Jubilee Farm

When we drove up and parked at Jubilee Farm a crowd was gathering around the top of a little grassy hill, and I could see Erick Haakenson directing adults and children in what I at first thought was a giant tug-of-war game, folks lined up ready to pull on a rope. But it wasn’t a tug-of-war game. They were cocking a trebuchet. A trebuchet is a cousin of the catapult but instead of a winch a trebuchet has a weighted beam. You lift the weight and hold it in place with a pin. Pull the pin, and whatever you loaded into the basket attached to the unweighted beam-end gets flung out into the adjacent pasture, in this case a large pumpkin.

Arriving at Jubilee Farm. If you click for the larger version you can see the line of people about to pick up the rope.

Locked, cocked and ready to fling. Erick stands at far left on the hill while the three pullers pull.

Erick moved everyone except for three adult volunteers off the hill, for safety’s sake, and then the relocated assembly shouted a countdown from ten, at the end of which the volunteers pulled on the rope that held the pin, the pin came out, the 2,000-pound weight dropped, the beam rotated, and the pumpkin joined that relatively small fraternity of gourd vegetables that have been privileged to leave earth’s bonds momentarily behind, lifted into the blue sky above the tops of fir trees. It landed and exploded in a thud of yellow and orange, and all the children ran out to examine it.

Jubilee Biodynamic Farm occupies 200 acres at a sharp bend in the Snoqualmie River, near the town of Carnation. It’s a small farm owned and run by Erick and his wife Wendy. They raise vegetables and keep some livestock, mainly for the manure, and the farm is supported by a CSA program, wherein townies who wish to know where their food comes from and have a relationship with its grower pay an annual fee and receive weekly boxes of the farm’s produce in return.

It’s a princess patch.

I met Erick years ago at the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair. He had a table set up with a few apples and other fruits and some vegetables on it, but he said he wasn’t really there to sell produce that day so much as talk with people about biodynamic farming, which is his passion. Biodynamic farming seeks to restore and maintain ecological balance, so, for example, instead of adding chemical fertilizers to the soil, BD farmers might use manure from cattle, returning nutrient to the soil from right there on the farm instead of importing something external. Basically, it’s farming in harmony with instead of in opposition to the processes of nature. But there’s also a huge emphasis on community in the BD movement, since the approach is based on a holistic idea of the health of the land.

Shortly after this encounter, we took Mara, who was then two years old, to Jubilee Farm to hunt down a pumpkin for Halloween. We climbed into a wagon for a free hayride around the edges of fields full of broccoli and squash and carrots and chard and onions and cabbage, and just before the tractor started to pull the wagon Erick himself jumped up into the wagon so he could ride with us and tell us how things were going that year. As we skirted the fields he shouted above the sound of the tractor to report that it had been a good year for some things but not for others. He talked about wanting to eventually get his tractors off of diesel and onto biofuels, in keeping with the biodynamic model.

I was entranced.

The man was singing my song, namely the song of can’t we just quit bashing the earth we’ve been given for our home and sustenance in order to make bigger profits and start being responsible stewards and reckon the health of our soil and our communities as a bottom line asset?

Silas explains one of his ideas to Mara. He has already proposed marriage and they talk a lot about the house they will build together.

We started planning how we might participate in Jubilee’s CSA program, which was not outrageously expensive but would amount to a rerouting of our food budget that would take some planning and experimentation and education for us to make work for us. Like how do you make a meal out of kohlrabi? And what the hell is kohlrabi? But that’s when we finally moved out of our tiny 1912 cottage-y house into our big swingin’ 1960s plate-glass windows and a two-car garage house (we don’t have two cars), and for several years we were burdened with a monthly mortgage that forced us to retreat from the expensive moral high ground where our food was concerned.

We never joined, and what’s more, we began getting our pumpkins at another farm up north every year with friends of ours who went there, whose daughter is Mara’s oldest friend. I’ve written about our annual trip to Craven Farm at least twice before, and we’ve had fun there. It’s a big operation and a well-oiled commercial enterprise, complete with tractor-pulled hayride through a corn-maze (not free), some small farm animals in a petting barn, a concession stand with a play-and-eating area, even a permanent espresso bar and a gift shop. We’ve been to weddings and other events at Craven Farm. It always seems to be stunningly beautiful there, tranquil and magical and…the word ‘shimmering’ comes to mind, and they have vast pumpkin patches, and a separate patch with smaller pumpkins for littler people. Even though you don’t necessarily feel the farmingness of it, there’s nothing not to like there.

Millie became rather attached to her tractor.

