Monday, March 10, 2008

South 47 Farm: Dr. Maze is in!

Roger Calhoon 425 869 9777 runs South 47 Acre Farm

Calhoon has great photos.

The Doctor is in. DR. MAZE is actually Roger Calhoon, farm manager for South 47 Acres Farm.

And he is a real doctor— but of biological sciences — not medicine. A former biochemist, Calhoon quit working for a high stress biotech in suburban Seattle for a new life growing a farm back in 1999.

Dr. Maze’s work builds all year toward fall. Imagine if your life’s work each year on your farm culminates in a corn maze with thousands of kids and parents roving through it.

“I never saw kids come up and hug me for a job before.” The pleasure he has putting the maze together is matched by community involvement just about year round.

What a life! Where is this place that has everything right?

The corn maze is what Roger Calhoon and the folks at South 47 Acre Farm live for each year. Every fall, the man who's Washington license plate say Dr. Maze hosts hundreds of kids every weekend from urban areas surrounding this suburban Seattle farm. And every fall, Roger Calhoon is so happy-- just to give these kids and their folks a place to explore farming and have fun.

South 47 Acre Farm -- a living breathing conservation project on the edge of suburban Woodinville in what is formally known as the King County Agricultural District.

South 47 Acre Farm gets its name after it's measure. The parcel runs 47 acres along the edge of a busy road near Woodinville WA.

The land has a great history. Japanese farmed this land before WWII. When the war began, most Japanese had their roots ripped out from under them and forced into internment camps for being Japanese. Indians worked the land before that-- but it is unclear what purpose.

Dairies took over after the war. At one point there were many dairies in the Samamish River extending north up into Woodinville. Now only a few remain.

The land where Roger's family found peace and harmony is tied to a cooperative dream with Claire Thomas and the Root Connection -- one of the first organic farmers in Samamish River watershed.

Roger and several of Root Connection’s customers pooled money to help her Claire launch the first community supported agriculture (CSA) in the area. One thing led to another and the farmer who owned the Xmas tree farm north of Claire's Root Connection sold some land. After a few years they had assembled the South 47 Acres that became their collective name.

Now the cooperative is what Roger runs- often working 50-60 hours a week with a team of 4 or five farmers.

And he couldn't be happier. "My wife likes me a lot better now" — I suffered from bad boss syndrome in my biotech science work.”

“So the long and short is the cooperative put together a few parcels adjacent to each other and came up with the 47 acres that makes this a vibrant farm today.

Well the farm has been a big hit with the larger community-- and reason for it is the Farm's focus on creating community and teaching through experiences on the farm.”

“We rent space to a horse owner who teaches kids how to ride horses -- and the twelve horses have a sizable riding loop around the property.

"We want to create a four generation farm in five years", says Roger. "Farming is always a little dicey, but I think we have a good plan for this land going forward. We lease some land to The Herb Farm, and another few acres to the chef at Trellis -- another upscale restaurant in Kirkland where the chef prides himself on growing his own food." The Herb Farm and Trellis are gourmet restaurants that thrive on very fresh quality food.

"And then we cultivate the rest of the land. It is working for me on a personal side. My wife likes me more --because I have never been happier. I never had a job where kids come up and hug me for a J.O.B. Families bring their friends here, and word of mouth keeps growing. And this is just what we want to encourage. We are in the midst of creating a four generation farm here that brings people and their families back again and again. Kids, grandkids, great grandkids — "

“Small farms like ours will only survive if people think they’re worth keeping.”

Calhoon’s team hosts a Farm Tots every week in summer —

“We give Moms a chance to come out with their kids and get a hay ride. The parents get “Frequent Farmer Cards” and the kids get Farmer Roger and Farmer Everett Dolls. No kidding! This isn’t just a grocery store — but a way of life that gets into kids lives. And that’s the gratifying part for me and South 47 Farm,” says Roger.

Plans for the future include developing another farmer’s market, figuring out some more marketing to Seattle area. “We have to figure out what we can accomplish. We have to balance the plans for future with limited resources.”

The farm has greened itself up over the past 10 years, too. Organic farming practices are complemented by a biodiesel tractor that tills the fields. Buffers have been planted and kept up along the Sammamish River at the farm’s eastern edge.

“We get neighbor’s compost from their horses and cows. Add that to a lot of yard leaves and our soil gets better every year.”

The farm's new life after years of laying fallow has paid off for people, plants and wildlife. “We get blue herons here looking for frogs and other critters to eat. I see ferrets or weasels — can’t tell for sure, voles of course, and coyotes come through. Deer run along Samamish River trail. We get pheasants nesting here in the far fields each spring, too”

Roger's resident birdwatcher sighted an array of birds on South 47 Acres on day last fall.

Not just one or two, either:

Red-tailed Hawk--3
Anna's Hummingbird--1
Violet-green Swallow--25
Barn Swallow--150
American Crow--4
European Starling--40
Common Yellowthroat--2
Savannah Sparrow--20
Song Sparrow--1
Lincoln's Sparrow--4
White-crowned Sparrow--20
Red-winged Blackbird--1
House Finch--35
American Goldfinch--40
House Sparrow--15

These birds and wildlife have a home in perpetuity. “The County bought the development rights — so this farm is going to stay farm forever. This constrains the amount of development we can do here. In addition to the wildlife, Roger and South 47 Acres raises goats, 30-40 chickens for eggs, and the horse riding lessons take up the rest of the room on his farm.

"I work with Rob and his team of three farmers. It works out that I start planting and he finishes. We'll have 60,000 transplants in March. What kind? Lots of pumpkins and winter squash. And we have a big p patch here that brings in residents from all around us. In 2007 we had over 86 plots— just a great group of folks that add a lot to the farm’s mission. In fact we had to stop advertising for the p patches — there is a waiting list now. But this is what I want to nourish here — a place for people to encourage their inner farmer— especially for people who don’t have their own place.”

And the abundance this past year bodes well for this new one: over 250 different kinds of produce -- a dozen different kind of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, big fat juicy tomatoes, red, green, and butter lettuces. And corn of course. Lots of corn.

What’s next for South 47 Farm? “We’re working with community college people, Lake Washington Voc Tech, Cub Scouts— we have people who grow food in the p patches to feed homeless and poor people at food banks. What it gets down to is tasting the food. If a kid comes here with her Mother and gets to pick a fresh berry off a vine, eat a tomato they pick right in the field— it tastes so fresh and good. That’s why we’re here— to connect the future generations to the importance of growing local food.”

The End.

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