Farm to Table | CALLIOPE FARM

Farm to Table | CALLIOPE FARM

While preparing for my meeting with Jacob Wilson, as I’m booting up my MacBook in the Farmer’s Market garden, an aged couple wandered up to us in need of assistance. They were searching for the groundskeeper.

Just why they picked us, I’m not sure. Without a green thumb myself, I defer all garden authority to Jacob, the co-owner of Calliope Farm. No, we didn’t know where to find the gardener. But maybe we could still help?

The man was trying to identify a plant that he held cradled in his hand. To my surprise, Jacob immediately recognized the ragged-looking plant; he classified it as a false dandelion. I remember thinking, “A false dandelion? Does that make it an imposter?” Turns out that the scraggly little dissident is considered an edible herb for most of the world, and yet it’s listed as a noxious weed in the Pacific North West. It’s a funny thing how incongruous human perception can be.

You can insert your own analogy here regarding the ubiquitous lawn herb and the current state of the farm-to-table movement in our popular consciousness. However, if you’d like a recommendation, many people claim that the false dandelion is actually less bitter than a normal dandelion. If you can get past the hairy leaves, the noxious weed is actually quite edible. These days, the farm-to-table movement has been man-handled about as much as everyone’s favorite perennial; and it’s looking about as frazzled, too, with all of the wear and tear that comes with frequent foot fall.

Calliope Farm conducts 80% of its business direct-to-consumer; the other 20% is conducted through wholesale. Although Calliope Farm sells to several local restaurants – like Three Magnets Brewing Co., Nineveh Assyrian Food Truck, Old School Pizzeria, and The Bread Peddler — the majority of their business takes place at Olympia Farmer’s Market. For purposes of tabling, their consistent presence throughout the years has earned them a highly valued position in the center of the market.

But their positioning is only a small part of their success. Calliope Farm’s goal is to consistently provide quality products to their customers. And they achieve this, Jacob explains, through their “solid growing practices, and by only selling the freshest products possible”. Quality, according to Jacob, “is also achieved by promoting variety” – his farmers select their products from a comprehensive seed catalog (i.e. there are 200 types of potatoes to choose from).

Farmers encourage taste, Jacob states, “by considering what grows best in each locale”. After all, each farm is a unique location with its own unique conditions (conditions which determine what can be grown when and where). So farmers are essentially curators of the land and the crops.

According to Jacob, the farming process should — ideally — be a self-supporting system where the farmer is largely sustained by the consumer. Ideally, sustainable food practices (which minimize the energy consumed and the by-products produced during the growing and distribution) shine through in the quality of the final product.

“A self-supporting system,” Jacob believes, “should be reflected throughout the entirety of the process — from beginning to end”. Jacob’s model stresses the role of the consumer as an equal participant in the development of the farm-to-table movement. If the process of food production and distribution always culminates with a consumer, then this end user supports not only a particular farmer or distributor, but also the practices and ideals implicit in the entirety of the cycle — from farm to table (from ground to mouth).

Jacob points out that it’s easier to grow organically if you’re using sound practices to grow products from the land. But he stresses that “sustainable growing is not just an annoying extra thing that you’re doing for another reason. There are very real and immediate benefits to farming sustainably”. Since healthy crops are the best defense against pests and disease, he urges farmers to take care of their soil and land.

Sustainable farming practices are far more intricate than I had imagined. Such practices are surprisingly diverse, ranging from cover cropping – the standard for organic agriculture which taps into the carbon cycle by using a decade’s residue of crops — to crop rotation. Although the sustainable farming system is slower than big agriculture’s accustomed norm, it allows farmers to maintain a more ecologically balanced farm and soil.

Better understanding the challenges for farmers practicing farm-to-table values, I wondered how the structures of such practices affect his livelihood. As an undaunted small farmer attempting to survive off of his trade, Jacob whole-heartedly claims that “if the product is good enough, you can charge what you need to while still relying on support from your customers”.

Whether Calliope Farm’s customers are inspired by the principles behind its practice or the sheer taste of its products, Jacob has faith in what he does. Hopefully Jacob is right about the role of the consumer in the life span of the farm-to-table movement. Fortune permitting, Jacob Wilson will continue working with the land that he knows and loves for many years to come.


By Todd B. Gruel