But for a number of reasons we decided to go back to Jubilee Farm this year. Even though we’d only been once before, a long time ago, we had been missing it. Or at least Angela and I had. Mara didn’t remember it. But she was game, especially since her buddy Silas and his mom said they’d go with us, and Millie at just two and a half years probably doesn’t even remember Craven Farm, so she was untroubled by the change.

When I saw Erick conducting the trebuchet firing I was immediately glad we had come back. It occurred to me that Erick is always outside talking with people, or driving the tractors, or helping people weigh their pumpkins. I love that. Whereas Craven Farm is big and smooth and feels a bit like going to a fair, like a place eternally at ease, the feeling at Jubilee is more like going to a holiday gathering at your favorite uncle’s farm. Erick and Wendy are always participating, engaging the people who support them not just by being customers, as Erick said, but by being part of the community that the farm operates in. This is a farm with a family at the center of it, and the families that visit it during weekends like this are often families that have worked in Jubilee’s fields in a “workshare” capacity. They know Erick and Wendy and Erick and Wendy know them. At Jubilee Farm, you get a whiff of the realness, the danger, the dependence on the weather and on the community of friends, the skin-of-their-teeth determination that keeps Erick and his family in the game.

Getting our gourd on. Image copyright Juliana W., used by permission.

We caught a hayride out to the pumpkin patch and Silas and Mara had a blast running around and assessing the features that in their minds make up the ideal jack-o-lantern. There weren’t pumpkins small enough for Millie to pick up in the field, but she found a tiny one she coveted later at the cashier’s counter. The wagon picked us up with our chosen pumpkins to take us back to the barn. All three kids enjoyed a large haybale maze in one of the sheds, and Millie twice climbed up unaided into an old International tractor, whose gear levers she seemed to intuitively understand. We had gotten there late and things were closing down. It had been a beautiful day, even hot, which I think surprised everyone. There was hot cider and hot corn on the cob for sale on the barn porch, but we bought popsicles out of a freezer.

Erick’s son David conducted an end-of-day pumpkin fling with the trebuchet, and the dwindling crowd again pulled the rope to lift the 2,000-pound block. This time I shot my hand up when volunteers were called for to pull the pin. It took me and the man and woman with me three pulls with all our might before it came out. I fell to the ground. The pumpkin arced through the sky. The children ran after. It was great to be part of the fun.

David Haakenson readies the trebuchet for another fling.

Silas and his mom had to leave, but Angela and the girls and I took a stroll down the long road across the highway — Angela had asked Erick where the cows were that we kept hearing. A quarter mile down the road the cows were in a pasture picking at what little green there was in the grass after the long drought we’ve had since late July or so. Angela and Mara fed them over the electric fence. If I understand correctly these animals are the engine of soil replenishment for Jubilee’s crop fields. Most of the calves were black — all black, even their faces. The cows were mostly black or black with white faces, though some were a dirty white and one or two were brown.

It was cool in the shadow of Tolt Hill, and a little mist was even coming up, even while the lowering sun was still painting the treetops across the valley. The quiet between the lowing of the cows was soul-enriching. David came walking down the road to check that the fence was on. With him was his wife Kristin, who was carrying their baby son Micah in her arms. He pointed to the new barn being built across the fields, and told us that the cows were being so vocal partly because they were unhappy about the lack of green grass. He said they were moving the herd every 24 hours in an effort to make the fields provide enough nutrient to keep them fed until November, when they’ll go into the new barn for the winter (in the barn, I happen to know, they’ll get good hay that was put up at the end of the summer – dry but tasty).

Millie in the shade of the barn. Image copyright Juliana W., used by permission.

Silas and Mara enter the haybale maze. Image copyright Juliana W., used by permission.

Angela and I missed the tradition of doing Craven Farm with our old friends, but this feeling was more than mitigated by the fun we had discovering new adventures with new friends. Mara had not uttered a single word of discontent (she was happily capering with Silas). Jubilee’s patch was not as large nor as plentiful as Craven’s, and there were no wheelbarrows to stick your toddler in when they tired of tripping around among the pokey vines and stems. Sending us off in our haywagon, Erick had acknowledged that “at Jubilee we grow pumpkins with our left hand; mainly we’re all about biodynamic vegetable growing.” But, he said, he was glad we were here and he thanked us for coming, and in his voice I could hear a person who really knows the non-monetary value of people, of community. We’re not sure Jubilee Farm will be our annual pumpkin patch until Millie is old enough to tromp around on her own, but Jubilee Farm is busy with family events all year and we want to find a way to work this wonderful little farm into the rhythm of our lives.


