By Phil Vogelzang
As you leave Chimacum and head south along Beaver Valley on Highway 19, past the sheep farms and pastures of Solstice Farm, Bishop Dairy and Spring Hill Farm, take a right on Embody road, just past the Beaver Valley store. Near the end of the road where a road sign tells you “end of maintained county road” you come across a vegetable row crop operation named Dharma Ridge Farm. Beep the horn and out tumble Zach Wailand and Haley Olson’s kids, Farryn, age 10, Asa, age 8, and Shai, age 4. They may look typical, but these kids have the independent attitude of children raised on a small farm, watching their parents work the land, humbled by its beauty and its unpredictablitliy. When I ask Farryn what makes her Dad stand out, she replies “he likes to build things”. Things like their “house and our chicken coop and stuff he pulls behind the tractor. He liked Legos when he was a kid.” she informs me.
And it’s clear Zach Wailand is someone who loves to apply his intuitive sense of how things work to the daily challenges of growing organic vegetables for a ever growing list of discriminating customers. When I met him, he and his helpers – Landon, Alexa, Danan and Zach were busy with any number of chores, mainly washing, sorting and packing the produce fresh from the fields. Surrounding them in the packing shed were an extensive collection of devices designed to make the hard work of producing fresh local food just a little bit easier, like strainers, hoses, sprayers and washers – all self designed and built. His design skills extend to the implements he pulls behind their small tractor they use to plow and till the fields. Simple, yet complex implements like a flame weeder built out of an old hot water heater and a simple potato planter that the farm interns ride on, dropping seedlings into neat and orderly rows.
Zach Wailand grew up in upstate New York, working on small organic farms as a young boy. Early on in life he moved to the Northwest and, after a stint in Evergreen College, found himself working alongside a Chimacum girl named Haley at Colinwood Farm in Port Townsend in 1997. Together they dreamed of starting a farm. That dream became a reality in 2004 when, with the help of Haley’s parents they purchased their original 10 acres on Embody Road in Chimacum, a part of the old Embody homestead. They began slowly, selling at the local farmers markets, figuring out the business of growing food. Gradually they branched out into other, more reliable markets like the Food Co-op in Port Townsend, Bon Appetite at Fort Worden and assorted area farm stands, all the while continuing a popular CSA program. They also slowly increased their land under active cultivation, finding adjacent parcels to lease — most recently a 10 acre parcel of land in Quilcene. They now work over 20 acres of cultivated farmland growing a huge variety of WSDA certified organic vegetables. Rather than listing here what all they grow which would be a daunting task, check out the extensive catalog on their website. It is worth mentioning they take special pride in their tomatoes.
When you talk to Zach, he comes across as a careful, thoughtful guy and it’s clear his business has expanded in a similar fashion – carefully and thoughtfully. Today, in addition to the Port Townsend, Chimacum and Kingston Farmers Markets, and the outlets mentioned above, he sells his vegetables as far away as the Central Market in Poulsbo and the Gates Foundation in Seattle through Jay Payne. He’s partnered with Rick Oltman of Cape Cleare Salmon to transport his goods to the Seattle area market. They also partner with the Salish Sea Trading Company to transport their food to Ballard every other week by sailboat.
When I ask Haley about lessons learned and any advice they’d have for new farmers, her first response is that farming is a business and to make a business work, the farmer needs to pay close attention to the bottom line. Although they weren’t naturally drawn to accounting and careful record keeping, this is where the difference between a successful farm and an unsuccessful farm is made. Haley is proud of the way they’ve taken nothing for granted and not gotten over-extended on expensive equipment or land purchases. It’s a challenging task growing food from here. But Zach Wailand and Haley Olson are out there doing it every day.
And besides, says their daughter Farryn, ”They are really really really nice” — the best endorsement of all!
NOW GO EAT YOUR VEGGIES……….