Garden On, Vashon

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Pick(l)ing the Rows Shoulder-to-Shoulder

August 29th, 2012 at Wed, 29th, 2012 at 4:45 pm by Karen Dale


For the first time ever, Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm is having a pickle party.

I’ve been working on a book chapter about shared gardens, and Mark Musick of Vashon Cohousing said I should check this farm out. Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm lies on open land owned by Vashon Household, just beyond the back fences of the Roseballen Community and Vashon Cohousing.

This collective of eleven+ families has been going strong for 6-7 years. In early winter, members pay in their shares, plan the next year, and agree to work a full four hours a week, plus at a monthly work party.

When I visited last Monday morning during the weekly work hours, I saw many hands digging out the clover around young brassica plants. A woman dressed in black yoga skimpies was plucking coriander seeds off overgrown plants. Another woman was hip-deep in bush beans. Two young men babbled over the zucchini bushes while their hands groped blindly for fat fruit.

This sunny acre is covered in 50-foot raised beds and hoophouses, and produces WAY too much for one single family. But the (mostly) women from eleven families work this acre, and a few more participate as u-pickers and gleaners when the harvest’s just too much. Together they grow leaf crops, cole crops, beans and tomatoes, basil and cilantro, pumpkins and squashes, carrots and onions and beets. Yes, even corn (though that’s always chancey) with new plantings of fall spinach and kale going in that very morning. 

But the day’s big event was their workshop in pickling. I was introduced to Hedy Anderson, the yoga girl in blacks and a straw cowboy hat. “We’ve never done this before,” she told me, “but the idea came up and we agreed that part of creating food is prepping food. So we’re going to make two batches of bread-n-butter pickles today, one batch with these coriander seeds and another with dill. Next week we’re going to try dill pickles.” 

At the work table under the shade of a big maple, Hedy and first-year member Karen Bower peeled the paper off fat cloves of farm-grown garlic. Next to them was a bag of cukes so long, they’d started to curl back on themselves.

Karen likes to ferment food: she led a kraut party recently, and likes to throw “whatever I feel into the kraut crock. I made a spicy kimchee the other day with Korean red peppers—probably too hot for most.”

Near the door of the greenhouse lay boxes of green beans, broccoli tips, yet more cucumbers. How can a member tell how much she can take home? Hedy explained, “I look over a row (or over a box) and see how much is ripe, then I figure I can take about a tenth of that.”

I ask Karen why she comes all this way to garden. She said, “I love working out there with everyone. My place doesn’t really have a good spot for a vegetable garden: it’s in the shade, deer are all over the place, and it’s just me, so creating a space would be a lot of work. Then I happened upon this…” 

She indicated, with a toss of a shoulder, the many raised beds, the growhouses, the border of beneficial flowers, even a Maypole. I put the same questions to member Tracy Barrett. “I like to learn, and I can’t plant everything at my place—don’t have enough room for all the kale I want. And farming with friends is so much better.”

In Cohousing’s common house, I found bowls full of cucumber slices on ice, the recipe for bread-n-butter chips lying open next to them. I couldn’t stay for the pickle party, but left confident this many hands would turn a pickle into short work and Big Fun.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm members:  Margaret Hoeffel, Hedy Anderson, Amy Wolfe, Elizabeth Randall, Lynann Politte, Renee Marceau, Risa Stahl, Mike Yates, Tracy Barrett, Lauryth Johns, Karen Bowers, and Annika Fae. The “Farm” sign is by Marcia Carroll.





gardens on the south end of Vashon Island, on a sandy hilltop overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. "Garden On, Vashon" shares what the Island has to teach us about gardening HERE—from making soils to sowing seeds to raising plants to harvest, cooking, preserving, and designing new ways to cultivate your little chunk of Vashon Island. To contact me, email, or leave a comment.

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