29 Responses to “Jubilee Farm”

  1. 1 leatherhead109 October 10, 2012 at 09:10

    Ha! A Trebuchet! A friend of mine from church used to tinker away on his masterpiece, a trebuchet which featured rails and ties in structuraly key places. He and the commander of the Corps of Engineers at the Flood Control would set it up in the flood channel and lob all kinds of things down range, much to a gathering crowd’s delight. The final goal was a “car toss” which although achieved, shattered the trebuchet arm (the car didn’t go far). Great fun!

  2. 2 James October 10, 2012 at 11:15

    We’ve gone to Jubilee every October for almost a dozen years, I think. Some of my favorite family photos are from those rare times we lucked into a gorgeous, sunny fall day like you did on this trip.

    A couple of years ago I took home a 60+ pound pumpkin and never got around to carving it. It sat near our back door for almost a year looking as healthy as it did the day I bought it. I finally composted it, afraid it was going to turn rotten overnight and leave a stinking mess, but I really wanted to hang onto it long enough to bring it back and try to return it because the relationship just didn’t work out.

    In another week or so I’ll be seeing those gourds slip the surly bonds of earth in person. If I see Farmer Erick, I’ll tell him about your writeup.

  3. 3 marni October 10, 2012 at 11:25

    Lovely-so glad to be reading you again, my friend. And, after last Friday, I’m well versed in Millie’s climbing expertise…one must keep a sharp eye on her or before you know it she’ll be on top of the barn. Or the trebuchet. Would be a fun ride but for that ending part….

  4. 4 Matt October 10, 2012 at 12:22

    Hi all. Thanks for picking up the thread. @Ben, yes, I think every community should have a medieval device for launching large objects into the air. @Marni, thanks for your support last Friday. I heard it made the whole thing more fun by a Marni factor. @James, it seems like your pumpkin grew pretty scary over time without ever even becoming a jack-o-lantern! Have fun at the farm.

  5. 5 Matt October 10, 2012 at 20:29

    Ben, I’m sure you’ve seen my favorite Northern Exposure episode, but just in case:

    Here’s a shorter clip, but in color, which I think better sets off the piano against the sky:

  6. 7 Jana October 11, 2012 at 19:27

    Trebuchet. Treh-bew-shay. Trebuchet. I don’t know if I’ve ever spoken that word aloud. Or even if I’m pronouncing it right. But I’m having fun saying it tonight!

    I’ve really missed your posts and was glad to see you writing again. What a wonderful day – thank you for sharing it.

    • 8 Matt October 11, 2012 at 20:05

      Hi Jana! Thank you. Always good to have you in da house. And you are pronouncing it correctly, although it’s a French word so I suppose we should be swallowing that r.

  7. 9 aplscruf October 12, 2012 at 08:58

    What a wonderful farm! It’s nice to know there are other farms out there giving back to the community. I read an interesting book recently by Barbara Kingsolver: “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” which spoke of CSA and biodynamic farming as well as the huge shortsightedness of GMO farming and what that means to the future of our crops. Scary stuff; but the book had a hopeful ending, because of community farms like Jubilee who can educate communities about the importance of buying local and organic and diversifying crops, etc.

    • 10 Matt October 12, 2012 at 09:17

      Hi aplscruf! Great to see you. Yes, the community farms are vital. I feel like Angela and I were heading full-speed in the direction we wanted to go and then sort of lost our momentum, and then I started to feel like I just couldn’t carry the whole world’s problems on my back anymore. We still do what we can and I was gratified recently when I saw a long (but not necessarily comprehensive) list of companies that use Monsanto’s GMO foods and realized that there was only one company on there whose products we buy (I think it was Campbell’s because we keep emergency rations of their chicken noodle soup on hand for colds). Still, I’d like to do more. Seeing places like Jubilee make me sort of despairing and hopeful all at once.

  8. 11 aplscruf October 12, 2012 at 09:38

    Yes, I understand that feeling! Kingsolver acknowledged that it takes a LOT of work to go totally local (she actually wrote the book as a type of journal–an experiment with local farming and canning on her own property and purchasing from other local farms for other needs, with very few imported goods except her favorite Italian wine). It’s all about the baby steps. First, comes awareness, then checking food labels in the grocery store, hitting farmers’ markets, etc. And maybe deciding you don’t really need to eat that imported fruit in the dead of winter.

