Growing Organic Food, Soil, and Future Farmers

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October 29, 2010. Nash Huber is a local hero, wise elder, respected farmer, and salt of the earth."You're sitting with a celebrity," a patron confided to me when we ate at the Alderwood Bistro that evening. Nash's produce was highlighted all over the intriguing menu, along with organic, clean ingredients from other local food producers.

We learned of Nash through the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative (another show we're taping), who use sailboats to transport boxes of Nash's produce to their CSA (community supported agriculture) members in Seattle. It just made sense to meet the award-winning organic farmer who supplies them.

Nash has been doing sustainable organic agriculture for over forty years in the Dungeness-Sequim Valley at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. To the south are the jagged peaks of the Olympic mountains, to the north is the mouth of Puget Sound, and in the delta between them is "some of the richest farmland on Earth," Nash told me.

Must be. He and his team grow food year round on 400 acres — over 100 varieties of vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and pork. Including his famous sweet carrots, and Nash's own variety of purple kale.

We talked about growing, multiple facets of growing. Nash grew up in a farming family in southern Illinois after World War II, when cheap oil enabled the mechanization and fossil-fuel fertilizers of agri-business to gobble up the crop-diversified, labor-intensive, smaller family farms and consolidate them.

Nash came west. He started out in Sequim with "$20 in my pocket" and worked in back yard gardens. He cultivated relationships with local food producers, market outlets, and landowners.

Nash stressed the importance of growing a stable base of land for farming — acreage you can count on not being sold to developers in a few years. He partnered with PCC, a Seattle-based natural foods market chain, to buy a critical 100 acre parcel which is protected as farmland for the future. That started the ball rolling to save even more farmland in the region. In 2008 the American Farmland Trust recognized him as Steward of the Year.

Nash talked about growing fertility in the soil, through composting, cover crops, chicken tractors. Nash emphasized growing seed, collecting them from plants best suited to the local growing conditions (and not depending on the only three seed companies left). Relationships are central to everything, he said. Nash has built relationships with other farmers, market outlets, landowners, consumers, restaurant-owners, and food processors.

Nash is growing future farmers — "it takes about ten years minimum" Nash said, telling me about the young folks working with him - some for at least that long - and whom he's obviously proud of. Hands-on learning. Now he's working to facilitate their taking over the farming business in future.

Nash is a big picture guy and an innovator. He's thinking hard and fresh about the dilemma we're in thanks to cheap energy, population pressures, and corporatism. He's concerned about food security, the need to educate consumers about why to buy and eat local, organic, and healthy.

His carrots taste fabulous — crunchy, sweet and alive. Justifiably famous. Just like you'd expect from someone who's been refining his seeds and practices for decades. Nash waits five years before planting carrots in the same location. The soil needs time and more nutrients to replenish all that goodness found in those carrots! (www.nashsorganicproduce.com).

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