less burned oil and pollution!  
            The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.  Buying locally-grown food may require a bit more effort on the part of the consumer, but the benefits outweigh the hassle.  It supports the local economy and livelihood of the farmer, it is often more environmentally friendly, it's healthier, and it tastes better. 

The Venders

 

 

 

 

 

STORES:

Here is a compilation of several, but probably not all, stores that sell locally-grown produce:

Andy’s Market
117 S College Avenue
College Place
529-1003

  Andy’s Market serves as College Place’s main grocery store, and carries a wide range of goods.  Locally-grown plums sit next to Dole pineapples, and natural foods neighbor Doritos and Coke.  Its produce department supports over 30 local growers, a few of which are certified organic.  Three major fruit suppliers are Davis Orchards, Brotje Orchards, and Kavelli Farms.  Outside of produce, close to 50 percent of the merchandise comes from small, independent suppliers, and the market is well known for carrying specialty foods and vegetarian alternatives. 

 

His Garden and Bakery
28 SE 12th Street
College Place
525-1040

  Located across the street from Andy’s Market, His Garden and Bakery is a mecca of organic food, both fresh and processed.  They buy produce from several local farms, primarily Gratitude Farms, Garden of Weeden, and R&J Farms, as well as from people’s backyard gardens.  They do not follow a third party organic certification process, but owners Mike and Anne Trunkey pride themselves on following the organic philosophy at heart.  The bakery grinds its flour fresh each day from organic grains and uses no oil or refined sweeteners.  A small deli counter offers a variety of vegetarian, dairy, and eggless soups, sandwiches, dips, and spreads.  They also carry an extensive vitamin and nutritional supplement line. 

 

My Grandmother’s Garden

3010 S 3rd Avenue
Walla Walla
529-0405

  This quaint shop and produce standis run by a father/daughter team - he the farmer, she the store manager.  The 17-acre farm has been in the family for over 80 years, growing “practically every vegetable there is” throughout the year; their corn is an alleged local favorite.  The shop sells kitchen and garden wares, crafts, and knick-knacks, and has been in operation for 19 years. 

 

Klicker Store
Route 4 Box 236
Walla Walla
store: 525-8650
strawberry acres:  525-2494

  The Klicker family has been farming since 1915, and running their store since 1955.  Ron Klicker, owner of the store, farms five acres of his own and also buys from other local farmers.  The store carries a range of fruits and vegetables, as well as homemade jams, jellies, and other canned items.  Some commercially-produced specialty goods also line the shelves.  Best known for his pumpkins and squash, Klicker also runs a Christmas Tree farm, which consists of 50,000 trees spread in age across the eight-year growing cycle.  His cousin, Kirk Klicker, heads the 40-acre strawberry operation.  Employing around 200 kids in the summer time, they sell strawberries to venders throughout and beyond the valley, not just at the Klicker store. 

 

The Plant Company
205 Erin Lane
Walla Walla
525-1272

  Though primarily a gardening supply shop and nursery, The Plant Company should be noted for its wide selection of organic herbs. 

 

Vitamin Cottage                        
22 N 5th Ave
Walla Walla
522-3426

  Vitamin Cottage has just recently returned to selling produce.  The small selection of locally-grown crops includes potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic.  The rest of the certified organic produce is delivered from Spokane.

 

WALLA WALLA FARMERS MARKET:

The Farmers Market, a seasonal outdoor market, is another way to buy local produce, as well as prepared food, flowers, and handicrafts.  From mid-May to late-October it is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, on the corner of 4th and W Main, and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m., on the plaza at 1st and Main.  The number of participating farmers is immense; here is some information about a couple of the ones that I spoke with. 

 

Edwards Family Farm
85124 Highway 339
Milton-Freewater, OR 
(541) 938-5933

  This ten-acre farm, run by Ron and Ilse Edwards, was started in 1922 by Ron’s grandparents.  Favorite crops include apples, pears, tomatoes, and peppers.  In addition to selling at the Farmers Market, they have a seasonal produce stand in front of their farm.

 

From Bobby’s Needle
1650 Duffy Lane
Walla Walla
525-6647

  Although this appeared at first glance to be solely a handicraft booth, a sizeable selection of homemade jams and jellies peaked out from behind a display of lace doilies.  From the strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, pears, and rhubarb grown on the acre surrounding her home, Bobby turns a tasty hobby into a way to make some extra cash.  For five years she has been selling her wares at the Market and local craft bazaars. 

 

R&R Produce
1200 Wallula Road
Walla Walla County
522-0662

  Ron and Rose Courson, the namesake "R"s, have been working their six acres for almost six years.  In response to my question about his favorite crop, Ron eagerly rattled off “strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, corn, potatoes, garlic, apples, rhubarb, tomatoes, lettuce, cantaloupe, jalapenos, and pumpkins,” his grin spreading wider with each addition to his list.  Almost all of the crops are grown organically, but the Coursons haven’t obtained third-party certification because of the high cost involved.  They are also experimenting with alternative farming techniques, such as growing plants inside old tires to prevent weeds and extend the growing season.  Besides the Market, they also set up a fruit stand in front of their farm between May and October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John and Clark Zerba
85530 Highway 11
Walla Walla County
938-3079

  This six-acre farm, adjacent to the Zerba household for 25 years, has been passed from father to son (John to Clark).  Now retired, John said he still likes to get his hands dirty every now and then “to keep from turning crusty.”  The Zerbas grow a little bit of a lot of crops - beets, chard, tomatillos, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, peppers, squash, potatoes, and more - and also raise honey bees.  They used to have a roadside stand, but in recent years have sold exclusively at the Farmer’s Market.

