Sam Boucher is a tall, lean 26-year-old who says “I eat kale and eggs for breakfast.”
He claims nearly half of every meal he eats comes from his garden and animals.
Boucher is not bragging. He is simply stating a fact of his life.
“It is foreign to most people,” he admits. “But this is my normal.”
Boucher is part of a growing segment of the Key Peninsula who thinks that the idea of fresh food has arrived. Many on the KP Farm Tour Saturday (Oct. 4) will hear about sustainable farming – the idea of growing what you eat and use — and witness farm life first hand.
It is this conviction in fresh food that has him tilling and tending the earth from sunup until sundown. He farms the property he grew up on in Port Orchard, a 2.5-acre plot of land his parents bought 25 years ago.
Boucher’s day looks like this: He gets up at sunrise, feeds his 12 chickens, lets half of the birds out, feeds his dog and checks on the handful of cows grazing on roughly 7 acres of his family’s and neighbor’s pastures. He opens the greenhouse where he grows his seeds, then prioritizes from there what needs to get done.
“The benefits are very apparent,” he said. “I have not been to the gym in a very long time. I feel more connected to the land and have better understanding of my animals.”
And it is not like he did not have any options, he is quick to add.
He will tell you that after attending Whatcom Community College he worked for a nursery, fought wildfires and held a job as an EMT (emergency medical technician).
“I hung up all three of those (jobs) to farm,” he said proudly.
He argues that what he does is a viable way to make a living.
“It is just figuring out how to make it work,” he said. “That means picking the best outlets for me and my produce.”
This also means finding the fairest prices from the most consistent buyers, he adds. It means planning – “having a bit of foresight,” he said – to get to the best venues to sell and raise the highest-value crops like eggs.
On Wednesday evenings at the Key Peninsula Civic Center, a handful of small farmers like Boucher gather around folding tables to sell their produce and extoll the virtues of knowing where your food comes from.
They are part of Fresh Food Revolution, a Key Peninsula food cooperative.
The cooperative sells products from at least two dozen farmers and fishermen on the Key Peninsula and nearby communities.
“Every piece of produce comes from all these different people,” cooperative volunteer Lisa Bryan said, pointing to the handful of farmers around the room.
The process of getting produce to consumer is mostly electronic – at least the shopping and buying phase.
Here is how it works: Producers let the cooperative know what they have available for purchase on a Saturday, then the cooperative sends out an email with a comprehensive list to all its members the following morning. Members respond with their orders, and producers deliver their goods to the Wednesday afternoon gathering at the Key Peninsula Civic Center.
Black boxes with member’s names line a metal counter in the civic center kitchen. Cooperative volunteers then fill boxes based on member orders. Members trickle in, chat up the volunteers, pick up their orders and pay beginning at 3:30 p.m. The cooperative market will stay open another three hours, or until all orders are satisfied.
The cooperative does the accounting and pays the farmers for their produce, Bryan said.
For the most part, she said, the farmers working with the cooperative have small operations.
“They may be actively cultivating 5-acre pieces and smaller,” she said. “You can grow an amazing amount of food in just a couple of acres.”
The cooperative is here for those farmers to take advantage of, she said. “We want them to participate.”
Farmers can sign up to sell their produce as long as they have a business license, according to Bryan. Members pay $50 a year to see what is available to buy. Anyone can drop in at the civic center on Wednesday afternoon to shop.
How successful they are in growing their message, Bryan said, ultimately comes down to what small farmers think is a “fair dollar” price.
“It is a combination of what we think people will pay for and what other organic farmers are charging for their produce,” said Hillary Jensen-Bergren, who leases a one-acre lot in the Rosedale valley neighborhood of Gig Harbor to grow vegetables, medicinal herbs and flowers. “We try to get it in the range of its retail value.”
So what makes her produce better?
“It was usually harvested that day if you’re buying it from the farm or the coop market so its fresher, which means it probably has a higher nutritional value, it tastes better and has a better aesthetic quality,” Jensen-Bergren said.
“Also, it is supporting a local community and all the things that go with local farming,” she adds.
This was not lost on Steve Berry who was at the civic center to pick up his order.
“You eat food from right near where you live,” Berry said. “Grown by people who live near where you live.”
“It’s going back to the way it used to be as opposed to all these (giant food stores) and people eating more packaged foods,” he said.
The idea is to ultimately create a local agriculture economy, according to Bryan.
“What makes us think that we can continue to transfer food great distances,” she argues. “We must be serious about preserving local agricultural land and farmers.
“Hopefully enough for them to make a living,” she adds.