Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist working in Africa, once said it takes a village to raise a child. In farming, it often takes a community to support a successful farm and help it thrive. From feed suppliers to veterinarians to the elder statesman neighbor who shares time-tested ideas, a community is a vital part of every farm.
On Camano Island, Ananda Farm is one such benefactor of community support. The small farm was purchased by 25 plus members of the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell who decided to pool their resources to work with nature and facilitate food production in a harmonious way. The farm, managed by Zach and Hailey Abbey, has developed an inner circle of support with the addition of Hailey’s mom, Glenda, and team members Dakshina, Stanley and Sharon. They share the practice of yoga and meditation as well as two houses on two adjoining properties to raise vegetables, fruit, medicinal herbs, alpacas and chickens (for eggs). They are able to acquire supplies from neighboring farms where they also pick up manure, hay and other necessities. In the last two years, the farm has been offering suppers, which have helped the small group meet and share their bounty with neighbors near and far. Volunteers have helped as well, including Donna King from Cama Café, who gives her time to support their efforts by preparing fresh farm produce for the community suppers.
On our walkabout on a sunny February morning, the chickens were busy eating apples from last year’s harvest, bee hives from Cat’s Paw honey (courtesy of Andy and Bonnie Swanson) were set in place against a shelter of maples, blackberries and native cherries. The alpacas (including a new baby cria) were content in their pastures. Hailey had already set seed trays out in the greenhouse and Glenda was busy making candles. Even Tulsi, the black lab mix, keeps predators at bay so they don’t bother the chickens and keeps deer from eating the veggies and fruit.
Ananda Farm is a great example of working with nature instead of against it. No chemicals or tractors are used, and the main focus for the farm is to grow the life of the farm via regenerative agriculture. By concentrating mulch, woodchips, tree prunings, manure, hay and leaves, the team is improving soil tilth.
They build their beds with terraces on the contours of the land, taking advantage of the sun and building rich humus that produces high quality produce. The humus is so rich that it holds moisture in the soil for months, drastically reducing the amount of irrigation that is needed. Zach can push his hand a foot or more into the soil and pull out a dark, humus-filled sample. Hailey says it’s easy in the spring to pull open the mulch and lay out the seed. Burlap bags acquired from a local coffee roaster are used as additional weed suppressant – no black plastic here! In the garden beds for winter squash, burlap bags cover the area to keep weeds down. The burlap is pulled back when it’s time to plant, so open soil is never exposed and the squash has no competition from weeds for air, sun and water.
Fruit trees are another big project on the farm. The team already has apples, pears (both Asian and European) and plums planted amongst the gardens with plans to expand elsewhere on the farm. They have 1000 root stock coming which they will be grafting this month. Zach and Hailey were lucky enough to meet some good mentors, including neighbor Otto, who has a fruit stand nearby, and Gil at Skipley Farm in Snohomish, who first taught the couple how to graft about five years ago. Otto has years of experience collecting fruit varieties from all over the world and has given the Ananda farmers a wealth of ideas including which trees grow best on the southern end of Camano Island.
The couple admits they have had some thistle issues, especially after a team of volunteers came in to mow and till the ground, which spread the thistle roots throughout the garden. However, they say the bees love the thistle and in their heavily mulched gardens, it’s easy to pull out. Zach says thistle is a nutrient accumulator and pulls nutrients up from lower root zones. If thistle does become too much of a problem, they plant potatoes and winter squash, again heavily mulched, to out-compete the thistle.
There was already a large area of the farm dedicated to lavender when the farm was purchased and they continue to expand the lavender cultivation. It comes in handy for the herbal medicines and essential oils that Hailey produces with herbs she gleans from around the farm, including comfrey, calendula, mint, nettles and a variety of wild-crafted native plants. A whole wall of the garage is dedicated to producing herbal home remedies including salves, sprays, oils, tinctures and bug spray.
Hailey also makes tooth powder and bar soap and hopes to continue expanding the product line to meet all the farm community’s basic needs. She learned her craft from Suzanne Jordan at Cedar Mountain Herb School in Mt. Vernon, and continues to take classes there. Ananda Farm also produces candles, cider, preserves and, thanks to Dakshina, fiber products from the alpaca. Hailey tells me Dakshina knits scarves, gloves, meditation rugs and hats in the winter. Glenda is the queen of growing tomatoes, pouring candles and making preserves, and jumps in anywhere she’s needed. Sharon, along with Hailey, teaches yoga on the island, and helps in the gardens, orchards and at the market with Stanley.
Hailey tells me they’ve noticed that they don’t seem to have problems with diseases because the farm is so diversified with herbs, vegetables, fruit trees, and surrounded by native trees. It also helps to have sun exposure from morning to evening and a thick layer of mulch. Team members have studied gardening techniques and philosophy from Luther Burbank, Ruth Stout, Masanobu Fukuoka and many more of the organic/no till/‘less-is-more’ pioneers. Primary to their farming system is harmony with nature, which focuses on working with nature, not against it.
The work of Derek Hann, Conservation District stormwater engineer, can be seen near the greenhouse. Zach wanted to be able to use roof water from a garage to water plants in a greenhouse. Derek designed a filter system, housed in a rain barrel and sitting on blocks next to the garage, to filter water off the composite roof. No water is stored in the rain barrel. Instead, it moves through a filter of lump charcoal, geotextile, sand and river rock and then exits through a hose at the bottom of the barrel. The water is then clean enough to use on edible crops in the greenhouse.
Ananda Farm is going into its sixth year of providing a consumer supported agriculture (CSA) subscription service for its members from both the Lynnwood and Camano locations (learn more at http://www.anandawashington.org/welcome/affiliates/anandafarm/). The farm has drop spots for food boxes in Lynnwood, Bothell, Seattle, and at Terry’s Corner on the island. They also sell produce, herbal products and textile items at the Port Susan and Camano Farmers Markets. Community suppers are held throughout the growing season, and this year’s dates can be found on their website, http://anandafarms.com.