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 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
* 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.
Here is a compilation of several, but probably not all, stores that sell locally-grown produce:
117 S College Avenue
His Garden and Bakery
28 SE 12th Street
My Grandmother’s Garden
S 3rd Avenue
Route 4 Box 236
strawberry acres: 525-2494
The Plant Company
205 Erin Lane
22 N 5th Ave
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
From Bobby’s Needle
1650 Duffy Lane
1200 Wallula Road
Walla Walla County
John and Clark Zerba
85530 Highway 11
Walla Walla County
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
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.
[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.