 

ROADSIDE STANDS:

The roads surrounding Walla Walla are lined with a scattering of produce stands, some seasonal, some permanent.  As far as I was able to discern, no one has compiled a list of them, probably because, as I quickly found out, it would take a long, long, long time and quickly be outdated.  The best bet is to pick a road, drive on it for a while, and chances are that if something is in season, there will be a stand selling it.

                   Onions!  In a League of Their Own

            We all know that Walla Walla is famous for its sweet onions, but did you know that there is an official onion committee?  Or that the onions originate from the Island of Corsica of the coast of Italy?  Or that there are over 60 sweet onion farmers farming over 800 acres in the Walla Walla Valley?  Check out www.bmi.net/onions/ for more sweet onion facts. 
           
The Walla Walla Gardener’s Association is a grower-owned organization that aids in the packing, marketing, and distribution of sweet onions.  The Association makes it possible for small-scale farmers to join together in a cohesive unit that is large enough to attract the attention of the commercial market.  This setup maintains the livelihood of local farmers, preserves the quality of the onions, which benefit from special attention, and continues the legacy of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion tradition. 

                            The Organic Issue

            Is it better to buy local food grown with chemicals, or organic food shipped by truck from Spokane?  Good question.  Both have their benefits, and both, in my opinion, are better than conventional chain grocery store produce.  The hard core, only 100-percent-organic supporters will have a pretty tough time trying to eat only certified organic local produce.  At first, I was tending toward the shipped organic option, but after talking with so many farmers and hearing their entire story my thoughts have shifted. 
           
Strict requirements for organic certification and third party certifiers are definitely important, and they have their place in the food market, but that place is not necessarily with every single small-operation farmer.  Ron Coursor of R&R Produce made the very good point that his and Rose's farm is simply too small to be able to afford organic certification.  They believe in the principles of growing organically, they rarely use chemicals, and they are avid practitioners of integrative pest management and alternative techniques.  Similarly, when Mike Trunkey, owner of His Garden and Bakery, buys squash and zucchinis from Joe Schmoe’s garden next door, they obviously aren’t certified organic.  Yet it is assumed that Joe is true to his word and follows organic growing practices.  In these situations, my need for a label of certification seems ridiculous. 
           
Ron Klicker chuckled at the idea of switching to organic farming, assuming it would be too hard to be worth it, or unsuccessful all together.  He wasn’t an over-zealous, chemical-happy nut, like those who are caught in the clutches of Monsanto, and his concerns of crop failure suddenly seemed more striking upon considering the family his farm supports.  The owners of My Grandmother’s Garden scoffed the idea of organic growing altogether, explaining that they’ve been on the land for years and know what they are doing.  And, as far as I can tell, they do.  The red peppers I bought from them were the tastiest I’ve had since returning to Walla Walla. 
            When dealing with a company like Safeway, which has started an organic line simply because it’s a new trend, not because they actually believe in organic principles, I will continue to swear by strict, third-party certification requirements.  When I have the choice between organic and conventional, all other factors being identical, I will still choose organic, even if it costs more.  But when the diverse issues of ripeness at time of harvest, post-harvest shelf time, shipping, type of seed, possible genetic modification, access to information, and support of local businesses come into play, I will now assess the situation with a more open mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Food Alliance

            Some farmers in the Walla Walla area, such as Dab ‘O Gold and Locati Farms in Walla Walla County, [ix] have sought a middle ground between organic certification and no certification at all by joining organizations such as the Food Alliance.  The Food Alliance is a third-party evaluation, non-profit group based in Portland that is committed to sustainable agriculture practices.  Its primary goals are to conserve soil and water, seek alternatives to pesticides, and care for the well-being of farm workers and rural communities.  Founded in 1994 in a collaborative effort by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington State University, and Oregon State University, and with the help of a grant from the W. K. Kellog Foundation, it turned non-profit and independent in 1997.  Check out www.thefoodalliance.org for more information.

 

 

 

Resources:

 

Downtown Walla Walla Foundation
33 E Main St, Suite 213
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 529- 8755
www.downtownwallawalla.com

 

The Food Alliance
1829 NE Alberta, Suite 5
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 493-1066
www.thefoodalliance.org

 

Oregon Tilth
PO Box 218
Tualatin, OR 97062
(503) 692-4877

 

Seeds Of Change
PO Box 15700
Santa Fe, NM 87506
(505) 438-8080
www.seedsofchange.com

 

Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce
29 E Sumach St
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 525-0850
www.wwchamber.com

 

Walla Walla Gardener’s Assoc.
210 N 11th St
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 525-7070
e-mail wwga@wwsonion.com

 

Washington State Farmers Market Association
Zachary Lyons, Director
PO Box 30727
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 706-5198
www.wafarmersmarkets.com

  www.portwallawalla.com

  www.potatoes.com



[i] pg 38.  Sunset.  Western Garden Book.  Lane Publishing Company: Menlo Park, CA, 1988.

[ii]  Information gathered from interviews with local farmers.

[iii]  Statistic told by the assistant manager of Andy’s Market in College Place.

[iv]  A complaint raised by Ron Klicker, owner of Klickers in Walla Walla. 

[v]  Ausubel, Kenny.  Seeds of Change.  Harper: San Francisco, 1994.  p 130.

[vi]  Ausubel p 130.

[vii]  Ausubel p 117.

[viii] Ausubel p 105.

[ix]  For a complete list of Food Alliance members, check out their website at www.thefoodalliance.org