Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let Us Farm, Mizuna and the U District Farmers' Market

Three Cheers for Let Us Farm

Located in Oakville, Washington along the Chehalis River, south of Olympia, Let Us Farm is owned and farmed by Cecilia Boulais and Steve Hallstrom. This sustainable organic farm was once a dairy farm and now boasts rows of vibrant vegetables.

When the U District Farmers' Market opened in 1993, Cecilia and Steve were among the first farmers selling their organic produce. Their farm then was called Tolt Farm and was along the Tolt River, which is east of Seattle, near Carnation.

When I was busy at cooking classes at PCC Natural Markets on Saturdays, my cooking Assistant Emily (not to be confused with my current 4-legged assistant) always brought me Port Madison Cheese and greens from Tolt Farm.

Besides their abundant greens, Cecilia and Steve grow and sell a wide variety of vegetables from rhubarb in the spring to pumpkins in the fall.

Small farms like Let Us Grow are fortunate enough to have flexible yearly farm plans. They can gamble on a few new varieties of vegetables, just to try them out and see how people respond to them.

When I inquired about a green (the one on the left in the photo below) Cecilia said it was a different variety of mizuna that they were trying out this year.

Mizuna is a Japanese mustard green, a little spicy but not as zippy as arugula. When I did a search I stumbled across this blog that described mizuna as hearty enough to grow during winter months in Japan. No wonder it does so well here.

On the left is white frills and in the middle is red frills mizuna. On the far right is the kind of mizuna you can find in grocery stores.

"White frills tastes very different from the others," Cecilia said. It's reminiscent of curly mustard greens with a zippy touch of wasabi. I bought it last week and yesterday, Cecilia asked what I did with it.

I'd added finely chopped white frills leaves to a soup, an omelet and a stir fry. I even sprinkled a bit (not too much) on green salads. But don't add it when you make a salad with arugula--I'm sure the two strong flavors would compete with each other.

Often when you aren't sure about a new variety of produce, farmers offer a sample to taste. Farmers can get instant feed back on a product and also pass on your suggestions and recipes to other customers.

"Are you in line?" A customer asked a little impatiently behind me. People are serious produce produce buyers at the U District market. I wouldn't say they're rude, but you should have your act together, pay attention and move along in line. I nod and move forward.

The line to buy produce wraps around the Let Us Grow table and we wait, people chat and trade news and recipes. I eye the radishes and mentally put them on my must-have list for next week. This year, I've vowed to use radish greens in a few recipes.

Even though I arrive at the market before it opens, I chat with so many people and I end up waiting in number lines. But waiting in lines is all part of the market experience. I gaze around well-displayed booths and impulsively buy other items not on my list. I often think about the amount of stuff farmers chauffeur to the market. It's amazing that they remember everything. Then after driving from farm to market, they unpack everything, arrange the displays, put up the signs and then maybe take a breath before customers form lines and pepper them with questions.

This past weekend only Cecilia was at the market. "Steve is farming," she'd said. One thing I really like about Let Us Farm is you can chat with Steve and Cecilia as they sell their produce. I'm not sure why but I tend to buy more at booths where the main farmer is the seller.

While I was waiting in line to buy white frills mizuna and Romaine lettuce, another long term market shopper remarked, "I was afraid Let Us Farm wouldn't come back this year."

And they nearly didn't come back, but their farm was saved by two enthusiastic interns who applied help on their farm this spring. A lot of market shoppers don't realize how difficult it can be to bring all this great produce to market. Farm labor is just one of the many issues.

The Future of the U-District Farmers' Market

Another farmer issue involves the fate of the U-District Market, a market that has helped sustain farms like Let Us Grow since 1993.

On Monday June 6th at 7pm at the University Heights Center for the Community, Room 104, Seattle Parks and Recreation and The University Heights Center for the Community invite the community to voice their opinions about the University Heights Open Space Project, a proposed new park where the farmer market is located. While the idea of a park is great, the proposed idea leaves a question about how farmers will be able to drive in and unload produce. Also the park is going to include a number of features and the farmers' market and the P-patch are just two of those features.

I'll be at this meeting with two of my market friends. I hope to see you there.

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