    • 12 Matt October 12, 2012 at 10:42

      You hit on an interesting topic in your last sentence, about eating things in places and seasons where it would not have been possible before refrigerated shipping, which is really expensive from the earth’s point of view. Since I believe in a benign and intelligent creator, I often wonder what my health would be like if I ate during winter only the things that my predecessor native Seattleites would have eaten in earlier times. Smoked salmon, berries, roots, tubers, etc. And likewise summer, spring and fall. That is, does every (generally habitable) region on earth provide a balanced diet right off the ground? I’d love to believe that it’s so.

      • 13 leatherhead109 October 12, 2012 at 12:08

        ah,,,,brother…I was thinking of commenting earlier, but did not feel I had the floor. However, now that you mention it, almost everything in Alaska is impossible to grow in the seven months of winter. I think you and I discussed the life and habits of small snap peas or pea pods or some such and you were sure we could plant in June, but unless you can afford a climate controlled greenhouse, I’m told “No” one must wait until July. Our farmer’s market thrives, we have a Co-Op beginning here and efforts are being made, but there is nothing like the quantity that would be needed to feed the population. Canning is of course an option, and one would have to develop a liking for that taste and the time it would take. But to live off the land in Winter, your diet would be quickly limited to Moose and Caribou, wildflowers and roots. I might add that Fireweed Jam is particularly good. I think if you devote enough time, (like almost all your off work time) to growing a small farm on whatever land you can find, you could get by. But where will you store the food? Will it survive?

        I”m not against the idea. I actually am all for local food, but the problems here are huge.

        • 14 leatherhead109 October 12, 2012 at 12:09

          I forgot to mention that there is no protein in Moose or Caribou, at least not enough to keep you alive. Has to be supplemented with pork or beef or buffalo.

          • 15 Matt October 12, 2012 at 12:48

            Ben, yes, I can see the problems. I wasn’t really setting forth any argument, at least not making any “should” statements. Just wondering, you know. And the kind of diet I meant was exactly what you described…wildflowers and roots, and I’d add fish in your case (rum go about meat having no protein up there — what an unexpected turn!). I was thinking of an ur-diet, something huntish-gatherish, not necessarily something you’d really enjoy switching to if you’ve been dining on beef stroganoff. As for storage, storage would be short term (refrigeration would be out) and one would not procure more than one could use in a season, so Costco-style volume procurement would also not work in this model), and all of this assumes a place to find and trap or pick this stuff, i.e. a preindustrial and maybe even preagricultural landscape, so it’s all trespassing at this point. Also, I wasn’t speaking about whole populations, not modern pops anyway. I just meant, could a person — me, for example — live healthily and even thrive on just what grew or swam or fluttered here natively. I didn’t say it would be easy, or palatable to the masses. Thanks for the engaging feedback.

            • 16 leatherhead109 October 12, 2012 at 12:55

              Right, I get your point. I think I received the point, pointedly earlier, but allowed mind to wander further afield. One very “cool” (if I might indulge) feature to arctic living is the ability, even in summer, to scrape a layer of vegitation off and find ice or frozen earth about 1.5 to 2 feet down. Dig a proper square, and you have a nice icebox, and the removed duff and foliage can be the top layer of insulation.

  9. 17 Matt October 12, 2012 at 13:05

    There you go! Jehovah jireh, what?

  10. 22 aplscruf October 12, 2012 at 13:46

    …and the interesting and informative conversation takes a downward turn… 😉

  11. 24 Matt October 12, 2012 at 14:45

    Everything comes down to emoticons. They are the very face of entropy, are they not?

  12. 26 Matt October 12, 2012 at 15:43

    Entropy is the habit that the universe has of going from complex to simple. Energy keeps being reused by moving from one form to another (friction –> heat, for example), and energy also is never destroyed, but in every energy transaction there’s a tax…a few ergs (or whatever the units are) fall out and can’t be used for anything anymore. Given time, all the energy in the universe will be just sitting around blinking at itself, and there won’t be any TV, and you won’t even be able to pick up a sandwich. That’s the theory anyway. So entropy is that state, or that tendency, or that tax. Don’t worry, we’ll all be dead before this catches up with us.

    • 27 leatherhead109 October 12, 2012 at 16:45

      Well…this IS alarming! What can we do? Is there a foundation we can donate to? I don’t have TV anyway…Fascinating. So I could almost say that as I arrive home from a shift, entropy takes over as a slowly work my way to the afternoon nap that will inevitably follow.

  13. 28 aplscruf October 12, 2012 at 18:12

    @leatherhead, Don’t feel bad; I had to look up the word, too! Then I came home and took a nap! All this thinkin’ and learnin’ wiped me out.

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